Lessons on leaving a Legacy: What the Loss of Cleophas Adderley Teaches Us

By Keisha Oliver.

Attorney, music director, composer, scholar, visionary, and award-winning Bahamian legend the late Cleophas Adderley Jr. was one of the country’s most treasured talents, emerging as a cultural ambassador dedicating his life to music.

Although Adderley was famous for his significant contributions in advancing Bahamian and Caribbean music, his heart and commitment lied in empowering and supporting young people. His work and dedication with The Bahamas National Youth Choir (BNYC) since 1983 is one of many organisations, which he lead to international audiences. Notably developing a choir and orchestra repertoire that travelled to over 22 countries and performed in 24 languages.

His ability to transcend the traditions of folk and classical music while nurturing the talents of countless Bahamians is what he will be remembered for. As many mourn this loss, his death is a reminder of the importance of leaving behind a rich legacy.

His demonstration of excellence, philanthropy and stewardship have planted seeds of greatness in the lives of all those he impacted.  Adderley teaches us that your leadership is not shaped and your legacy is not defined at the end of the road but rather by the moments shared, the decisions made, the actions taken, and the mistakes overcome throughout your career.  

A Mentor

Often we are so caught up in our personal development and agenda that we lose sight of how much our success is tied to that of others. Other times we fear that protégés will outshine us or display a disregard for our time and effort. The reality is mentorship is a daily sacrifice and labour of love. Your commitment to leadership and love for your craft should be fuelled by your responsibility to see that both qualities live on. This is a mindset that Adderley recognised and displayed with passion and vigour.

“I enjoy working with young people because you can mould them. They’re like a blank canvas”, said Adderley last year in an interview on television show “The Bahamas, Then and Now’ with host Rosemary C. Hanna.

As a young Bahamian artist and academic Adderley’s sacrifice gives a shimmer of hope to the disheartening reality that opportunities for mentorship are few and far between. Too often our society bears witness to established artists and professionals in the creative industry who refuse to recognise the seasons of life and pass the baton on to future generations. But the principle of mentorship exceeds the nurturing of skills. It promotes a safe space and outlet for youth empowerment that fosters a culture of relationship building and professional excellence.

A Culture Ambassador

Although recognised as a national treasure for over two decades it was only with Adderley’s passing did many Bahamians truly understand the magnitude of his contributions. As the tributes circulate through the media demonstrating his accomplishments these speak to his impact and reach nationally and internationally. Despite his success, Adderley remained humble and always expressed his love for people, his country and craft.

A man of unquestioned patriotism, respected for his unwavering spirit and Bahamian pride Adderley reminds us to be stewards of our culture.

“If you know the wonderful work they (BNYC) have done and taken abroad that even the Bahamians don’t appreciate it, but the foreigners are shocked to see what The Bahamas produces, ” said Adderley last month during his acceptance speech for the 2017 ALIV Bahamian Icon Award for Lifetime Achievement.

When we realise the uniqueness of our heritage and potential of our evolving culture, we will be a force to be reckoned with. Sadly, brainwashed by societal oppression and Western influences, we have abandoned much of what is rightfully ours often to embrace something that is foreign and unfamiliar. This is not to say we should reject what is new, but cultural advocacy calls us to preserve tradition while still considering innovation and progress. Our culture will only continue to be rich if we remember it.

A Visionary

Despite being born into a musically gifted family Adderley’s success was the result of support from family and friends, professional training, collaboration from artists and musicians, and the recognition from private and public sectors. He had people who shared and enabled his vision. So many times, we measure a person’s success by what we see. But what about all the things we don’t see or know? In Adderley’s acceptance speech for his Lifetime Achievement Award, he paid tribute to the many people who worked behind the scenes over the years to make BNYC a success. He maintained that ‘the boss’ is no more important than ‘the man at the bottom’.

He charges Bahamians to remember that community effort is more effective than the individual. In such a small creative community competition and sometimes envy gets the best of us and we must look to partnerships and community to ensure a sustainable future. Let us share the wealth. Not solely securing opportunities for those close to us, but selflessly reaching out to those who are rarely afforded opportunities.