Ardenne High nurtures world-class musical talent | Arts & Hobbies

Ardenne High School was founded by American Church of God missionaries George and Nellie Olson in 1927 and the school quickly established its reputation as the epicenter of academic excellence. Over the decades, few schools in the Caribbean can claim the dazzling achievements of the Ardennes. The school has several scholarships from Jamaica and Rhodes and decades of outstanding achievement in regional exams, having been named CAPE School of the Year on several occasions. Ardenne has won the School Challenge Quiz a record seven times and the school remains the only Caribbean institution to win the Scripps National Spelling Bee Championship in the United States when a precocious Jody-Anne Maxwell became the first black student to win the cup in 1996, also becoming the first winner outside the United States.

But Ardenne is more than a book and a brain. Beyond academics, the institution has for many years fostered an impressive musical legacy that is now paying off in multiple Grammy wins for the school’s creative prodigies. A continued wave of talent nurtured in the Ardennes culminated in recent Grammy wins for graduates Koffee and Stephen McGregor. Additionally, in recent years, under the leadership of Principal Nadine Molloy, the school has made other impressive achievements in the performing arts, repeatedly winning the Marcus Garvey Award for Excellence in the Performing Arts Competition. stage of the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission (JCDC). The annual Ardennes Christmas Spectacular and Fireworks Show, which engages a staggering six hundred students at all levels of production, is a contemporary Jamaican interpretation of the Christmas message through music, speech, singing and dancing.

“The extra-curricular commitments in Ardenne are second to none,” said Andrae Wilson, music teacher and club entertainer. the gleanerit’s arts and education. “The variety of skills learned is more than adequate and powerful not only to prepare students for the arts, but for life in general,” he reiterated.


Ardennes graduates have enjoyed success in the performing arts since the 1960s, thanks to two important early pioneers and contributors to the music program there. One was the accomplished musicologist Daphne Vidal Smith who, after teaching music in Ardennes, became the founding director of the Mona Preparatory School. Ardenne also benefited from the expertise of conductor, composer and Royal School of Music graduate Lloyd Hall, who also taught there. Prominent lawyer Florence ‘Flo’ Darby excelled as a singer under the tutelage of regional music icon Noel Dexter, who shaped outstanding choirs in the Ardennes for many years, and Darby received several medals at the Concours of the National Festival before joining the University Singers.

“Noel Dexter taught me everything I know about music,” Darby shared with arts and education when the award-winning composer and director of the UWI choir died in 2019, and Darby later became Dexter’s sounding board on his behalf for his catalog of outstanding compositions in the following years.

Other stars include Joyce Britton, who shone brightly in classical music in Canada, and award-winning singer Esther Tyson, who later served as Ardenne’s principal. Raggamuffin singjay Koffee, born Mikayla Simpson, graduated from Ardenne in 2017, learned music theory and singing techniques as a member of the school choir. Principal Nadine Molloy recalls that she was also part of the school’s women’s soccer team.

“It was a very good team and that’s where she sang to motivate her teammates. She also spent quite a bit of time with the performing arts students. I remember then-music teacher Canigia Palmer telling me she was one to watch in the future. So I can see where she would have been influenced by the general atmosphere of immense respect and positive portrayal of Jamaican culture in Ardennes,” added Molloy.

Lyrics of Koffee Grill provides insight into his musical journey with slices of throwback history.

“One time we sat in class and got bored. Den Oli said do road and mi gwan wid di road. 3rd form mi say mek mi try a ting. And you know that turned out to be a hit of fire. Now, on stage with Chronixx, I sing.

Her breakout performance came a year after her graduation at Rebel Salute 2018 (Grizzly’s Plantation Cove in St Ann) when Coco Tea touted her as Jamaica’s next big sensation. She was an immediate star, captivating fans with singles Raggamuffin and Burning. The following year she was invited back to the festival as a lead performer where she charmed fans with her growing catalog of hit singles, including Grilltwice selected by former US President Barack Obama for his summer 2019 and 2020 playlist. Months later, Koffee was in the record books as the first Jamaican female artist to win a Reggae Grammy Award for her debut album. Rapture. Koffee’s mother, Jo-Anne Williams, recalled the “Grammy-winning moment” during a recent radio interview in New York.

