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My Soul Sings On
On Thursday, February 22, a tribute commemorating Maria Alonzo, teacher, humanitarian and founder of the original Goretti Group singing group, will be held at the Hilton Hotel, Portof- Spain from 6pm to midnight.
Maria Alonzo (née Williams) born in 1931 in Port-of-Spain and raised in St Anns/Cascade, attended St Joseph’s Convent Port-of-Spain as a boarder, before transferring to Holy Name Convent Port-of-Spain.
As a young woman she migrated to Australia, where she taught in girls schools in the Sydney area.
Nuns at school, recognising Alonzo’s musical talent, arranged a successful audition for her at the Sydney Hilton, launching her career as a professional performer. Returning to Trinidad in the late 1960s, she settled back in St Ann’s/Cascade and got a teaching post at her alma mater Holy Name Convent.
After appearing on the legendary TV show Scouting for Talent she was hired as resident singer at the Hilton, thus complementing her Antipodean achievement.
Alonzo opted to establish self esteem, physical awareness, well-being and a sense of community in her Holy Name Convent high school students, engaging them in such nonacademic activities as modern dance, keep fit and charitable work. This was the genesis of the original Goretti Girls group founded in 1968. When the girls were joined by several students of Fatima College, this co-ed combo was renamed the Goretti Group for Maria Goretti, patron saint of youth, whose feast day synergistically coincided with her namesake’s July 6 birthday.
The rechristened Goretti Group began its charitable work in Laventille, a priority area for the then newly appointed Portof- Spain Archbishop Anthony Pantin.
The Goretti Group became a singing group by serendipity.
As the Hilton’s resident singer, Alonzo proposed a Christmas “sing-along” for foreign guests.
The “wild success” of the sing along prompted her to invite her Holy Name Convent students to join her as choral back up and the Goretti Group began a meteoric rise to local and international acclaim.
When Port-of-Spain was twinned with the Canadian city of St Catherine, Ontario, the Goretti Group was invited to sing at the twinning ceremony along with the Texaco Dixieland Steel Orchestra.
This collaboration led directly to the first-ever Folk Mass celebrated in the Caribbean which featured the Goretti Group, Dixieland, Thunderbirds and guitars. |
The energy generated by the Folk Mass inspired the production of the album Sing Out My Soul (with the title song Hear O’ Lord composed and sung solo by Maria Alonzo accompanied by the Goretti group singers) along with religious classics accompanied by Dixieland and Thunderbirds.
The album, converted to CD format in 1997, continues to sell.
Overseas tours, more albums (Shake a Hand, My Soul Sings On in addition to two 45s) and awards for Alonzo followed.
A high point for group and founder was Alonzo’s UN Gold Peace medal for contributing to world peace through music and youth, when the group performed at United Nations Headquarters in New York. In 2012 Alonzo received an Anthony Pantin award for citizens “who showed commitment to the common good.”
After 1988 the group gave fewer performances due to Alonzo’s ill health but its survival was guaranteed by the 2016 launch of the Maria Alonzo Goretti Group at Holy Name Convent and the resumption of Goretti Group activities only months after the founder’s death.
At this time of crisis and social malaise in T&T the spirit of Maria Alonzo is needed more than ever.
In this Lenten season as the dust settles and sound levels diminish, we should listen for the healing of her soul singing
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