Two of Notting Hill Carnival’s “pioneering fathers” will receive special honours on 24 August for their contribution to the development of the festival.
Musician Russell Henderson MBE, and former director of carnival Leslie Palmer, will each have a Blue Heritage Plaque unveiled in their honour on the corner of Tavistock Road and Basing Street in Ladbroke Grove, London – the carnival’s birthplace.
Organised by the Nubian Jak Community Trust, with support from London Notting Hill Carnival Enterprise Trust, the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea, the UK Centre for Carnival Arts, and Carnival Village, the ceremony will officially start celebrations for the 2012 Notting Hill Carnival weekend.
Jak Beula, founder of the Nubian Jak Commemorative Plaque Scheme said: “There are so many people who have played an important part in the evolution of Notting Hill Carnival. It is fitting that in 2012, when the eyes of the world are on London, the capital’s best known festival should honour and recognise two of its most influential pioneers – Russell Henderson and Leslie Palmer.”
This year’s recognition of male innovators follows a tribute to the “mothers of Notting Hill Carnival” which took place in 2011.
A pianist and bandleader from Trinidad, Henderson came to England in 1951 and learnt to play pan here with the help of experienced pannist, Sterling Betancourt. In 1965, their steel band (a pan-around-the-neck band) was invited to perform at the Notting Hill Fayre, a small multi-cultural event in a children’s playground in Ladbroke Grove, organised by community worker Rhaune Laslett.
Henderson is credited with planting the seed that would transform the fayre from a static event into a street parade, when on that day he left the playground and led his fellow musicians on a walk through Notting Hill playing their instruments.
In 1970, Henderson introduced steelpan into English schools when he began teaching the instrument in schools in Croydon, south London. He was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in 2006 for his contribution to music in England.
With the arrival of local teacher Leslie Palmer as Director of Notting Hill Carnival in 1973, the template for the modern Notting Hill Carnival was born.
Palmer realised the carnival needed to be marketed to a wider audience and decided to invite local Jamaican sound systems and black music bands to play at the festival. While this was controversial, it increased the numbers attending.
Palmer also encouraged traditional masquerade, and 1973 was the first time costume bands and steel bands from the various islands took part in the street parade. The following year stewarding and stalls were introduced, and first Radio London then Capital Radio began broadcasting from the event.
By the time Palmer left carnival in late 1975, the event was attracting more than 500,000 people.
The unveiling of the Russell Henderson and Leslie Palmer Heritage Plaques will take place on Tavistock Road (also known as Carnival Square), London W11 1AR on Friday 24 August at 1pm. The ceremony will be followed by a reception at the nearby Carnival Village, Powis Square, London W11 2AY.