Julia Almeria Hydes, popularly known as “Aunt” Julia, is the only living member of the traditional Caymanian music fraternity that included icons such as Leighton “Duxie” Ebanks, Boyd Hydes, Radley Gourzong, Cleveland Ebanks, Montgomery Albert and Reid Green. Not only is she still alive, but at 103 she continues in her inimitably joyous manner, to drum and sing at special functions for other senior citizens, and meet with anyone who wishes to draw from her bottomless font of cultural knowledge.
Julia was born the youngest of twelve children, on January 25, 1909, in the district of West Bay, Grand Cayman. She was formally educated until the age of 15 at Ada Cato’s and Miss Redley’s all-age schools in West Bay. After leaving school, she assisted her mother and other relatives in “cutting tops” along the seaside coasts between West Bay and South Sound. She recalls that, although the journeys were long and the work was hard to cut the tops, plait the thatch baskets and make the thatch rope, it was a time of fun, laughter and the discovery of music.
Aunt Julia is an intuitive musician. She remembers the time she was encouraged to play a home-made drum by her cousin, master fiddler, Leighton “Duxie” Ebanks. “When I held the sticks, made of the local guava wood," she said, “I felt a great sense of joy. My love for music has continued ever since. I never had any lessons. I just watched, paid attention and made up my own style of drumming.”
She was soon touring the districts of Cayman with fiddlers and musicians, Duxie, Boyd Hydes, Radley Gourzong, Cleveland Ebanks and others, playing Cayman’s folk music, mainly for kitchen dances, weddings and Christmas celebrations, and enjoying a twirl or two whenever she could get someone to take her place on the drum. These sessions popularised Cayman’s folk music and helped Julia discover a second talent – composing her own songs about everyday events and people.
From early childhood she attended the Wesleyan Holiness Church (formerly the Pilgrim Holiness Church) in West Bay. She states that for many of her adult years she became a “wayward” person but in her mid-70s she was “re-claimed” and again began to attend church regularly. She enjoys singing gospel music, especially ‘choruses’, playing the drum, tambourine, making rhythms using a grater or just clapping her hands.
These days you will most likely find her with some of her relatives just singing or “drummin’ a tune” lightly and joyfully with her fingertips. She has received many awards for her contributions to music and culture in the Cayman Islands, including the CNCF Award for pioneering work in cultural heritage as well as the Certificate and Badge of Honour in 1996.
F.J. Harquail Cultural Centre 17 Harquail Drive
P.O. Box 30201 Grand Cayman KY1-1201 Cayman Islands
Phone: 345 949 5477 Fax 345 949 4519