Oration honouring Everard 'Bud' Davidge
Mr. Chancellor, the essence of mummering is disguise, so there is a nice irony in the fact that the success of Bud Davidge's most famous composition, The Mummers Song, is due to his refusal to disguise himself, his background, and his sympathies. Bud Davidge's career shows a commitment to the experiences and tastes of Newfoundlanders. Rather than trying to preserve a historically researched and purified version of local tradition, Bud Davidge's work records the living traditions that survive because they have adapted to changing conditions. Educated in a one-room school, in a community not accessible by road, Bud Davidge began teaching in 1962 after a year in university, later returning to Memorial to complete his education degree and become a school administrator in his home district, a position he continued to hold while a performer and songwriter. In 1977, when Bud Davidge and his friend Sim Savory started performing at local dances as Simani, their repertoire was country and western and early rock and roll, the music that they and their audiences enjoyed, including, I've been told, Davidge's superb renditions of George Jones. Bud Davidge was soon writing original music in the popular style and his aim as a songwriter, as he puts it in his song book, is to "sing the pictures as you remember them, frame by frame." Above all, he values "real life" depictions and feels that the "greatest of integrity" is in writing from first-hand experience, as he does in writing of resettlement in Outport People and gathering the stories of the people of Boxey concerning The Loss of the Marion. Thus Bud Davidge's songs directly express the experience of his life and the life of the communities he knows.
While Bud Davidge's intention as a songwriter is to be true to his own experience, his work has been accorded far greater significance than that modest aim would lead one to expect. In a 1988 article in Newfoundland Studies, Dr. Gerry Pocius of Memorial's folklore department argues that Bud Davidge's The Mummers Song has done more to preserve and revive the tradition of mummering in the province than all the previous work done by what he calls "the intellectual elite in the capital city." Dr. Pocius argues that by writing the song in a popular style and conveying the concrete images of his own memories, Bud Davidge gave mummering an immediacy and accessibility for his audience that careful performance of a researched and rehearsed text could not match. The divergence Dr. Pocius sees between Bud Davidge's achievement and the activities of the academic and artistic elites raises a question about today's event. By awarding Bud Davidge an honorary degree, the same distinction awarded to Chris Brookes, whom Dr. Pocius includes in the intellectual elite, and to Dave Quinton, whose Land and Sea program was instrumental in broadcasting The Mummer's Song, are we moving Mr. Davidge into that intellectual elite? If so, are we robbing him of his populist power?
I think there is no danger. Dr. Pocius points out that Mr. Davidge's songs work because they show that "the past can be part of the present." The fact that "things have gone modern," as Granny says in The Mummers Song, can in fact be the saving of the past. As Bob Hallett wrote in the Newfoundland Quarterly last summer, Bud Davidge and Sim Savory opened the way for rural Newfoundland music, both through their musical achievements and through the establishment of studios in Fortune Bay where musicians can produce their CDs locally, allowing those far from the cultural centres of the province to participate in commercial music distribution.
Bud Davidge's Mummers Song has been recorded, re-recorded, sung, passed around, broadcast, and made into an award-winning book. It has come to represent for many people an essential element of Newfoundland and Labrador culture, and Bud Davidge achieved that without, as most mummers do, disguising his voice. On the assumption that "nice mummers" are " 'lowed in," Mr. Chancellor, I present for the degree of doctor of laws, honoris causa, Everard "Bud" Davidge.
E. Holly Pike