It recently came to my attention that the Ormsby Memorial Hall at 3-5 Victoria Avenue in Kingston is being sold and there is a campaign to save it for the arts. The hall was named in memory of Rev Stephen Oliver Orsmby, beloved Rector of St Michael’s Anglican Church, who died in 1924. It was built with public contributions to the Ormsby Memorial Fund. The Ormsby Memorial Hall was opened on June 5, 1930. It was a space used from then for concerts, recitals, and other events.
In this series, I have written about George Goode, a pioneer of music in Jamaica who would have been familiar with this hall. It was also used regularly by the Foster-Davis sisters, who also made a significant contribution to the development of music in Jamaica. In the period leading up to independence, there were many music teachers and music studios. Jamaica was alive with good music of every genre. Parents wanted their children to have a rounded education and this included music, playing an instrument, being in an orchestra, a quartet, or a choir.
Like the Jeffrey-Smith sisters of last week, the Foster-Davis sisters – Florence, Sybil, and Ena Noel – were well-known educators and musicians, teaching and performing. They were the daughters of Leslie Foster-Davis (1861-1930s), an engineer with the Kingston and St Andrew Corporation, and his Jamaican wife, Jane Matilda Hopwood (1865-1945). They had 10 children. Leslie Foster-Davis would become deputy town clerk.
Florence Emily Foster-Davis, born in 1895 and was educated at the Alpha Academy and Wolmer’s Girls School. She was a music tutor. In 1939, she was appointed principal of Carron Hall Training Center in St Mary.
Sybil Eugenie Foster-Davis, born in 1898, attended Alpha Academy, St Hugh’s High, and Wolmer’s Girls. She earned a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music in England and spent several years in Europe. She was a pianist and singer ( mezzo soprano). Returning home, it seems she started the Kingston Academy of Music from her home, Karton Villa, at 6 Upper South Camp Road, which later became the Foster-Davis Music Studio. She was assisted by her musically gifted youngest sister, Ena Noel. Sybil died in 1957.
Ena Noel Foster-Davis was awarded a violin scholarship to Trinity College of Music, London, in 1936. She was an outstanding student at Trinity College, excelling not only in violin, but also in piano, cello, viola, and guitar. She also sang. On her return to Jamaica in about 1958, she rejoined her sister, Sybil, in teaching music at the then Foster-Davis Music Studio.
Ena Foster-Davis returned to Britain in 1942 and seemed to have started using her middle name as Noelle. She remained in Europe for 17 years. During this time, it is reported that she promoted Jamaican music, performing folk songs. She wrote a Jamaican ballet called ‘Jamaican Legend’, which was performed in Paris. She joined the staff of Trinity College, London, and worked for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) in both radio and television. She returned to Jamaica in about 1959 and opened the Foster-Davis School of Music, with Australian musician Pamela O’Gorman. Ena Noel Foster-Davis died in 1985.
Many of Jamaica’s great singers/musicians were tutored by the Foster-Davis sisters. Much more research would be needed to fully tell the story of these musically gifted sisters and of their contribution to the development of music education in Jamaica. Hopefully, their legacy and that of others, like George Goode, is honored at the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts.
I hope the Ormsby Memorial Hall can be saved for the arts and in memory of these musicians.
– Contributed by Marcia Thomas