The Caribbean was never far from the centre of Geraldine Connor’s creative life. Born in Trinidad to an actor father (who starred in several Hollywood epics and brought the Trinidad All Steel Percussion Band to the Festival of Britain in 1951) and a theatrical manager mother, she studied at the Royal Academy of Music as a promising mezzo-soprano, later becoming one of its licensed teachers.
Her early career was divided between teaching (notably at the University of the West Indies) and performing in various guises – as a backing singer for Bob Marley, Tom Jones and Jimmy Cliff; singing on the original, pre-production recording of Jesus Christ Superstar; touring in productions of Showboat, Porgy and Bess, and Carmen Jones; and as a percussionist in a steel band.
Returning to the UK in 1984, she made her mark as an arranger for the Ebony steel band. In the 1990s, she held senior teaching posts at Leeds University and Bretton Hall. She was also an active composer, actor and director, writing the music for Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze’s Spirit of the Carnival (Birmingham Rep, 1994), appearing in The Man Who Lit Up the World at the Hackney Empire (1991), and co-directing Chesa Chesa for the Adzido Pan African Dance Ensemble at the Queen Elizabeth Hall (2001).
She composed, wrote and directed her signature work, Carnival Messiah, a large-scale reimagining of Handel’s Messiah, for the West Yorkshire Playhouse in 1999, reviving it in 2007 in a 1,000-seat circus tent in the grounds of Harewood House. Up until her death, she had been planning an arena-sized revival of the work for 2012.
In 2001/2, she toured the UK and Ghana with Yaa Asantewaa, Warrior Queen. The following year, she directed a revival of Blues in the Night in Leeds, while 2004’s Vodou Nation (co-directed by Brett Bailey) added a multimedia layer to another theatrical extravaganza, this one dealing with the beleaguered history of Haiti.
Born in Port of Spain, Trinidad, on March 22, 1952, she was awarded the country’s Chaconia Medal in 2009. She died, following a heart attack, on October 21, aged 59.