Pearl Connor-Mogotsi

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Pearl Connor-Mogotsi
Born Pearl Cynthia Nunez
(1924-05-13)13 May 1924
Diego Martin, Trinidad
Died 11 February 2005(2005-02-11) (aged 80)
Johannesburg, South Africa
Nationality Trinidadian
Occupation Theatrical and literary agent, actress and cultural activist

Pearl Connor-Mogotsi, née Nunez (13 May 1924 – 11 February 2005), was a Trinidadian-born theatrical and literary agent, actress and cultural activist, who was a pioneering campaigner for the recognition and promotion of African Caribbean arts.[1] In the UK, in the 1950s, she was the first agent to represent black and other minority ethnic actors, writers and film-makers, and during the 1960s was instrumental in setting up one of Britain's first black theatre companies, the Negro Theatre Workshop.[1] In the words of John La Rose, who delivered a eulogy at her funeral on 26 February 2005: "Pearl Connor-Mogotsi was pivotal in the effort to remake the landscape for innovation and for the inclusion of African, Caribbean and Asian artists in shaping a new vision of consciousness for art and society."[2][3]

Early years in Trinidad[edit]

Pearl Cynthia Nunez, the ninth of her parents' 12 children, was born in Diego Martin, Trinidad, to Albert Antonio Nunez and Georgina Agnes Fitt, and had a convent school education in Port of Spain. Describing her background, in an interview with Yvonne Brewster, she said: "I came from a family of educated mixed-race people in Trinidad, and we were readily exposed to music and the arts in general and the folklore....And our education was of course in the same pattern as most of the colonials. It was a British education and an English education, so we were doing Shakespeare and all that kind of thing and all the modern poets and Dickens. We were quite familiar in our secondary school education with those writers, so we had an idea what drama was, but it was the folk theatre that imbued me with the interest I had in the theatre."[4] Her first experience of performance was at the Little Carib Theatre, founded by Beryl McBurnie, who became her greatest influence.[1]

Life in London[edit]

In 1948 Pearl met and subsequently married in England the Trinidadian folk-singer and actor Edric Connor (1913–68), with whom she eventually had two children: Peter and Geraldine. She had gone to the UK to study law at King’s College, London University, but she deferred her studies to manage her husband's career.[5]

In 1956 she and her husband began an agency for black artists, The Edric Connor Agency, which in the 1970s would be renamed the Afro-Asian-Caribbean Agency,[5] representing people from the Caribbean, Malaysia, India and Africa across all art forms.[6][7] Among the many actors, dancers, musicians and writers represented by the agency in the 20 years of its existence are Carmen Munroe, Ram John Holder, Corinne Skinner, Lloyd Reckord, Patti Boulaye, Nina Baden-Semper, Yemi Ajibade, Allister Bain, George Harris, Johnny Sekka, Osibisa, Joan Armatrading, and Earl Lovelace.[8][9] The agency was also involved in the co-production of several films, most notably Carnival Fantastique (1959) and the cricket series West Indies vs England (1963), and in addition distributed other landmark films such as Pressure (London, 1975), Bim (Trinidad, 1974), Smile Orange (Jamaica, 1976), The Harder They Come (Jamaica, 1972) and King Carnival (Trinidad).[9]

Connor-Mogotsi herself trained at the Rose Bruford College of Speech and Drama and was a broadcaster for the BBC General Overseas Service, working for their Caribbean Service and in radio plays on the Corporation's domestic networks, including The Barren One (1958); My People and Your People (1959), a "West Indian ballad opera" broadcast on the BBC Home Service;[10] and Jan Carew's The Riverman (1968). She occasionally acted on the stage - as in Barry Reckord's You in Your Small Corner at the Royal Court in 1960 - and in television or film roles, including a cameo in Lindsay Anderson's O Lucky Man! (1973).[1][11]

In 1961 she was integral in setting up one of the first black theatre companies in Britain, the Negro Theatre Workshop,[1] which launched at London's Lyric Theatre with a production of A Wreath for Udomo, adapted from the novel by Peter Abrahams and with a cast that featured Earl Cameron, Edric Connor, Lloyd Reckord and Joan Hooley.[6] Another notable production was of Wole Soyinka's The Road (1965), which was first staged for the Commonwealth Arts Festival.[12] In 1966 the Workshop also produced an interpretation of the Easter story entitled The Dark Disciples, which was televised[13] and represented Britain at the First World Festival of Negro Arts in Dakar, Senegal.[12][14] She was a co-founder of the West Indian Theatre Trust and of the West Indian Students' Union based in Earls Court, London; she was also a member of the Caribbean Artists Movement (CAM) and the Committee Against Racial Discrimination (CARD).[9]

Cultural activism[edit]

In 1971, three years after Edric Connor's death, she married Joe Mogotsi, leader of the South African singing group The Manhattan Brothers, and together they organized tours throughout the world for black South African artists.[15] They also co-authored the book Mantindane - "He Who Survives": My Life With The Manhattan Brothers (2002).[8][3]

In 1972 she was awarded Trinidad and Tobago's Hummingbird Silver Medal for "outstanding services to the immigrant community in the United Kingdom".[1][16]

