(left with Paul Robeson in east Germany in 1963)
Harry Francis began his musical training in 1915, with the piano. Becoming highly skilled in jazz during his youth, Harry recalled that when, in the Summer of 1932 Louis Armstrong made his first visit to London, to lead a West Indian band in variety at the Palladium, there was an interruption by racists, “but it was quickly dealt with”.
He joined the Communist Party in the 1930s. A percussionist, he worked in the itinerant world of the big dance bands of the 1930s and 1940s in Britain and abroad.
A highly respected performer and arranger with such famous bands as Geraldo, Francis became an organiser in London for the Musicians Union in the late 1940s and was a part of a key group of left activists that moved the union to left.
He eventually became the union’s Assistant General Secretary, a post in which he stayed until his retirement. In 1970 and 1971, he ran May Day Concerts at the Royal Festival Hall for the Musicians’ Union and the Labour Party. Harry Francis was also one of the principals of the campaign from 1950 to assist the celebrated black American singer and actor, Paul Robeson, in fighting the eight year withdrawal of a passport from him. He died aged 81 in 1989.
Sources: Morning Star 21st September 1989;
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