20 December 2018

Documenting the life of Geraldine Connor

Archive placement student, Millie Clift, is doing a brilliant job digging through Geraldine’s archives here at GCF. We asked her to tell us about what she’s uncovered and how she’s been getting on.

When I first started my placement with the Geraldine Connor Foundation I had no prior knowledge of Geraldine’s career, but I was quickly made aware of her outstanding production, Carnival Messiah. The success which it achieved and the support which she and Carnival Messiah had throughout its time amazed me. I had always known that performance, dance and music had an astonishing impact on people, but it wasn’t until I started reading about Geraldine and her life’s work beyond Carnival Messiah that I realised how much one person could do through the arts to inspire others.

Geraldine Connor © Diane Howse

Carnival Messiah has been described as the pinnacle of Geraldine Connor’s career, and this cannot be denied. However, I am trying to look beyond this production, into all the other amazing work which Geraldine did. What I didn’t realise was how much there would be. From academic brilliance, receiving her PhD from the University of Leeds, to being to first female Steelband arranger for the Panorama competitions; from helping to develop a degree course in Multicultural Music at the City of Leeds College of Music to singing on the original recording of ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’; from co-ordinating Yorkshire Black Arts Week in 1994 to becoming a senior lecturer at Bretton Hall, University College of Leeds; not to mention all of her contributions to numerous productions at the West Yorkshire Playhouse and elsewhere, it appears that there is no part of the creative arts which she did not touch.

In order to acknowledge the full range of projects which Geraldine accomplished in her lifetime, I have been visiting several different archives. Particularly, the West Yorkshire Playhouse archive in the Brotherton Special Collections at Leeds University and the George Padmore Institute which is located in Finsbury Park, London. Most of her work on productions is kept within the Brotherton Special Collections, so if you are interested, this is the place to go! The George Padmore Institute is also somewhere which is well worth a visit; founded in 1991 it is a research centre which houses materials relating to the black community of Caribbean, African and Asian descent in Britain and continental Europe ( It is also connected to the New Beacon Books shop, which has specialised in African and Caribbean Literature since 1966.

Photograph taken from

These archives have told me a lot about Geraldine’s life, but I am sure this is only the tip of the iceberg and that there is much more which the Foundation and I can learn. If you have any stories of your time with Geraldine, or information on projects which Geraldine was involved with, I would love to hear from you. Please get in touch at

12 November 2018

GCF Scholarship Student wins RSA Award

Congratulations to the wonderful and talented Anna May, who has won the RSA Edward Boyle Prize for her work with the Laidlaw Scholarship. The award recognises how a student has developed on both a professional and personal level.

Anna worked with GCF over a period of two years as part of the Undergraduate Research and Leadership Scholarship (UGRLS). During her time with us, she researched the impact and legacy of Geraldine’s creation ‘Carnival Messiah’, with a particular focus on the production at Harewood House in 2007.

Congratulations again, Anna! All your hard work has been recognised, and we’re so proud of you.

Anna May at the Carnival Messiah the Film premiere, Sept 2017

15 October 2018

Celebrating International Success at GCF

We are delighted that Carnival Messiah The Film & Documentary won the People’s Choice Award for Best Documentary at the Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival 2018.

Filmmaker Ashley Karrell with the other TT Film Festival Winners

Carnival Messiah, created by Geraldine Connor, was a cultural landmark in both Leeds and the Caribbean. Following its first incarnation as a student production at Wakefield Theatre Royal in 1994, the production empowered a whole generation of performers and entertained thousands of audience members in Leeds in 1999, 2002 and 2007. In 2003 and 2004 the show was performed in Trinidad at Queens Hall. As Express Trinidad reported at the time, “Carnival Messiah is the largest theatrical production, beyond Carnival itself, that Trinidad has ever hosted.”

Carnival Messiah features the work from Trinidad’s own Wayne Berkeley (Set Design), Clary Salandy (Costume Design), Carol La Chapelle (Choreographer), Michael Steel-Eytle (Choral Director), Dudley Nesbit (Steel Band Director) and the performing talents of Ronald Samm (The Voice of Truth), Nigel Wong (Minstrel), Marvin Smith (Lone Disciple), Anne Fridal (Mary), Alyson Brown (Pierrot / Dove of Peace), Christopher Sheppard (Carnival Messiah), Natalie Joseph-Settle (Shango Dancer), Sheldon Blackman (Chantuelle), Jonathan Bishop (Featured Cast), Caroline Neisha Taylor (Featured Cast) and Ella Andall (Mother Earth).

