In Tribute | Patti Flynn’s Soulful Resonance

Patti Flynn’s Soulful Resonance | Tribute

Wales Arts Review completes our series championing Parthian’s Seventy Years of Struggle and Achievement: Life Stories of Ethnic Minority Women Living in Wales with an essay written in tribute to the life of singer, performer, presenter and local historian Patti Flynn – a lifelong advocate for the arts and Welsh BLM community.

Patti was born in 1937 to a mixed ­heritage family in Cardiff’s docklands area, Tiger Bay. Patti’s mum, Beatrice Maud, who was from Canton, Cardiff, worked in service for a Spanish family. They ran a very popular Cardiff restaurant on George Street, where many of the seamen enjoyed their meals when their ships docked for a few days to unload and load their cargo in the Cardiff port. It was here that Beatrice met Patti’s father, Wilmott George, who was a merchant seaman from the coastal town of Saint Moria in the north of Jamaica.

The couple married and settled in the multiracial community of Tiger Bay, living in a shared house on Sophia Street. They had six children, three boys and three girls, with Patti being the youngest. When Patti was a year old, the family moved to their own three-­bedroom house on Pomeroy Street, which had been given to them by Patti’s uncle, Albert. Patti’s mother later told her that she thought her dreams had been fulfilled when they were given the key to their own house.

Patti with her best friend, Valerie Romaine
Patti with her best friend, Valerie Romaine

Unfortunately, only a year after settling in, the Second World War began, and her mother’s dreams began to shatter, with the family experiencing many war ­related tragedies. Patti’s father joined the Merchant Seamen, and his ship, while bringing much­ needed resources to the UK, was torpedoed in September 1942. Then, two years later, Patti’s older brother, Arthur, a sergeant in the Royal Air Force, was flying as a wireless operator-­air gunner and was killed when his Lancaster bomber crashed in Lancashire. Arthur was 21 and had only just gained his wings that very same week.

Further sorrow soon befell the family. Patti’s brother, Jocelyn, had signed on to work on a Japanese cargo ship trading at Cardiff docks. Months later, after the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbour and became enemies with the UK, Jocelyn’s ship disappeared. As all communication between Britain and Japan was severed, the British War Office was unable to locate such ships, and no word was ever heard again from her wonderful brother, Jocelyn.

As a child, Patti was surrounded by music and developed her love of jazz and performing by listening to the popular sounds of the day, like Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, and by watching her mentor Vic Parker, the legendary jazz guitarist from Tiger Bay, who encouraged Patti to sing from an early age.

From the 1960s to the 1980s, Patti honed her craft in the clubs and theatres around the UK and became a seasoned international cabaret artiste. One of the many highlights of Patti’s career was appearing as an understudy to the singer, Elaine Delmar, in the hit West End Show, Bubbling Brown Sugar.

During the mid­1980s, Patti moved to Spain and became a respected music producer and radio presenter with her shows, Just for You and Costa Nights. However, Patti never forgot her Tiger Bay roots and returned to Cardiff to perform and create her popular shows, Jazz Ladies of the Twentieth Century, and A Trip Down Memory Lane, featuring the music of great American composers, and the Butetown Bay Divas, with fellow performers, Humie and Jacky Webbe.

For over 60 years, Patti performed jazz to diverse audiences. She worked in different parts of the world, but in recent decades, focused on Cardiff, performing on a voluntary basis to great acclaim in concerts staged in venues ranging from community buildings to the Wales Millennium Centre. She also performed in charity concerts for the local community that were always sold out well in advance.

Patti and Humie Webbe at the Butetown Bay Jazz Heritage Festival, 2010
Patti and Humie Webbe at the Butetown Bay Jazz Heritage Festival, 2010

Patti was a great supporter of the arts and worked tirelessly to ensure that the people behind the music were remembered, recognised and celebrated. One highlight of Patti’s career was establishing the popular Butetown Bay Jazz Heritage Festival with her friend and colleague, Humie, which celebrates the musical heritage of Tiger Bay and showcases new up­-and­-coming musical talent.

In addition to her professional singing career, throughout her life, Patti used her musical talent in the interests of a wide range of good causes. Her music helped bring together people from very different backgrounds and raised awareness of Wales’ BME heritage and history. She made a considerable and rich contribution to the work of Butetown History and Arts Centre over many years, using music and storytelling to work with school groups and providing songwriting workshops for young people, for whom she was a wonderful role model.

As well as performing, Patti loved writing and was passionate about researching Black history and culture. Her book, Fractured Horizon, with the photographer, Matthew Manning, and produced in Welsh and English by Butetown History and Arts Centre in 2003, is a look at the memories and changes of Cardiff docklands. Patti also hosted her own radio show on Cardiff Radio, consistently raising broader public awareness of the positive part that the BME community has played in the cultural, economic and social development of Wales.

While in her 70s, Patti received an invitation via the BBC ́s Women ́s Hour programme to study at the prestigious Ruskin College in Oxford, where she completed two research projects, ‘From a Seaside Town to Capital City’ about Cardiff, and ‘Colouring History’, about putting famous women of colour back into history. She was also an advocate and campaigner for Black History to be included on the curriculum, and in 2017, Patti was honoured as one of the founding members of the Black History Month movement in Wales, to which she made regular contributions. In 2019, she was given an EMWWAA Lifetime Achievement Award.

Patti was, above all, a strong woman and mother and faced many challenges throughout her life. In addition to having lost her father and two brothers in the Second World War, she also lost her youngest son, Sean, in a tragic accident. Patti subsequently developed empathy for other families and went on to champion the underdog, and was a dynamic social campaigner. In later years, Patti also worked with members of the community with dementia, raising money for this cause, as well as providing support for sickle­cell disease.

Another of Patti’s lifetime causes was to raise awareness of the contributions and sacrifices that ethnic minority members of the Armed Forces and the Merchant Navy made during both world wars. Patti felt people of colour had been forgotten, and she launched a 26­year campaign for a commemorative memorial to recognise the sacrifices of those from minority backgrounds who had fought and died in these wars. Her efforts were finally rewarded in 2019, when a plaque to commemorate the sacrifices of all servicemen and women of colour from Commonwealth countries was unveiled at the Welsh National War Memorial in Cardiff by the Welsh Government and senior officials from the British Armed forces.

 Patti receiving an EMWWAA Lifetime Achievement Award, 2019

Patti receiving an EMWWAA Lifetime Achievement Award, 2019

Even in her 80s, Patti was still very active in the community, Black history and the arts and remained proud of her Welsh-­Jamaican heritage and her Tiger Bay roots. At the time of her death, she was working on her memoirs, Born Down My Tiger Bay, telling the story of the Cardiff docklands and focusing on the lives, sacrifices and determination of the diverse community living there. Patti had recorded the first instalment of an audio CD, and her story will continue through her family and friends, who will contribute their own stories and reflections to complete the book.

Patti sadly lost her short battle with cancer on 10 September 2020, aged 83. She was a beloved mother to Paula and Michael, grandmother to Paul, Ruby, Noah, and great-­grandmother to Ezra and Illias. A much loved and respected member of the cultural arts and heritage community, Patti is saluted for her talents as a campaigner, singer, performer, writer, author, promoter, presenter, activist, icon and original Bay diva. Her life is celebrated as an inspirational and dynamic force of energy and someone who will be missed by those who were privileged to know and love her.


Seventy Years of Struggle and Achievement is available via Parthian.

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