Beverley Irish becomes musical ambassador for Spiritual Baptist faith

Cheryl Metivier

A third generation Spiritual Baptist who has had a love affair with music for as long as she can remember, Beverley Irish has become a pioneer of sorts in bringing Spiritual Baptist-styled gospel onto the mainstream musical landscape, both locally and internationally.

Her name and brand have become synonymous with the faith that has survived decades of oppression to emerge from the cane fields, tracks and traces to gain widespread acceptance, notoriety, and recognition in TT, the region, and around the world.

Irish recalls how her late grandmother, fondly called “Mudsy,” recounted tales of being a lookout in the vicinity of the church to warn the worshippers when the police were approaching. She describes Mudsy as her biggest supporter. She told WMN her journey to her present position has been an interesting one, with her love of music always at the forefront. She said singing has been her default, her peace, and her joy.

“I even sang at music festivals during my primary school years.” Now based in the US, Irish ensures she always returns “home” for her mother’s birthday, and to celebrate the holiday that pays homage to the Spiritual Baptist community in TT.

During her early years, Irish said, she had no real interest in following the faith of her mother and grandmother, as she was more drawn to Pentecost. But that was not an option available to her, as her mother had decreed that only one faith was to be observed in her home – the Spiritual Baptist religion.

But Irish said, “I was rebellious,” and was drawn to secular music. She said the type of music didn’t matter, and she would sing to anyone who would listen; and she found audiences who would listen.

By age 18, Irish was pregnant with her first son, Anthony. By this time she was also a vocalist for a small San Fernando-based band named Pearlwinds, owned and managed by Winston and Pearl Hinds, a couple who always tried to support young musicians and aspirants.

After her time with Pearlwinds, she joined the band Tradewinds, becoming its first female performer. Tradewinds’ performances were all locally based, so when she got the opportunity to perform out of TT with the Volts Express she grabbed it! She went on tour to the US, Canada, and around the region.

“Years later, I gave birth to my daughter Jennel. This proved to be a transformative period for me, having become poignantly aware that there was a need to provide a spiritual foundation for my young family.”

She decided to leave the band, return to the church, and devote her life to her family and her faith. She immersed herself in activities at the Mt Paran Spiritual Baptist Church, in La Romain, getting involved in youth ministry, leading the choir, staging concerts, helping with charitable drives, and wherever else she was needed, earning her the title “Sister Bev.”

Beverley Irish has released seven original CD’s and one compilation of only sankeys.

But having taken on all these responsibilities, she found herself having less time to do what she truly loved – singing. So she gradually gave up some things to return singing.

This time, though, she did not go down the secular route, instead taking her grandmother’s advice to use her talent to bring pride and dignity to the Spiritual Baptist religion.

“In conversations with Mudsy, we had noted that the faith almost ended at the end of the services. She expressed a desire to have my music recorded so that the history would not be lost. I promised her that I would, and it’s a promise I have kept.”

Irish had to carve out this niche on her own because before her decision to record the traditional Spiritual Baptist gospel music genre she could find no other such recordings.

Mudsy had admonished her to keep the music authentic so it would continue to accurately reflect the faith. She said Mudsy told her, “‘This is who you are, and this is what our music is about.’”

The sankeys (short Spiritual Baptist choruses) that figure prominently on each of her recordings hold a special significance for her. The “doption,” one of the sounds that people recognize as being uniquely Spiritual Baptist, is something that she loves about her genre.

She said while attending a conference in Grenada as part of a group, she learnt some new sankeys that were unfamiliar to the TT participants.

One of them was Move Satan Move, which is recorded on her first CD. She said it has become common for her to save any new choruses or songs that she learns when she travels.

She said she has a treasure trove given to her by one of her supporters – a book which contains over 200 Spiritual Baptist sankeys.

“He told me to cherish it and always keep it.” And because family is everything to this musical ambassador, the joy she derived from having multiple family members on her first release remains unparalleled.

“On that first CD I have the voices of my now deceased grandmother, my mother, my daughter, and my second son Ansel. There was no pressure to participate. I recognized their talent and invited them to put down the tracks. They did so, happily, and also joined me for live performances when I hosted my first concert in 2005.” Fast forward to 2022, and her granddaughter is now in the mix. A musician in her own right, she also has a track on the CD.

Commuters around TT are daily blessed by the sankeys she has made popular on her CDs, as street vendors from Princes Town to Port of Spain, Sangre Grande to San Fernando play her music.

She said since hitting the musical landscape her tracks have been heavily pirated and the revenue does not benefit her. But, she said, “I don’t mind; it’s not just about the money. I feel elated because it shows that people have started to accept Spiritual Baptist music…” “Getting the music out there and having people accepting it is a plus for me. Getting people to understand that this is who we are, is another plus for me.”

To date Irish has released seven original CDs and one compilation of only sankeys. These albums tell a story, beginning with Glory, followed by Love Lifted Me, which gives way to Still the One, then Deliverance, Stuck on You, I Need Faith (the compilation of sankey) and Energy. Her favorite track of them all is taken from the Stuck on You album – In the Middle of the Night.

For each album she produces, she distributes to local radio stations and does a concert launch. She does not pressure herself to put out a new album annually, but gives ample time for the music to circulate.

She said her distribution in the past was heavily reliant on the record shops, many of which are no longer in existence.

She therefore makes them available to patrons at her concerts and at shows where she performs and ministers.

Recognizing the impact that her music has had on so many people in the diaspora, she said she has also noticed that a lot of people know her music but don’t know her.

To this end, she has been working on improving her visibility by using various social media platforms to reclaim some of what piracy has deprived her of.

She said she has used her music to bless thousands over the years, including four TT prime ministers and one Grenada PM.

“But what matters most to me is the opportunity for ministry, and to share the Spiritual Baptist faith with others; seeing people’s reaction to my performances.”

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