Carnival Messiah The Film & Documentary, created and directed by Leeds based film-maker, Ashley Karrell, had two sold out screenings at the Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival in September 2018.

Ashley said: “I’m so proud that Carnival Messiah The Film & Documentary won the Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival 2018 People’s Choice Award for Best Documentary. Thanks go out to all the Trinni’s who came and supported the film. Geraldine Connor would have been so happy that Carnival Messiah came home with more success. Special thanks go out to the Geraldine Connor Foundation, Harewood House and Leeds 2023 for all their support.”

Ashley with Jodi Marie from the TT Film Festival

Congratulations to Ashley and the GCF supporters who flew out to Trinidad for the Festival and spread the word about the work of the Foundation.

12 September 2018

Ultiverse Performance Residency

Calling all students and recent graduates looking to gain experience in a professional arts project…

Visual artist, Akeelah Bertram, is looking for performing arts students and recent graduates to take part in a performance residency next week to help develop her immersive installation, Ultiverse. Akeelah and her team are particularly looking for vocalists who can sing in different languages.

This is a fantastic opportunity to learn from professional artists working in a variety of art forms. This residency will take place between 17th-21st September at The Tetley, Leeds.

If you would like to be involved, please email either Akeelah at or GCF Director, Selina, at to find out more, discuss your availability next week. A fee of £30 will paid to you for each session you attend next week.

Ultiverse, Akeelah Bertram

Ultiverse will run at Light Night Leeds 2018 on Friday 5th October, 6-10pm at the Tetley, Leeds. There will also be scheduled performances on the hour from 6–10pm with GCF Creative Associate Artists, Zodwa Nyoni and Akeim Toussaint Buck; composer Aron Kyne and vocalist Thabo Mkwananzi.

23 August 2018

Exploring Windrush Roots

Urban Muhammad in 'Sorrel & Black Cake'. Photo by Tim Smith.
Urban Muhammad in ‘Sorrel & Black Cake’. Photo by Tim Smith

June 2018 marked the 70th anniversary of Windrush. Bringing the first wave of Caribbean migrants to Britain in 1948, this momentous historical event was the beginning of the mass immigration movement in the UK that resulted in an estimated 172,000 West Indian born people living in the UK by 1961; the ‘Windrush Generation’.

We decided to celebrate this important anniversary by creating a new theatre production. The project, entitled Windrush: An Influential Force on British Culture, was made possible through funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund Young Roots programme, which aims help young people explore their heritage through a variety of events and activities.

Although our Windrush project focused on engaging young people with their heritage, we were delighted when Black History buff, Urban Muhammad, got involved with the project after being invited to share his expansive knowledge of Caribbean history and the Windrush story with the project’s young participants.

Urban teaches Black History in Leeds, Huddersfield and Birmingham. The project’s coordinators, writer and poet Khadijah Ibrahiim and musician/composer Christella Litras, asked Urban to contribute to the development of script for this new Windrush inspired production.

When Khadijah mentioned to Urban that there was a role in the script that would be a perfect fit for him, he was slightly taken aback. “I’d never done anything like this before,” said Urban. “But I thought, why not? I’ll give this a try.”

And so he did! The script was finished and the final piece, called Sorrel & Black Cake: A Windrush Story, had its premiere in Leeds on ‘Windrush Day’, Friday 22nd June 2018. Urban played the part of Belford, the pastor son of the recently deceased Windrush passenger, Miss Letty.

“It was nerve-wracking,” said Urban. “But after we’d finished performing, I was filled with exhilaration. It was emotional.”

We asked Urban what guidance he’d give to older people who have never acted on stage before but would be interested in giving it a go. Urban’s advice? “Just do it! Go for it. As they say, life’s too short.”

We are delighted that Sorrel & Black Cake will be appearing at the Ilkley Literature Festival on Friday 5th October 2018. Join the production’s visionary creatives, poet and theatre-maker Khadijah Ibrahiim and composer/musician Christella Litras, as they discuss their inspiration, perform extracts and present never-before seen footage of interviews which inspired the production. This event begins at 7.15pm in the Wharfeside Theatre at Ilkley Playhouse. Tickets can be purchased here.

Urban and the cast of Sorrel & Black Cake. Photo by Tim Smith
Urban and the cast of Sorrel & Black Cake. Photo by Tim Smith