Black Classical Musicians in British History

Find out about the contribution of Black Musicians to Classical Music

Stock image by ShutterstockBlack Lives in Music

Classical music is synonymous with regal England and the upper echelons of society.  This musical genre started hundreds of years ago and over the years has defined for itself, an eminent group of artistic contributors. 

Stock image by Dominik ScytheBlack Lives in Music

Their music has been celebrated as the very embodiment of the art form, the quintessence of Classical music.  Not so well known is the contribution made by the Black community.  Let’s take a look at some of those names that have been edited from history

John Blanke by The Picture CollectionBlack Lives in Music

John Blanke

Blanke was a musician of African heritage, plying his trade in London from the early Tudor period.  He was a trumpeter at Hampton Court Palace during the time of King Henry VII and King Henry VIII. 

Ignatius Sancho (1768/1768) by Gainsborough, ThomasNational Gallery of Canada

Ignatius Sancho

The first known Black person to publish music in the European tradition.  He was a talented amateur musician and published several volumes of music during his lifetime. In total, he published sixty-two short compositions

Ignatius Sancho, Francesco Bartolozzi|Thomas Gainsborough|William Sancho|Ignatius Sancho, 1802, From the collection of: The Metropolitan Museum of Art
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Stock image by ShutterstockBlack Lives in Music

Errolyn Wallen

A celebrated Black British composer, Errolyn is an alumnus of Cambridge University and has received commissions that have been premiered by some of the world’s great orchestras and ensembles.

Ayanna Witter-Johnson by Misan HarrimanBlack Lives in Music

Ayanna Witter-Johnson

Multi-talented and award-winning Ayanna Witter-Johnson is a composer, singer, songwriter and cellist.  Her musical and compositional talents are showcased across classical and commercial styles

Ayanna Witter-Johnson by Tatiana GorilovksyBlack Lives in Music

Ayanna has toured with artists ranging from award winning Black jazz musician Courtney Pine, to the opera sensation Andrea Bocelli.  Her compositions have been premiered by some of the world’s great orchestras including the London Symphony Orchestra.

The London Mozart Players and Sheku-Kanneh Mason (2023) by Charles LewisBlack Lives in Music

Sheku Kanneh-Mason MBE

One of a family of talented musicians hailing from Nottingham in the United Kingdom.  Sheku is a former winner of the prestigious BBC Young Musician of the Year and now tours the world as one of the great classical soloists of our time.

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