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Cy Grant - Navigating the dreams of an icon through his archive

A selection of images from the Cy Grant archive

London Metropolitan Archives (LMA) has been be a major partner in the Cy Grant Trust’s project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund to catalogue the archives of African Caribbean Guyanese-born Cy Grant (1919-2010), actor, singer/songwriter, artistic director, broadcaster, writer, multi-ethnic arts community organiser and activist, and promote his legacy to wider community. Titled 'Navigating the Dreams of an Icon: Remembering Cy Grant Through His Archive', the project has been assisted by other partners including the Windrush Foundation. Richard Wiltshire takes a closer look at the results of this exciting project to catalogue and share the stories of a Caribbean hero and highlights volunteer achievements.

Context

LMA has an active programme of acquisitions from diverse communities based in London. The Black African Caribbean collections have been built since the first deposit, made by Guyanese-born Eric and Jessica Huntley (publishers and activists), of the Huntley archives in 2005. The archive of Cy Grant, deposited at LMA in 2014 and 2015, represents a major addition to LMA's community holdings complimenting records of other London-based Caribbean-born individuals such as author Dr Petronella Breinburg (education), Lorna Holder (fashion and heritage projects), Sybil Phoenix MBE (youth clubs, fashion and women’s refuge), Willis Wilkie (supplementary schools) and records collected by fans of Paul Robeson, performer. Together these collections represent a remarkable first-generation who were active in promoting social cohesion in communities. The Cy Grant archive fills a gap in documenting the career of an iconic singer and actor who transcended the Black Community and his role in multi-ethnic community arts.

For further details see LMA's leaflet Black African Caribbean Community archive (180KB)

Biography

Born in Guyana in 1919, Cyril Ewart Lionel Grant served as a Flight Lieutenant in the Royal Air Force during the Second World War. By the 1950s, Cy Grant lived in London following a successful career as singer/songwriter, later becoming a community organiser/activist, artistic director, actor, broadcaster, writer, poet, and community historian. He became the first Black person to appear regularly on British television. The Cy Grant archive is important not just because of its significance in documenting Cy Grant's personal history, but because it sheds light on a wider shared national and international community history well beyond the Black Caribbean community. This collection contains rich material for research themes around multi-ethnic minority arts on a national basis, an iconic career which saw stardom and fame across the world and across ethnic divides, wartime narratives, discourse on Black African Caribbean roots, culture and race relations.

The records

The records comprise 488 files, volumes and other formats dating from the 1930s to 2011 including minutes, letters, literary manuscripts, printed material, photographs and audio-visual material.

Highlights in the collection include Cy Grant's Royal Air Force Service records (series reference LMA/4709/A/01) including his log book (1941-1943) and medals; notes and cuttings from his Prisoner of War experience in Germany and Poland after his capture by the Nazis in 1943 (series reference LMA/4709/A/02); fan-mail, studio and film stills photographs, and films documenting Cy Grant’s fame from his acting and singing, 1950s-1970s; minutes and papers of the Drum Arts Centre Limited, London, 1970s documenting the establishment of a national centre for the arts of Black people and related Black Theatre Workshop (LMA/4709/D); minutes and printed material documenting the Concord Festival Trust for which Cy Grant was Director overseeing 22 multicultural ethic arts festivals across Britain over four years between 1981-1985 (LMA/4709/E). Cy Grant's life is documented in his memoir 'Blackness and the Dreaming Soul' published in 2007 and his original drafts are contained in the collection alongside other writings (LMA/4709/F).

The project

The collection was catalogued as part of a project funded by Heritage Lottery Fund titled 'Navigating the Dreams of an Icon: Remembering Cy Grant Through His Archive'. £79,800 was awarded by the Heritage Lottery Fund to the Cy Grant Trust. The Trust, London Metropolitan Archives and Windrush Foundation formed a partnership in 2015 to oversee the archive project which ran from April 2016-May 2017.

The initiative funded a six month full time archivist position. Errin Hussey began in May 2016 to catalogue the archive and supervise volunteers in completion of listing and packaging. The catalogue to the collection (reference LMA/4709) was launched in February 2017 at the project’s finale event on 18 February. The project has delivered a series of education events at different venues including BFI and Black Cultural Archives to the finale of the project in February 2017. A travelling exhibition which began in November at the Marcus Garvey Library, Tottenham has visited a number of venues in London which Windrush Foundation organised. Poppy Szaybo, the project’s Outreach Education Officer worked on an online education pack resource due for/published in early Summer 2017.

Access

The Cy Grant archive is available to consult, reference code LMA/4709. The online catalogue provides detailed contextual notes and including information on related sources held elsewhere. Some records such as the fan-mail are subject to closures under data protection legislation. Example extracts from fan-mail letters are however given on the catalogue at series level (LMA/4709/J/06).

Some records including Royal Air Force log book and medals and correspondence with Sir Laurence Olivier are available only with advance notice and at the discretion of the LMA Director. These have however been digitised along with audio-visual audio recordings of Cy Grant’s performances. Access to digitised records is by prior appointment. Please contact staff for further details.

For more information on the project visit the Cy Grant website.

Acknowledgements:

Cy Grant's archive was catalogued with invaluable assistance of volunteers. Over 350 hours were given by volunteers to package and describe the collection. The project partners would like to thank staff and volunteers for their dedication to the project and the Heritage Lottery Fund for generously funding the initiative.

Published:
12 May 2016
Last Modified:
09 August 2018

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