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Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0074 LMA/4709
Held at: London Metropolitan Archives
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Date(s): 1930s - 2011
Level of description: Collection
Extent: 4.5 linear metres
Name of creator(s): Grant, Cyril Ewart Lionel | 1919-2010 | actor, singer, broadcaster, activist | alias Cy Grant


Administrative/Biographical history:

African Guyanese-born Cyril Ewart Lionel 'Cy' Grant served as a Flight Lieutenant Navigator in the Royal Air Force (RAF) in the Second World War, later becoming a barrister, actor, singer/songwriter, artistic director, broadcaster, writer, multi-ethnic arts community organiser and activist.

He was born on 8 November 1919, Beterverwagting, British Guiana (which later became Guyana) the son of Reverend Henry William Wadsworth Grant and Ann Marion Bayley (of Antigua) who had married in Barbados in 1910. His father was a Moravian Minister and his wife also known as 'Annie' and 'Annabelle', taught some music. For further details on the family see LMA/4709/F/01/02/005 and LMA/4709/J/05/009.

Cy Grant paid his own way to Britain in 1941 to serve as a Flight Lieutenant and Navigator in the Royal Air Force (RAF) during the Second World War. On his third mission in 1943, Cy Grant's plane was shot down over Netherlands [Holland]. Cy Grant was captured and spent the following two years as a Prisoner of War in Germany.

By the 1950s Cy Grant was living in London and initially trained to become a barrister. He was called to the Bar in 1951, however he unfortunately failed to secure his desired job at this time. Cy decided to pursue a career in acting, first on stage and then on screen. In the early 1950s he successfully auditioned and toured with Laurence Olivier's Festival of Britain company. Throughout his career he had many stage and screen highlights including 'Man from the sun' with Errol John in 1956, 'Sea Wife' with Richard Burton and Joan Collins in 1957, 'Home of the Brave' in 1957, playing the lead role in Othello in 1965 and he voiced Lieutenant Green in the show 'Captain Scarlett and the Mysterons' from 1967. Later in his career he turned back to stage acting and created a one man performance of Aime Cesaire's poem 'Return to my native land' at the National Theatre in 1976, subsequently touring the show for a further 2 years.

While Cy Grant pursued his career in acting, it was his singing that really made him a household name. He became the first Black person to appear regularly on British television, appearing regularly on the 'Tonight' show singing topical calypsos, from 1957 and continued to tour his own live music show for many years after.

In 1956 his press advertisement stated 'Cy Grant stage, films, cabaret, radio and television records'.

He campaigned for human rights and against colonialism. In the 1970s Cy Grant wanted to encourage a positive change for black actors and artists in Britain. Together with John Mapondera, he created Drum Arts Centre Limited in 1974. The organisation championed black playwrights and actors and led to residencies in venues such as the Institute of Contemporary Arts and the Commonwealth Institute. In 1978 Cy decided to stand down as director of Drum and set his sights on his next venture. In the 1980s Cy Grant focused on promotion of artists in all minority ethnic groups, which led to the creation of Concord Festival Trust in 1981. This organisation delivered 22 cultural festivals across the United Kingdom until 1985.

In the later years of his life, Cy Grant dedicated himself to spirituality and writing. His first book 'Ring of Steel: pan sound and symbol, was published in 1999. His memoir of his Prisoner of War experience 'A Member of the Royal Air Force of Indeterminate Race' followed in 2007, and 'Blackness and the Dreaming Soul' in 2007 and his poetry collection 'Rivers of Time' in 2008.

Cy Grant had a son, Paul from his first marriage. In 1956 Cy Grant married secondly Dorith Kastner and had three children Dana, Dominic and Samantha (Sami) Grant.

Cy Grant died on 13 February 2010 at University College Hospital, London.


Scope and content/abstract:

Records of Cy Grant reflecting his career containing rich material for research themes around multi-ethnic minority arts on a national basis, an iconic career which saw stardom and fame across the world and across ethnic divides, wartime narratives, discourse on Black African Caribbean roots, culture and race relations.

Records consist of correspondence, notes, photographs and audio-visual material. Includes Cy Grant's records relating to his service as navigator in the Second World War, records of Drum Arts Centre Limited, records of Concord Festival Trust; his acting career including theatre and film posters and programmes, correspondence with agents and producers and fan mail; writing career including published books and draft manuscripts, campaigning, spirituality and health and personal papers including copy items from 1910.

