Attendance Diaries
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1980s Blanche Finlay

Blanche Finlay jazz, blues and gospel singer, was born in Jamaica of a Jamaican father and American mother, emigrating to Britain during the 1950s. Blanche, who settled in Manchester, believes that education is the key to fulfilling potential and enhancing how we perceive our fellow beings. She set out to bring education and culture to the people of Manchester while undergoing her own graduate and post-graduate studies. But as Blanche says "I never stopped singing", her early influences being Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Bessie Smith and Billie Holiday. Blanche identified with the blues, especially those sung by Bessie Smith, saying "I understand the pain and the struggle of black people, I've lived it myself". Early study of politics and history came through such books as "The Soul of Black Folk" by the black historian W.E.B.Du Bois, published in 1903. Du Bois graduated from Fisk University, Tennessee in 1888, then gained a Doctorate from Harvard with his thesis on The Suppression of the African Slave Trade, hailed as the "first scientific historical work written by a Negro".

Blanche Finlay in 1965 joined the MCCR (Manchester Council for Community Relations), and then the co-ordinating committee for the West Indies, and had previously been branch secretary of Manchester's Equity. With friends, she opened the Ebony Club in 1967-8, the first multi-cultural mixed race centre to cater for education and training in daytime and which operated as a jazz club and cultural centre at night. Blanche says "I saw real conflict between black people and the police. We set up seminars - groups of white and black people, which included Community Relations Officers and community leaders".

Blanche embarked on a decade of extensive education graduating from Manchester College of Music, and London and Guildhall School of Music and Drama. She won a scholarship and bursary to Ruskin College, Oxford, and graduated with the University of Oxford Special Diploma in Social Science and Certificate in Child Care. She studied Social Work and Probation Work at Birmingham University. She achieved Joint Honours in Economics at Manchester University as well as Honours Degree in Education, Politics, Psychology, Sociology, Statistics and British Social History Administration and History at Manchester University. She couldn't attend the degree ceremony at Manchester in July "as I was doing summer season in the Isle of Man... but I was invited for the ceremony in December. I was their protege. They advised me not to read Honours when they learnt that I had 8 children. However, when I maintained my "A" grades, Manchester University offered me a scholarship which paid my fees there". Blanche went on to do Postgraduate study in Psychiatric Social Work in the Faculty of Medicine.

Blanche has spent a lifetime supporting and encouraging others, not only through her music, but also throughout her working life. Blanche worked alongside the MP Bernie Grant, and was involved in racial equality issues in Europe. During the 1980s Blanche became Manchester's Women's Equality Development Officer.

Blanche was a member of the Commonwealth Games Choir in 2002and also sings with the Manchester Gospel Choir, broadcasting for BBC Radio 4 andBBC TV Songs of Praise.  British Equity arranged a wonderful GALA Event in September 2006 at which she received an Award for Services to Equity and the Profession.  Blanche donated many stage gowns to the Jazz Heritage Collection.

Photo_ Blanche Finlay receiving her Equity Award 2006