Lumane Casimir. The name conjures up so many images in people’s minds, depending on the generation. For most of the 1930s and 1940s generation, the name Lumane Casimir meant youthful entertainment; it meant a vivacious young woman who stirred things up wherever she set her foot. Casimir’s early life is shrouded in thick mystery. Even the year of her birth, and to an extent the year of her death is enveloped in this said mystery.
The foremost thing that is known about her life is that she was born in the city of Gonaives, Haiti and that she left that city around the age of 14 bound for Port-au-Prince, guitar on hand. At this point, the capital was practically the mecca of the entire country, and people from the surrounding cities came to Port-au-Prince in search of a better life. Lumane was no exception. Her performance skills were regarded well enough to earn her member-status in the Legba Choir, a folk group, and afterwards a spot in Troupe folklorique nationale, where her colleagues were other famed Haitian performers like Lina Fussman Mathon, Alphonse Cimer, Jeanne Ramon, among others.
Soon her performances earned her local fame, and even the opportunity to perform with Le Jazz des Jeunes, Haiti’s most famous folkloric/pop performance group of the era. Lumane’s moment of triumph was a performance at the bicentennial celebrations in 1949, where her fellow countrymen as well as international visitors were treated to her distinctive voice.
Fame didn’t stay kind to Lumane. Her personal life in shambles (she married a Mr. Jean-Bart, but the marriage was very short-lived). She spent her last days in a one-room shack, gravely ill—her days of glory behind her, reportedly deserted by friends and most of her former social circle. The year of her death has traditionally been placed at 1953, two years after this notice appeared in Dance Magazine about Haitian dancer and choreographer Jean-Léon Destiné:
His principal supporting dancers are Jeanne Ramon Lumane Casimir and Cecilo Joseph; principal drummers, Alphonso Cimber and Ti-Roro. This gala is part of celebration of Haiti week, which takes places April 7-15.
The woman who had been called Queen of the Meringues in 1951 by Newsweek magazine would stay relatively unknown to the generations after, until Haitian singer and performer Carole Desmin teamed up with songwriter Jean-Claude Martineau, for a song entitled “Lumane Casimir”.
Today, Lumane’s legacy is that of a pioneer. Songs like “Caroline Acau”, “Panama’m Tonbe” are among the most well-known from her repertoire and are part of national consciousness. And she is called by many to be the first Haitian woman guitarist, and the First Lady of Haitian Song.
Bet you’re curious as to what she sounded like. You can hear a recording of her below.