Highlights in the collection include Cy Grant's Royal Air Force log book; fan-mail, studio and film stills photographs, and audio-visual material documenting Cy Grant's fame from his acting and singing, 1950s-1970s; minutes and papers of the Drum Arts Centre Limited London, 1970s documenting the establishment of a national centre for the arts of Black people and related Black Theatre Workshop; minutes and printed material documenting the Concord Festival Trust for which Cy Grant was Director overseeing 22 multicultural ethic arts festivals across Britain over four years between 1981-1985. Cy Grant's life is documented in his memoir 'Blackness and the Dreaming Soul' published in 2007 and his original drafts are contained in the collection alongside other writings.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: The collection was catalogued as part of a project funded by Heritage Lottery Fund titled 'Navigating the Dreams of an Icon: Remembering Cy Grant Through His Archive'. 79,800 was awarded by the Heritage Lottery Fund to the Cy Grant Trust. The Trust, London Metropolitan Archives and Windrush Foundation formed a partnership in 2015 to oversee the archive project which ran from April 2016-May 2017 including an exhibition, website and education pack as well as a series of events including a Finale on 18 February 2017 at London Metropolitan Archives.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:

The collection is arranged as follows:

Conditions governing access:

These records are available for public inspection, although records containing personal information may be subject to access restrictions. Some items are available only by discretion of the Director of London Metropolitan Archives.

Conditions governing reproduction:

Copyright rests with the depositor.

Finding aids:

Please see online catalogues at:

Archival Information

Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:

Deposited between 2014 and 2016.

Allied Materials

Related material:

LMA holds a flyer (LMA/4463/C/09/06/002) for "The Keskidee Centre presents An Evening of Folk Entertainment with Cy Grant and The Black Dilemma in Schools" (1970s).

Cy Grant's Royal Air Force uniform is held by his family and destined for future deposit with a museum.

BBC Written Archives: hold BBC correspondence with Cy Grant includes notes on programmes he was involved in. Cy Grant's Agents/Managers at the BBC were at the beginning of his career Irving Hay (International Artists), from 1959 Noel Gay and 1962 Basil Douglas. Examples of letters: One letter was written by Cy Grant to Kenneth Adam- Controller of Light Entertainment during 1960s: 'I wonder if I could ring you sometime either at the office or at home to make an appointment to see you. I'd like some advice from you re. my television appearances. I feel I am over-exposing myself on the Tonight Programme, and in a way which does not show me to my best advantage. I am aware of course that I owe a great deal of my popularity to the 'Tonight' Programme, but I never get much chance to do a finished or produced job, or more important, to sign songs I like to sing. In short I'm considering leaving when it goes on its holidays at the end of this month though I have not yet said so officially'.
Also held is an outgoing letter to Cy Grant from Hallam Tennyson, Radio Producer, 15 Dec 1965 who writes about his daughter being inspired by Cy Grant 'to dizzy feats of composition and she has now written and complied two Human Rights Day songs which she is threatening to send you a tape of'.

The British Library: holds the score for 'Cy Grant: Album of International songs' and audio recordings. Also MPS 6521: Play script for Maskarade, which Cy Grant performed in, in 1994.

The British Film Institute: holds recordings of Cy Grant's film appearances.

V&A: holds Talawa Theatre Collection (TTC). 'Blackstage and Blackgrounds' was part of this Theatre's project which created oral histories. They also hold the 34 minute video, photograph of Cy Grant performing at the Theatre in 1994 in 'Maskarade'.
Also held is Temba Theatre Company Collection (THM/77) which includes - THM/273/4/2/109: Production management file for 'Return to My Native Land' (2 folders/4 items) from performance at Royal Court Theatre.

Black Cultural Archives: holds a Poster from an Anniversary Concert at St Pancras Town Hall, 28 September 1960; and Programme for Maskarade 1994 (BCA/Ephemera/105).

The Keep, Sussex: holds a leaflet for Concord Festival at Gardners Centre Theatre, Brighton, Sussex (1980s).

Publication note:

Description Notes

Archivist's note:

Cy Grant's archive was catalogued by Errin Hussey, Cy Grant Project Archivist, together with invaluable assistance from volunteers, and overseen by Richard Wiltshire, Senior Archivist. Over 350 hours were given by volunteers to package and describe the collection. The project partners would like to thank staff and volunteers for their dedication to the project and the Heritage Lottery Fund for generously funding the initiative.

Rules or conventions:
Compiled in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions:
Added April 2017.

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