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.
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 (https://www.georgepadmoreinstitute.org/). It is also connected to the New Beacon Books shop, which has specialised in African and Caribbean Literature since 1966.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.