Ralston Milton “Rex” Nettleford, born on the 3rd of February 1933 in Falmouth, Jamaica, Nettleford attended Unity Primary School in Bunkers Hill, Trelawny, and graduated from Cornwall College in Montego Bay, Jamaica, before going to the University of the West Indies (UWI) to obtain a honours degree in History.
For over twenty years, Nettleford has also been the artistic director for the University Singers of the University of the West Indies, Mona campus in Jamaica.
The combination of Nettleford as artistic director and Noel Dexter as musical director with the University Singers has seen the creation of what is referred to as “choral theatre”.
He was a Jamaican scholar, social critic, choreographer, and Vice-Chancellor Emeritus of The University of the West Indies (UWI), the leading research university in the Commonwealth Caribbean.
He was a recipient of the 1957 Rhodes scholarship to Oriel College, Oxford where he received a postgraduate degree in Politics, and returned to Jamaica in the early 1960s to take up a position at the University of the West Indies.
In 1963 he founded the National Dance Theatre Company of Jamaica, which was one of his many dreams, an ensemble which under his direction did much to incorporate traditional Jamaican music and dance into a formal balletic repertoire.
In 1968, Nettleford took over direction of the School for Continuing Studies at the UWI and then of the Extra-Mural Department. In 1975, the Jamaican state recognized his cultural and scholarly achievements by awarding him the Order of Merit.
Professor Rex Nettleford didn’t just build a city; he built a nation, a region, a consciousness and a respect of, for and among black people, with his spotlight on the black Caribbean. He built a collective intellect. He blazed the trail in iconoclastic scholarship on fundamental issues grounded in cultural identity, self-acceptance and the empowerment of a Jamaican or Caribbean people.
He gave to Jamaica service of a most distinguished nature in academia, trade unionism, public life, and through the performing arts, in particular dance.
His contribution to nation building and regionalism cannot be quantified and will take decades to be fully comprehended. But perhaps the best way to memorialise and recognise his true worth is by bestowing on him the Order of National Hero, he more than any other deserves it.
Six days after he collapsed in his hotel room in Washington and four hours before his 77th birthday, Rex Nettleford died in the George Washington University Intensive Care Unit after suffering a heart attack. He was in the US capital to participate in a fund-raising gala for the University of the West Indies (UWI), where he was vice-chancellor emeritus.
As a Rhodes Scholar, he studied at Oxford University and has authored a number of books, among them Mirror Mirror, Manley and the New Jamaica, The African Connexion, In Our Heritage, and Caribbean Cultural Identity: the case of Jamaica. He was a professor of Extra Mural Studies at the University of the West Indies and also headed the Trade Union Education Institution.