Did you know Sister Rosetta Tharpe, the ‘godmother of rock’n’roll’ performed at Chorlton railway station in 1964? She was one of a number of legendary blues musicians who played as part of the ‘Gospel and Blues Train’ – a one-off performance contrived by Granada Television, which included turning the station (which was roughly on the site of what is now Chorlton Metrolink stop) into a scene from the wild west, with crates, chickens, wanted posters, and a large sign temporarily renaming the station ‘Chorltonville’.
It’s a piece of history that was at risk of being forgotten, until the footage recently appeared on YouTube, including this film of Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s performance (in the rain, just in case she was in doubt she was in the North of England…).
You can now read about this story in a beautiful new book we have produced and published in partnership with Chorlton High School.
The Roving Reader Files
You may remember I invited us all on a journey From Jamaica to England a little while ago. We were accompanied by a whole range of individuals, learning about their experiences of migration as preserved in primary and secondary sources you can find right here in the Centre.
Educated and uneducated, men and women, Black and ‘middle-class brown’ – each had something significant to tell us about the hardships involved in giving up their homeland to travel across the seas to what you’d think might be a better future…
Well, I was reminded of our journey back in August as I leafed through some obituaries over breakfast. Now, what’s so good about obituaries? Not a lot, you’d think, given that their purpose is to tell all and sundry that yet another person has died. Whilst that might not be the best news we’ll ever hear, I have to say I’ve always found obituaries fascinating. As a kind of secondary source, sometimes they open up a window into a different world, a different era – just enough to spur us on to find out a little bit more.
And that’s what happened to me whilst I was eating my cornflakes, and I’d like to share that experience with you…
When we travelled from Jamaica to England, there was one community from which we heard nothing directly, although despite it’s small size, it has influenced the lives of everyone who’s ever called Jamaica home. Which community was that? The white community. This fact struck me like a bolt from the blue as I realised I’d begun to read the obituary of a white Jamaican who died aged 104 – Blanche Blackwell.
Julie met Frank Pleszak at Polish Heritage Day back in May, and was fascinated to hear about the hidden histories he has uncovered, whilst researching his father’s experiences as a Polish refugee in the Second World War. Here he talks about his family, his research and his ongoing relationship with his father’s land.
I was born in Manchester and have lived and worked here all my life. I’m proud to be a Mancunian. I love it when people ask me where I’m from and I can say Manchester.
But my surname clearly isn’t local. My mum was from Salford but my dad, who died in 1994, was Polish. He never spoke much about his early life, I know he’d fought in Italy at the famous battle of Monte Cassino but it wasn’t until after his death that I began to think about why he was here in Manchester, why he’d been in Italy, and why he hadn’t gone back home to Poland after the war. I had no idea of the monumental series of events, together with World War Two, that had created me a Mancunian.
At the house my dad lived in until his arrest in 1939
Have you caught the dramatisation of Assata Shakur’s autobiography on Radio 4 this week? In a coincidence of timing the book has also made it to the top of Jo Manby’s review pile!
Assata: An Autobiography by Assata Shakur. First published in the UK by Zed Books Ltd, London (1988). This edition Lawrence Hill Books (an imprint of Chicago Review Press, Incorporated): Chicago, Illinois, 2014
Assata Shakur is the FBI’s most wanted woman. Since 1979 has lived in Cuba as a fugitive after being granted asylum there following her escape from prison. She is also a founding member of the Black Liberation Army and godmother of Tupac Shakur. This autobiography tells the story of the circumstances that brought her to her present day situation.
A Different Kind of Daughter – The Girl who Hid from the Taliban in Plain Sight
by Maria Toorpakai with Katharine Holstein. First published in the UK by Bluebird (2016). This edition Bluebird (an imprint of Pan Macmillan): London, 2017
Maria Toorpakai is Pakistan’s number one female squash player, and is a professional player now living in Canada. This autobiography follows her journey.
In her prologue, Maria says ‘I needed to be outside, under the open sky and running free.’ However, born and brought up in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), specifically Waziristan, in Pakistan, this kind of behaviour was forbidden by tribal law. Even more punitive and suffocating were the edicts of the Taliban, which began to invade people’s lives in this conflicted area and beyond during Maria’s childhood and teens.
The Roving Reader Files
People disappear from history all the time. No written records, no treasured belongings handed down as heirlooms, no-one still around to remember… There are lots of reasons. But one of the most successful film-makers of his era? That’s unusual…
Take a look at this:
Jo Manby has taken a break from reviewing books to find out about self-portrait artist Samuel Fosso.
On a recent city break in Paris, we came across the privately run Galerie Jean Marc Patras. It was a cold February morning in the Marais – an area known for its arts and culture – just down the way from the Picasso Museum. In the windows of the gallery were two imposing works from Samuel Fosso’s Emperor of Africa series. These showed the artist gazing into an indeterminate, glorious distance, his face made up to represent the Chinese leader Mao Zedong, his figure dressed in Mao Zedong’s uniform-styled outfits.
Samuel Fosso Autoportrait, “Emperor of Africa” series 2013
© Samuel Fosso
Courtesy Jean Marc Patras / Paris
The Roving Reader Files
It may not have felt like it at the time, but on 28th March this year we all lost something special. No, I don’t mean our wallets or our smart phones. What we lost was something even more important – a bit of global conscience. What do I mean? It was the day South African veteran of the anti-apartheid struggle Ahmed Kathrada died, aged 86.
Ahmed Kathrada may not be a name you’re very familiar with. Yet even as a youth this man had stood shoulder to shoulder with Nelson Mandela and other great anti-apartheid leaders right from the beginning of the campaign against the consolidating apartheid state in the 1940s. He was also with Mandela throughout his long incarceration.
Ahmed Kathrada in 2016. Source: Wikimedia Commons
Book review: Jimi Hendrix – Soundscapes by Marie-Paule Macdonald (Reaktion Books Ltd: London, 2016)
Review by Jo Manby
Marie-Paule Macdonald’s electrifying study of Jimi Hendrix charts the experiential and musical trajectory through his tragically short life. It also seeks to pin down which elements contributed to his innovative power as the pre-eminent pioneer of electric guitar playing.
Book Review: The Black Panthers Speak, Edited by Philip S. Foner, new Foreword by Barbara Ransby (Haymarket Books: Chicago 2014)
(first published by J.B. Lippincott Company: Philadelphia & New York, 1970)
Review by Jo Manby
The Black Panthers Speak is a bibliographic archive of correspondence, news, rules, speeches and poems – the documents that underpinned the fabric of the Black Panther Party’s (BPP) organisation.
The 2014 republishing of The Black Panthers Speak, an essential documentary history of the BPP, is indeed timely. Compiled and edited by Philip S. Foner (1910-1994), this is a new edition with an updated foreword by the writer, historian and political activist Barbara Ransby. When first published in 1970, the volume sought to counter the many misinterpretations that the BPP was subject to.