“I just started screaming! I was like, thank you Lord. Thank you, Jesus,” she exclaimed.

Singer, songwriter and music producer Stephen ‘Di Genius’ McGregor has also contributed to Ardennes’ legacy in the performing arts. “I didn’t know much about the Ardennes before going there, but it turned out to be one of the biggest decisions I could have made,” he said.

“It’s one of the best schools ever. It’s very welcoming. It motivates a lot of kids to believe in what they’re doing. That’s probably why so many of us are successful,” said he declared.

In 2017, McGregor, who played in the school band before graduation, won four Grammy Awards for Best Latin Pop Album El Dorado (songwriter and producer); best reggae album stony hill (songwriter and producer); best rap song Control (songwriter and producer) Latin Grammy Award and Best Contemporary Pop Vocal Album Eldorado (songwriter and producer). In 2020, he won his 5th Grammy for best R&B album ‘Bigger Love’ (songwriter and producer).

“He made a great choice to go to Ardenne,” said Stephen’s proud dad, world reggae icon Freddie McGregor. the gleaner.

The huge successes of Koffee and Di Genius testify to the emerging role that extracurricular activities have played in the lives of Ardennes students. In January, Koffee underlined this point of view during an interview on BBC 1Xtra in England.


“The Ardennes is generally known for excelling in studies, but also for supporting young talent and helping young people to hone their skills and creativity,” she said.

Principal Molloy agrees. “At Ardenne, we want our students to achieve the highest academic standards, but, just as important, we view our students as spiritual beings who are more than their grades,” Molloy said. “We celebrate that with Koffee. It was born out of her experiences and she carved out a unique niche for herself. She has set an example for Ardennites around the world, wherever they are on their personal journey. Likewise, Brand Jamaica is reaping the rewards of another cultural creation that is making its mark on the world stage. This is not to be taken lightly,” Molloy said.

Dancehall DJ Alkaline also benefited from the co-curriculum in Ardenne. He played football before becoming a distinguished List A performer.

“He was the team’s resident entertainer,” Principal Molloy recalled. “You could say he always performed as he did in almost every show in Ardennes that catered to his genre. He was also a great moderator for our awards show.

There’s also drummer, keyboardist, radio disc jockey, producer and entertainer Left Side, son of We The People Band’s Lloyd Parks. He was a renowned basketball player on the winning team coached by Spidey Barrett for several years. He performed in Ardenne in the brass band. There’s also producer, sound engineer and mixer Mario ‘Mad Scientist’ Lawrence, the muscle behind Music Factory Studio. Lawrence has toured with Grammy-winning artist ‘Jr Gong’ Marley, Warrior King and I Wayne, and he has performed with Ernest Ranglin, Monty Alexander, TOK, Dean Fraser and Daville. Ardennes students have left their mark on popular local TV shows such as “All Together Sing” and “Digital Rising Stars”. And, looking back, there were also roots, reggae singer Hugh Mundel, who frequented Ardenne in the 1970s, and broadcaster Errol ‘ET’ Thompson, hailed as one of the most influential radio personalities in Jamaica from 1977 to 1980. They were joined by talented jaw-dropping student Lennox Gordon (guitar) and Ian ‘Tschaikovsky’ Johnson (keyboardist), both wanted for commercial studio sessions at Tuff Gong Records.

Assessing the outlook for 2022 and beyond, music teacher Andrae Wilson said the gleaner that the future of the Ardennes in the performing arts is in excellent hands.

“Our students have the potential to do great things. A few outstanding ones who have excelled in music are Diallo Malcolm (producer); Mathew Lobban (musician/producer); Abigail Dunstan (singer) and Leonardo Parkinson (singer and video director), while, in theater, stars include Aliyah Hall, Reece Lee, Melony Salmon and Shanelle Carey,” he noted.

“Ardenne fully embraces the concept of whole child development as an integral part of our unique school experience, and our music program embraces this reality,” said Nadine Molloy proudly. “We see our music program growing and expanding as new students and staff join us with skills in diverse styles and expressions of this powerful and enduring art form.”

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Corina C. Butler