U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS, November 23, 2021 – Montserrat-born and longtime Virgin Islands resident and prominent Caribbean playwright David Edgecombe died last Friday at the age of 69.
He was a professor at the University of the Virgin Islands, both on St. Croix and St. Thomas and would also serve as director of The Reichhold Center for the Arts, according to Denise Humphrey, a former student, colleague to Edgecombe and current director of the St. Thomas facility in the VI Daily News.
“I have lost a good friend with the passing of David Edgecombe,” Nevisian-born educator and author Whitman Browne said. “Undoubtedly, others who knew David are pained by his loss.” Edgecombe’s plays encapsulated the humor and drama of Caribbean life, politics and social issues, but perhaps even more they served as inspiration and an avenue to success for aspiring locals with big dreams.
“There was no greater champion of Caribbean people, Caribbean theater, and the possibilities for Caribbean youth in the arts than David Edgecombe,” said Davida Siwisa James, a longtime friend and Reichhold colleague.
Another close friend and co-creator, and for many years northside walking buddy, Dennis Parker, who directed many of Edgecombe’s plays both on St. Thomas and Montserrat, agreed. Parker said, “I think the most meaningful thing David did was the youth talent show he did every year.”
Starfest, which Edgecombe launched in 1994, was the incubator from which many young Virgin Islanders emerged on the path to professional careers, including Grammy Award-winning singer, songwriting duo Rock City and Billboard top ten reggae musician Pressure Busspipe.
“Talent scouts used to come down from the states for the show,” Parker said.
Retired UVI Professor Rosary Harper, who with Parker ran the “Little Theater” at the university, said of Edgecombe, “He did a lot for developing young people, getting them interested in theater.”
The focus on youth was what mattered to Edgecombe. In a 2006 Source Profile, he was clear, “I love students; I love working with students. I always have been more interested in creating than presenting. My real love is working to create things — the whole idea of creation really turns me on. I like bringing new things to life.”
Cooper was with Edgecombe, who had suffered for years from side effects of diabetes, just a couple of weeks before he died. He was frail and clearly ill, she said, adding, “But the only thing he wanted to know was how others in the community were faring.”
He asked her, “How is everybody,” she said.
Parker told a story that bore out Cooper’s memories of Edgecombe. When they lost their home in Hurricane Marilyn in 1995, Parker and his two daughters made their way to the Reichhold, which was still standing. He asked Edgecombe if they could camp out in the center’s basement until they could find other accommodations.
Parker recalled that his friend said, “‘No. No friend of mine is going to stay in a basement. You will stay at my house until we can figure something else out,’” Parker quoted Edgecomb as saying to him. “It was a Godsend.”
Edgecombe would later pen the play “Marilyn” as proof of Cooper’s assessment that the man she called “uncle” viewed life as stories to be told.
In her letter from California, James, after hearing the news of his death Friday, wrote to the Source. “He was my friend. And despite knowing this was coming, that he was very ill, I am devastated, as are all of us who were close to him.”
The Reichhold Center for the Arts, the beautiful outdoor amphitheater that has seen decades of live performances, was something else that Kittitian Dale Morton said Edgecombe gave new life to. “David made magic when he took over,” in 1992.
Morton, a longtime friend and Reichhold volunteer, said thanks to Edgecombe, “A lot of new people had access to the venue, both to perform and attend.”
Family friend Dara Monifah Cooper said, “With Uncle David, everything became a scene in a play.” She said he had a unique and sardonic slant on how human beings thought and behaved.
A description of the revival of “Heaven” reads, “Deception, temptations, revelations, and pain run amok in Heaven, leaving none unscathed.”
In 2015, Edgecombe wrote and directed Hubert Harrison a project he had longed to do for 20 years about a little-known orator, educator, writer, editor, and political activist born in 1883 on St. Croix who in his short 44 years made history in New York City.
Born on February 4, 1952 in Montserrat, Edgecombe married Leonie Lee. He attended Niagara College, diploma in radio and television arts; He went to Concordia University (Montreal, Quebec, Canada) where he earned B.A. and M.A. degrees and Thomson Foundation where he received a diploma in journalism.
CAREER: Playwright, director, actor, and theater administrator. Radio announcer and journalist, Montserrat, 1970-71; Antilles radio corporation, radio announcer, 1971; Lagos Festival, administrator, 1976-77; Antilles radio corporation, director of education, 1977-80; WE Garments, manager, 1983-85; Montserrat Reporter, editor, 1985-90; University of the Virgin Islands, St. Thomas, instructor in speech and theater, 1990-92, Reichhold Center for the Arts at University of the Virgin Islands, director, 1992—. Founder, Montserrat Theater Group, 1970s, and Reichhold Caribbean Repertory Company, 1992. Director of stage productions, including Ceremonies in Dark Old Men, A Calabash of Blood, Dance Bongo, The Dover Road, Old Story Time, Goose and Gander by Wilfred Redhead, and his own works. Actor in stage productions, including Fences, The Blacks, The Swamp Dwellers, Hamlet, and Forced Marriage.
Image – David Edgecombe courtesy of the Virgin Islands Daily News