In 1992 she was an interviewee in the two-part BBC television documentary Black and White In Colour, directed by Isaac Julien, which examined the contribution of black and Asian people to British television history from the birth of television in 1936 to 1992.[17][18] In 1995, Connor opened the 12th International Book Fair of Radical Black and Third World Books in London.[1][19]

On 20 January 1997 she gave the first talk in the "Life Experience With Britain" series of talks and conversations at the George Padmore Institute in London.[20][21]

Connor Mogotsi, aged 81, died on 11 February 2005 in Johannesburg, South Africa,[22][23] where she had gone with Mogotsi for the premiere of the film Sophiatown.[8] Her funeral took place at St Martin's Church, Kensal Green, on 26 February.[24][3]

The Edric and Pearl Connor Papers, 1941–1978, were donated to the Alma Jordan Library at the University of the West Indies, St Augustine, Trinidad & Tobago, and a collection of additional related items is housed in the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.[25]

Further reading[edit]

  • Roxy Harris and Sarah White (eds), Changing Britannia – Life Experience With Britain, London: New Beacon Books/George Padmore Institute, 1999, pp. 1–18. ISBN 1 873201 15 X.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g Stephen Bourne, "Pearl Connor-Mogotsi - Trailblazer for African Caribbean arts in the UK" (obituary), The Independent, 14 February 2005.
  2. ^ Quoted in Leela Ramdeen, "‘Last lap’ in London", Guardian (Trinidad and Tobago), October 4, 2007.
  3. ^ a b c John La Rose, "Eulogy for Pearl Connor-Mogotsi", Caribia Digest, 2005.
  4. ^ Rodreguez King-Dorset, "Pearl Connor-Mogotsi, née Nunez—Agent", in Black British Theatre Pioneers: Yvonne Brewster and the First Generation of Actors, Playwrights and Other Practitioners, McFarland, 2014, p. 96.
  5. ^ a b "Biography - Pearl Connor-Mogotsi". Extract from Caribbean Britain: The Cultural and Biographical Directory by Marjorie H. Morgan, Historical Geographies.
  6. ^ a b Seb Whyte, "Connor-Mogotsi, Pearl (1924-2005), Actor", BFI Screen Online.
  7. ^ Claire Cochrane, Twentieth-Century British Theatre: Industry, Art and Empire, Cambridge University Press, 2011, p. 227.
  8. ^ a b c Margaret Busby, "Pearl Connor-Mogotsi" (obituary), The Guardian, 2 March 2005.
  9. ^ a b c Pearl Connor-Mogotsi biographical note, p. 17, in Roxy Harris and Sarah White (eds), Changing Britannia – Life Experience With Britain, New Beacon Books/George Padmore Institute, 1999.
  10. ^ Stephen Bourne Black in the British Frame: The Black Experience in British Film and Television, London: Continuum, 2001, p. 117.
  11. ^ "Pearl Connor | Filmography", BFI.
  12. ^ a b "Connor, Pearl", in David Dabydeen, John Gilmore, Cecily Jones (eds), The Oxford Companion to Black British History, Oxford University Press, 2007, p. 141.
  13. ^ "Meeting Point", BBC One London, 3 April 1966 18.15: "Negro Theatre Workshop presents THE DARK DISCIPLES | A Blues version of The Passion". Radio Times, Issue 2212, 31 March 1966, p. 17.
  14. ^ Colin Chambers, "Black British Plays Post World War II -1970s", Black Plays Archive, National Theatre.
  15. ^ Bourne, Black in the British Frame (2001), p. 89.
  16. ^ National Awards Recipients 1969 - 1979, NALIS.
  17. ^ "Black and White in Colour (1992)", BFI ScreenOnline.
  18. ^ "Pearl Connor" at IMDb.
  19. ^ Sarah White, Roxy Harris & Sharmilla Beezmohun (eds), "Pearl Connor-Mogotsi", A Meeting of the Continents: The International Book Fair of Radical Black and Third World Books – Revisited, London: New Beacon Books/George Padmore Institute, 2005, p. 509.
  20. ^ "Biography - Pearl Connor-Mogotsi". Extract from Caribbean Britain: The Cultural and Biographical Directory by Marjorie H. Morgan © 2013. Historical Geographies.
  21. ^ "Pearl Connor-Mogotsi - First Talk in the Life Experience With Britain series at the George Padmore Institute, London (20.1.97)", in Roxy Harris and Sarah White (eds), Changing Britannia – Life Experience With Britain, London: New Beacon Books/George Padmore Institute, 1999, p. 1.
  22. ^ Trevor Grundy, "Pearl Connor-Mogotsi", The Stage, 4 April 2005.
  23. ^ "Pearl Connor dies in South Africa", Trinidad and Tobago Newsday, 13 February 2005.
  24. ^ Stephen Bourne, "Mogotsi, Pearl Cynthia Connor- (1924–2005)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, January 2009; online edn, January 2015, accessed 15 July 2015.
  25. ^ Edric and Pearl Connor Papers, 1941-1978 Archived 2012-04-26 at the Wayback Machine., University of the West Indies, Special Collections.

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