The life and work of Cornish singer Brenda Wootton – described as ‘Cornwall’s greatest singer’ – is to be celebrated in a public exhibition and film next month.
‘Mordonnow / Sea Waves’, from Penzance-based cultural production company BOSENA, will feature highlights from a new archive created to document Brenda’s life, alongside the launch of a new audiovisual work by artist Florence Browne .
Cornish cultural icon and ambassador, Brenda Wootton built an international touring career in the 1980s through her vocal performances, honed in the folk clubs of Penwith.
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Once a familiar voice on BBC Radio Cornwall, awareness of his accomplishments has waned since his death in 1994, and this long-awaited exhibition and archive project will highlight his history and bring his music and poetry to new public.
A new generation of singers is also highlighting the importance of Brenda.
Famous Welsh / Cornish electronic singer-songwriter Gwenno performed Brenda Clegh’s Cornish song this week at Kresen Kernow in Redruth, where she described her as “Cornish greatest singer”.
Gwenno told CornwallLive: “I totally agree with so many people in Cornwall that she is Cornwall’s greatest singer. Her music and voice are both heartwarming and heartwarming, it’s so exciting that there’s a new exhibit and a new movie on the way. She’s smashed a lot of glass ceilings throughout her career, it’s a big cause for celebration. “
Brenda Wootton grew up in West Cornwall in the 1930s and, without any formal musical training, developed a career later in life as a celebrity touring internationally, particularly in France. An improbable star, in the 1980s, she will be recognized by fans in the streets of Paris, even if her fame has never reached the same extent at home.
She left a considerable legacy of songs, many of which were written by her close collaborator Richard Gendall and was also a familiar voice to many through her popular Cornwall Radio show “Sunday Best”.
Her daughter, Sue Ellery-Hill, is a key contributor to Brenda Wootton’s new archive, which forms the basis of the fall exhibit.
She said: “My mother always considered herself a servant of Newlyn, and that was certainly where her legacy lay – but from around 1960 Penzance was our hometown, which I still consider to be, with St Just following me closely now. And St Just, especially Botallack and the Earl’s House, has become such an important part of his history. This is where his professional career can be said to have started – where she first found the confidence to take the stage and sing in front of an audience, and where she realized for the first time that her voice and her charisma, her personality, her memories, her story – the whole – were so important and of such great interest to others, both at home and abroad.
Sue added, “Penzance was definitely her home turf – when my mom’s career got really hot she needed to go back to Penzance just to keep her feet on the ground. When her singing took her so far, for so long, she dreamed of coming home, just to walk up Market Jew Street, see the old faces, meet old friends and have a little thread, catch up on the gossip and hear what his father Angus and the other old Newlyn boys used to do – along the gow. “
The exhibition will be open to the public from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. October 2-6 at the Redwing Gallery, Penzance, and October 8-11 at the Count House, Botallack.
Members of the public are encouraged to bring their own photos and memorabilia of Brenda to the scene, where they can be digitized in the archives. There will also be a one-month digital version of the exhibition hosted online, with moving image work and selected images available for viewing.
Musician Hilary Coleman will lead workshops for children, drawing inspiration from the content of the exhibit and Brenda’s songs. “Brenda has been such a strong influence on all of us who love to sing Cornish songs. I know she loved working with children very much, so it is a great pleasure to have the opportunity to pass her songs on to a new generation who I hope will understand and appreciate their heritage better. ‘
‘Mordonnow / Sea Waves’ is a new project from Bosena, a cultural start-up led by Denzil Monk. Newlyn-based artist Florence Browne, who has a background in music and film, will draw on the newly formed archives to create a work of moving images as part of the fall exhibition.
Florence said, “This is such an exciting project to work on. Although I never had the pleasure of meeting Brenda, her personality comes out so clearly in the video archives we have. She was obviously a musician and a musician. performer so natural, and her scene presence is something I wish I could experience for myself. “
The exhibition is supported by the Arts Council England, the National Lottery and FEAST.
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