Message from founding member Valerie Laylor
As a founding member of the Heritage Singers, I am excited and feel truly blessed to still be an active participant after 30 years. I was grateful when my friend, the late Leo Ingram invited me to the group while it was in its embryonic stage. He suggested that I go along with him to meet Mrs. Grace Lyons, who was looking for singers for the launch of a Folk singing group. The idea of singing with a Folk group in Toronto sounded like something I would really love to do.
Remembering how much I enjoyed singing with my school and church choir back in Jamaica, I immediately agreed to go along with Leo to meet Mrs. Lyons, and as they say, the rest is history. In the beginning I faced some challenges, the biggest being, traveling from the west end of the city to the east end, by public transportation, on cold and snowy winter evenings. But soon my dear friend Leo turned his black Chrysler car into a “Heritage Bus”, and sure enough I was his first passenger. Now this gave me no reason to miss rehearsals. As we learnt new songs and improved on the ones we already knew, we quickly began to choreograph dances and movements to go along with them.
I can still remember my first performance on stage at the Jamaican Pavilion of Caravan. It was the first solo rendition of “Mi Caffee”. sung by Leo and me, I thought it was quite hilarious I will always cherish the memory of acting with the Late Honorable Louise Bennett-Coverley. It was our local Pantomime production of Zuzuwah, an experience I will never forget. As the Heritage Singers grew in numbers, our talent, confidence, versatility and our desire to do greater things also grew.
Our talented leader, Grace, had many visions for the group. She was determined to spread our Jamaican, and for that matter Caribbean culture to the broader community in Toronto. As soon as that was accomplished she set the group’s goal for national and international exposure, accepting invitations to participate in many Folk Festivals abroad.
I am grateful for this experience as I travel with the group both nationally and internationally.
Finally, let me take this opportunity to congratulate and thank Mrs. Lyons for the vision she had, for deciding to use her musical talent to develop and lead an amazing and talented group. Grace, you are more than the leader of the Heritage Singers. You are a friend, an inspiration and a motivator. You show courage and endurance and have never lost sight of where you want to take this group. You help us to stay strong and focused. I laud you for this and pray that God will continue to bless the Heritage Singers under your leadership.
May He allow you to lead us for another 30 years. My blessings I give to each and every member of the group as well as all who have supported us over the years.