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UK

Published on June 26th, 2015 | by Ray Funk - Trinidad Guardian Newspapers

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London’s first Caribbean Carnival?

During the summers of the mid-1960s, social worker Rhaune Laslett persuaded Russ Henderson and his steelband trio to parade on the streets of Notting Hill at different events she had. The complex history of London’s Notting Hill Carnival is widely understood to evolve from these events. From this humble beginning grew one of the largest Carnivals in the World. Prior to that, Claudia Jones and her newspaper West Indian Gazette had staged a series of annual pre-Lenten Carnival cabarets from 1959 to 1964 at various venues.

Sixty years ago, before Notting Hill, before Claudia Jones, a concert billed as The First Caribbean Carnival in London was held at the Royal Albert Hall on July 31, 1955. It was sponsored by Hugh Scotland. Though little remembered today, music historian Val Wilmer has cited him as a “legendary Jamaican entrepreneur” and one “who booked London’s Caribbean and African entertainers for more than three decades.” The Royal Albert is one of the premiere concert venues in the British capital for all styles of music.

caribbean carnivale

A surviving printed programme for The First Caribbean Carnival in London shows that it had calypso, steelband, mas, and even J’Ouvert. The lineup of singers, musicians and dancers was very strong.  Lord Kitchener and George Browne provided the calypso. Kitch was at the height of his popularity in England at the time. Browne, though never on the Trinidad calypso scene, was a versatile singer and actor who had a long and distinguished career. He had come to England in the 1940s, started recording as Young Tiger, and recorded many calypso numbers in the 50s. He performed all over the country, especially at universities, and travelled as a calypso singer in the 50s around England and into Europe.

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