Monday, January 01, 2007

Mahala, Maureen and Louis Armstrong

This is a great picture. I found it in an old and long-since defunct newspaper from 1957. The photograph shows two Cardiff nightclub singers Mahala Davis and Maureen Jemmett with none other than Louis Armstrong. I reckon it must have been taken in May 1956 when Armstrong and his All Stars were on tour in London.

The newspaper story is basically a standard Welsh-person-doing-well-in-London showbiz piece. Mahala (left) had apparently sung a blues number The Hip Shaking Mama on a New Year's Eve TV show and previously appeared in a TV production entitled The Georgia Story.

In Neil Sinclair's invaluable book Endangered Tiger the author suggests Mahala and Maureen were resident in the Westbourne Park area of London at about this time along with other Cardiff exiles. He even talks about bumping into Maureen Jemmett in a West End jazz club.

As well as Mahala Davis and Maureen Jemmett, Sinclair namechecks other 1950s Cardiff vocalists: Rohima Ali, Patti Flynn, Lorne Lesley, Rosie Roberts, Selina Duncan and Shirley Bassey of course.

This is fascinating because these girls represent a veritable wave of young, black, Welsh, female talent, trying to break into the world of showbiz in the Fifties. This phenomenon is sorely underwritten in the history of Welsh (and indeed British) pop culture.

Anyway, here's to those forgotten singers and Happy New Year.