Gloria Cummins

Gloria Cummins

By Shabaka Thompson

United Kingdom | Thursday 5 October 2017: 10:10 BST

The well-known leader of Flamboyan mas band – one of the oldest in Notting Hill Carnival – passed away in St Mary’s Hospital, Paddington on 17 September. Gloria was 78 and had 11 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.

Gloria came to the UK in the 1960s and worked as a psychiatric nurse in Kent, but later moved to London and worked as a community relations officer in Westminster. In the late 1960s she set up Flamboyan with Larry Ford. As Shabaka Thompson, of Yaa Asantewaa, writes in a lengthy tribute to Gloria, Flamboyan’s base at 1 Fernhead Road is probably the longest established mas camp in London. There, the young, aspiring mas-maker could expect close scrutiny, but also practical help.

"Larry and Gloria were always willing to share the information that did help you understand better the processes and dynamics of costume construction and the politics of the Notting Hill Carnival. Through Flamboyan, Gloria provided a resource for young people to explore the creativity of costume making by offering placements to many arts and secondary school students."

"Gloria was always keen on improving the artistry of the Carnival. As her discipline was costuming, she made every effort to ensure this discipline shone through. Her ideas for the mas were innovative and refreshing. It was under her watch back in the early 90s that LCMA [London Carnival Mas Association, forerunner of Notting Hill Mas Bands Association, which itself has morphed into today’s Carnival Arts and Masquerade Foundation] initiated the idea of using Alexandra Palace for a costume show."

The mas show developed into the Costume Splash, which ran for nine years, culminating in CALO, in 2011.

Gloria was far from being a mere observer of Notting Hill Carnival’s often complex and passionate politics. Well-informed and with a sharp tongue, as Shabaka observes, she was more than capable of holding her own in that largely male-dominated world.

In a Guardian interview in 2006, Gloria said: “I’m now referred to as the Grandmother of Carnival. I like that.” Shabaka has his own name for her: the Grand Dame of Notting Hill Carnival, which perhaps captures her spirit rather better.

For the last word, we turn again to Shabaka:

"May we hail the Dame of Notting Hill Carnival for her sterling and indelible contribution to the development of the artform. We must not forget her commitment and dedication to the Carnival and the North Paddington Community. As a community, we should ensure she is recognised, albeit posthumously, for these efforts."

Gloria’s funeral will take place this coming Monday 9 October from 10am at Fernhead Road Methodist church, London W9 3EA. Then onto West London crematorium for 11.15am then to Maxilla Social Club, 2a Maxilla Walk, London, W10 6SW, from 2pm to 11pm. Dress code is red and white with a touch of black.

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Soca News
November 2017

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