Gloria Cummins WORDS | SHABAKA THOMPSON
The well-known leader of one of the oldest mas bands in Notting Hill Carnival, Flamboyan, passed away on 17 September. Gloria Cummins was 78, and had 11 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren. Gloria came to the UK in the 1960s. She worked as a psychiatric nurse in Kent, but later moved to London and became a community relations officer in Westminster. In the late 1960s she set up Flamboyan with Larry Ford. The band’s base at Fernhead Road, W9, is probably the longest established mas camp in London, a place where the young, aspiring mas-maker could expect close scrutiny, but also practical help. Larry and Gloria were always willing to help, sharing the processes and dynamics of costume construction as well as the politics of Notting Hill Carnival. 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 Carnival. As her discipline was costuming, she made every effort to ensure this shone through. Her ideas for mas were innovative and refreshing. It was under her watch, back in the early 90s, that LCMA [London Carnival Mas Association, the
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. But 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. 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 Carnival, and to her local community. We should ensure she is recognised, albeit posthumously, for all her accomplishments.
SN OCTOBER 2017 07
Published on Oct 1, 2017
In this month’s issue, read our exclusive report on the reclaiming of Notting Hill Carnival. Also check out our interview with Chef Hasan De...