Memorial Day: Celebrating the life of Michael “Freestylee” Thompson

Michael Thompson was a great Jamaican artist and activist who loved his country so much that he dedicated his talent to speaking through his posters about Jamaica – its rich culture, its beautiful landscapes, the struggles of its people and, of course, its unique reggae music. Michael passed away on August 15th from a heart attack due to an enlarged heart.

A public memorial service was held for Michael on September 26, 2016 at the Consulate General of Jamaica in New York City. Family, friends, colleagues, fans and all those he kept inspiring throughout his life came to pay their respects and to share their memories.

The memorial began a few minutes after 5:00 p.m. The room was filled with selected posters of Michael’s artworks and photographs showcasing his life and achievements. A beautiful urn with Michael’s remains had pride of place. The service began with a prayer by Professor Carolyn Cooper followed by tributes from Michael’s son, Dane, Patricia Chin of VP Records, Carolyn Cooper, family members, friends and colleagues.

Michael’s wife, Maria, dedicated the song “Oh” by Dave Matthews to him:
“I hear you still talk to me
As if you’re sitting in that dusty chair
Makes the hours so much easier to bear
I know despite the years alone
Still hear you singing your sweet song
And if it’s all the same to you

I love you oh so well
Like a kid loves candy and fresh snow
I love you oh so well
Enough to fill up heaven overflow and fill hell
Love you oh so well

When it’s cold and darkness falls
As if you’re in the next room so alive
Could swear I hear you singing to me
I love you oh so well”

Michael’s niece, Olivia Morgan, did a beautiful rendition of “It’s So Hard To Say Goodbye To Yesterday” by Boyz II Men. The memorial was a wonderful celebration filled with heart-breaking moments, laughter, joy and happiness, as was Michael’s life.

Here’s an excerpt from Dane’s tribute:  “There is so much that I admire about my father. He had an uncanny ability to make people see their own greatness when they can’t see it themselves. He taught me that when life hits you hard, this is when you must be calm. To think clearly and understand what needs to be done.

“My dad had a stillness about him that was calm and deliberate. When he spoke, he spoke with passion; he made you feel the impact of his ideas. Whether you saw his vision or not, you understand that he would pursue his goal with extreme focus. He taught me to respect myself, so in turn I could understand and respect others. He taught me that failure is not a loss, but a detailed blue print to a victory.”

And from Patricia Chin’s:  “Michael loved Jamaican culture as much as I do. Both of us were aware that our tiny island was full of resources and, most of all, talent! He also reminded me that Jamaica has so much history that was so under-appreciated. Michael devoted himself to being a part of sharing Jamaican history throughout the world.”

And from Carolyn Cooper’s:  “What I admired most about Michael was his quiet eloquence.  He wore his exceptional talent with simple grace. He was not full of himself. He was a modest man who produced brilliant work with apparent ease. Michael chose to take on a whole range of difficult global issues in his compelling graphic designs.

“One of Michael’s grand passions was to see the establishment of a world-class museum for Jamaican popular music in downtown Kingston. This is a primary mission of the International Reggae Poster Contest. Michael’s vision was broader than Broadway. He wanted an iconic building to house the museum. It should embody the inventiveness of Jamaica’s musical legends. His preferred architect was Frank Gehry.”

The memorial service was organized in collaboration with Patricia Chin and VP Records. Maria Papaefstathiou, Michael’s business partner and co-founder of the International Reggae Poster Contest, curated the exhibition which remained open to the public until Tuesday, October 4, 2016.

Special thanks to Acting Consul General Derron McCreath and his staff who graciously welcomed us; Rev. Calvin McIntyre who gave the benediction; Mr. Christopher Issa and his wife Kimberley of the Spanish Court Hotels in Jamaica; Mrs. Patricia Chin and VP Records; Monica Vega and Bnaior Memo Mujica from Mexico who presented a special book to Michael’s family outlining the proposal for an exhibition in the Maya Cancun Museum, titled “Xaymaca, The Global Anthropological Roots of Reggae”; photographer Ajamu Myrie for his tremendous help in setting up the exhibition and for documenting the memorial; Barbara Ann Levy for her help and important remarks; everyone who came; and all those who wished to there but couldn’t come.

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