US Black History Month: Contemporary artists to celebrate this February

Monday 22nd February 2021

Celebrating Contemporary Artists

This month marks US Black History Month and we are celebrating the artistic contributions from a number of Black artists, composers and musicians. To begin, we will reflect on two historical musicians who unlike, so many black artists at the time, managed to acquire the recognition they deserved for their talents. We will then share five modern Black artists who we wish to celebrate with you – and who have, broken traditional stereotypes in classical music; proving that diversity should be encouraged. Each week, the WildKat team will reflect on how one piece from that artist makes them feel and the significance of their music. We look forward to sharing our takes on the music and celebrating talent with you.

#1 Randall Goosby

Randall Goosby is a 24-year-old violinist and a protégé of one of the world’s legendary violinists, Itzhak Perlman; Goosby was the youngest ever winner of the junior division of the prestigious Sphinx Competition in his native United States. A First Prize Winner in the 2018 Young Concert Artists International Auditions in New York, he is also the first-ever Robey Artist with Young Classical Artists Trust in London. Randall is also Music Masters’ Inaugural Robey Artist!

Born of an African-American father and Korean mother raised in Japan, Goosby can’t remember a time when he wasn’t connected to classical music. From the moment he picked up a violin at the age of seven, the immediate sense of joy he felt when playing shaped his childhood, inspiring marathon practice sessions and regular trips from his home in Memphis, Tennessee to New York City, where Itzhak Perlman had arranged a full scholarship to study with him at Juilliard.

Read more on DECCA

What do you like about this artist and their music?

‘Randall is not only a talented musician and charismatic performer, but he is also already connected with so many organisations; giving back so much to the music industry. I am looking forward to following his career and seeing how he develops as an artist and ambassador for music’

‘He is very talented, the piece (which is very technical) looks extremely simple when he plays it! He combines musicality and technicality marvellously’

#2 YolanDa Brown

YolanDa Brown is an award-winning UK saxophonist and broadcaster. She is the star of the CBeebies programme YolanDa’s Band Jam – a live music show where she invites guests to play with her band, performing songs for a live audience of children.

As a child, she’d tried piano, violin, drums, oboe and more before settling on saxophone as the instrument closest to her own musical voice. Later, as an academic, she notched up two masters degrees in Operations Management, began a PhD and learned Spanish to fluency, only then veering decisively back to music when her part-time gigs as interval entertainment on London’s comedy circuit blossomed into a first sell-out solo concert at the Mermaid Theatre in Blackfriars.

Read more on her Website and on Sony Music

What do you like about this artist and their music?

‘Such an inspirational person, YolanDa is incredible when she’s on stage performing or presenting. As a musician, she proves that genres are fluid and always presents an eclectic range of music’

Yolanda is full of fun, she makes me miss jazz nights in bars (good times!), not to mention her ability to create a vibrant and enjoyable performance!’

#3 Sheku Kanneh-Mason

After appearing on Britain’s Got Talent with his siblings (who now form the Kanneh-Mason trio), Sheku shot to fame as the winner of the 2016 BBC Young Musician competition, the first black musician to win the award since its launch in 1978. He then became a household name after being invited to perform at the 2018 wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, which was watched by billions around the world.

Now 21 years old, he continues to study cello at the Royal Academy of Music with Hannah Roberts and records exclusively for Decca Classics. He enjoys an increasingly busy schedule of international concert performances, including at illustrious venues such as the Wigmore Hall London, Carnegie Hall New York, and Théâtre des Champs-Elysées Paris. Sheku is an ambassador for JDRF the type 1 diabetes charity (he was diagnosed with T1 diabetes aged 12), Music Masters, and Future Talent. In the Queen’s 2020 New Year’s Honours, he was awarded an MBE for his services to music.

Read more on the Kanneh-Masons’ website

What do you like about this artist and their music?

‘He plays the cello in a sensitive and mature way, you can feel the passion at his fingertips’

‘He is a sensitive performer, whether playing on stage as a soloist or with his family ensemble. I loved seeing his personality shine through on his second release, where the repertoire was Elgar to Bob Marley. Looking forward to seeing how his career continues to develop’

#4 Errollyn Wallen MBE

Errollyn Wallen – ‘renaissance woman of contemporary British music’ (The Observer) – is as respected a singer-songwriter of pop influenced songs as she is a composer of contemporary new music. Communication is at the centre of both worlds: engaging the audience, speaking directly to hearts and minds.

Born in Belize, Errollyn Wallen gave up her training at the Dance Theatre of Harlem, New York to study composition at the universities of London and Cambridge. She founded her own Ensemble X, and its motto ’We don’t break down barriers in music… we don’t see any’ reflects her genuine, free-spirited approach and eclectic musicianship. She has been commissioned by outstanding music institutions from the BBC to the Royal Opera House and performed her songs internationally.

Errollyn Wallen was awarded an MBE for her services to music in the Queen’s birthday honours list in June 2007.

Read more about her on our website

What do you like about this artist and their music? 

‘Such a distinctive style and her music is as bold as she is. I love her vocal compositions the most. Errollyn is a true force of nature, and a composer that puts so much back into the industry’

‘She conveys the image of an artist who is very committed and passionate about composition, with a lot to say! Very inspiring!’

#5 Angel Blue 

Angel Blue has performed to date in more than 35 countries and with companies including the Vienna State Opera, Semperoper Dresden, San Francisco Opera, Frankfurt Opera, the Aix-en-Provence Festival, La Scala (where she was the first black singer to portray Violetta), and the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

Her most recent triumph was headlining the Metropolitan Opera’s 2019/20 season-opening Porgy and Bess, the promotion for which saw her image plastered all over buses, billboards and hoardings throughout New York. The Gershwins’ classic was beamed into cinemas all around the world where it was seen in Live in HD transmissions. So successful was the acclaimed production that extra performances were added – something without precedent in the Met’s modern history.

Read more about Angel on our site

What do you like about this artist and their music?

EVERYTHING! Angel is a consummate musician, artist, and person. Her dedication to the voice, to interpretation, and humanistic approach to connecting with others both on and off the stage is what distinguishes her as a singer of the absolute highest calibre’

‘Angel has an incredibly beautiful and powerful voice, and she is a talented actress on stage too. Angel radiates joy and her Faithful Friday series are a highlight of my week now’