Black Classical Music: The Forgotten History

Rating 7.3
Streamer BBC iPlayer
Seasons 1
Episodes 1 x 90 mins

This one-off show opens with presenter Suzy Klein asking viewers to name as many classical composers as possible off the top of their head, and then count how many of those are black.

Even Classic FM’s most loyal listener would likely come back with a low number. However, this isn’t because there aren’t any talented black composers, but because of the historical marginalisation of black people, which of course, includes the arts. In this programme, Klein is joined by Lenny Henry as they hope to rectify this historic imbalance with a long overdue celebration of black figures in classical music. It keeps fairly light-hearted whilst still informative, telling us of musicians such as George Walker, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and Chevalier De Saint-Georges. They explore how artists such as these would often enjoy success during their lives, but following their death were forgotten about. The film does a compelling job of correcting this, whilst enjoying the work of the dazzling Chineke! Orchestra, who play throughout.

The Guardian’s Phil Harrison gave Black Classical Music: The Forgotten History a full five stars in his review, saying it does an “unapologetic job of illuminating the racism underpinning the classical canon.” James Jackson in The Times called it an “overdue corrective,” and comments: “setting aside the sharp argument underlying the film, it worked very simply as 90 minutes of illuminating cultural history.”

First shown September 2020. You can watch the trailer by pressing play on the show image, or by clicking here.

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