On Sound and Memory: Elaine Denmark

by Amanda Woolery

This is the 1st of an ongoing series of interviews with people from different backgrounds discussing how music finds its way into the nooks of their lives. My first interview finds me talking to my mom’s best friend, Elaine Eccleston- Denmark.

Elaine Eccleston- Denmark in Jamaica

Elaine Eccleston- Denmark in Jamaica



Amanda Woolery: Well, I won’t start with your full name, since I know that.

Elaine Eccleston- Denmark: Well, you know Elaine is not my first name, it’s my middle name.

AW: [laughs] Oh really?!

EED: My first name is Estella. It used to be too old, but now I love it. The kids used to tease me and mock the name Estella. I’d tell them it was in Great Expectations by Charles Dickinson, but most Jamaicans didn’t read Charles Dickinson, so that didn’t help [laughs].


AW: So, tell me about how is music a part of your daily life?

EED: Ehh, I used to listen to music all the time, not so much anymore. Now-a-days I don’t feel I’m a part of music. But before I came to Jamaica, I was in England, and being raised in England I was a big on Motown. I was strictly Motown and Ska…Reggae! Beres Hammond!!

Ahh! And there was Desmond Dekker and the Aces! That was my favorite. Then I went onto Carlene Davis… you know this was before I became Christian, when I still listened to secular music [laughs]. Ohh! Marcia Griffiths, she was one of Bob Marley’s ladies.

Oooo! Percy Sledge! No home was without that LP of Percy Sledge! And Isaac Hayes LP Black Moses! That was something…it was a happier time, you know when music was about love and respect. We used to clean the house and have the music on. When I was in St. Mary (Jamaica), there was a bar beside us and they used to play music all the time.

AW: [laughs] Oh, so music was always playing somewhere?

EED: From like, 10am all the way through to about 2am. And it was a bar, so you know they would play the music loud. And you didn’t call the police back then [laughs], because if you really wanted to sleep, you would sleep [laughs]. You know, we used to have to clean the floor, manually, with a coconut brush, and a cloth and the floor oil… and then the music gets to you. And next thing you know it takes you away and you’re up and dancing and moving around…it takes you away. Music takes your mind away, it makes what you’re doing fun.

When I moved to Kingston I listened to the radio. RJR and JBC. Those were the two stations, and we used to listen to the music on that. And Marie Garth was the DJ of RJR, she used to come on at 2 o’clock! I used to dance and sing along to the songs! Oh and I used to sing Gladys Knight and Carlene Davis…and there was this one dance named “chucky” [laughs].

AW: How does that go?

EED: Well…You just shake up your shoulders [laughs], and move from side to side [laughs]. And your poor mother couldn’t dance [laughs], but we still used to dance. Yes…Those were some wonderful times.

Part 2: FOOD

AW: So…Estella [laughs] do you cook, or do you know how to cook?

EED: Well, once upon a time they used to tell me to make the salad because I couldn’t cook [laughs]. Maybe, I couldn’t cook like Auntie Hortense, Faye (my mother) and Rosie, but I got along.

AW: So what’s your favorite food?

EED: My favorite food is stew peas and white rice. I think it’s the red peas that I love, and the pig tail…mmm and the salt beef. In America I use ham hocks instead of the pig’s tail. I think I mostly like the flavor of the peas themselves. I love it because it was something I was raised on.

Ooooo! When Faye used to cook it! Mmmm! She made it so good!

AW: Who were some of the people who originally taught you how to cook, or influenced you in the kitchen?

EED: I had my aunt, Aunt Ester in Port Maria (Jamaica), she would help me with learning to cook, and God bless my father. He would eat my food even if it wasn’t good, just so I didn’t feel bad.

Faye had a big influence on me in terms of shortcuts and seasoning. They used to say I couldn’t cook, but no one wanted to give me a chance to learn, but Faye gave me a chance. In the meantime, that taught me how to make a good lookin’ salad! Sometimes no one even wanted to eat the salads because they looked so pretty [laughs].

AW: If you could pair your favorite food, stew peas, with a song, what song would it be?

EED: Hmmm…You know what, I’m not sure…I couldn’t pick just one song!

AW: Well, I’ll put together a little playlist of some of the songs and artists we talked about.


By the end of this interview, Elaine was shocked at the things she was able to recall. Things that she hadn’t thought about in decades were fresh to her mind. Details rushed to her and there she was, singing along to Percy Sledge with a coconut brush as a mic.


Estella Elaine Spotify Playlist Link: https://open.spotify.com/user/mandieow/playlist/0inhmOTYg09GHKqZdDwY47

Stew Peas recipe from Jamaicans.com: http://jamaicans.com/stewpeas/

Coming next on Music & Food:

Sri Lankan born, UK raised, mother of two talks music & food.

Learn more about Amanda at APARTMENT 5C: http://www.apartment5c.com/