As it's Black History Month, we thought there was no better time to focus on some of our favourite Black artists who've had a huge impact on the worlds of music, theatre and comedy.
A Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, Bob Marley put reggae on the global map while also bringing together warring factions in his native Jamaica. He orchestrated the One Love peace concert in Kingston to try and end the gang violence that plagued the city. Through his vibrant songs of peace and activism, he became a beacon to the country’s poor and oppressed.
Through an exhilarating mix of Marley’s hits (all played live), a talented cast and award-winning creative team Get Up Stand Up! brings Marley’s story of passion, political unrest and progress to the stage.
Clint Dyer, the first Black British artist to direct a West End musical (the Olivier-nominated The Big Life), has been tapped to helm the musical. Dyer said, “What better way to soothe our souls after this troublesome year than with the music and spirit of one of the world’s great prophets.”
A child of mixed Nigerian, Chadian and French heritage, Arlo Parks grew up in South West London. Struggling with her identity, she turned to the world of storytelling.
By the age of 17, she’d figured out she was bisexual and created an album’s worth of material. A year later, in November 2018, she made her music debut by releasing Cola, a confessional track about both feeling bitter and missing a cheating lover.
Parks won three awards at the 2021 BRITs and was longlisted as a breakthrough act in the BBC Sound Of 2020 music poll. Jack Saunders of BBC Radio 1 called her “a voice of our generation”, while i-D magazine said that “hers is a brand of confessional pop that feels both personal and universal”.
Formed in 1994, Skunk Anansie were named Best British Live act in 1996 at the Kerrang! awards, at a time when a rock band fronted by a Black gay woman was completely unheard of.
October of the same year saw the release of second album, Stoosh, which was certified Platinum in the UK. They were nominated for Best Newcomer at the BRIT Awards in 1997 while singer Skin became the first Black female artist to headline Glastonbury when they took to the main stage in 1999.
The multi-award-winning musical Hamilton tells the story of Alexander Hamilton, an immigrant from the West Indies orphaned after a hurricane who becomes a hugely important figure in American history. After arriving in the US, he not only rises from poverty to power as George Washington’s right-hand man in the Revolutionary War, but he also goes on to shape the country’s first government – all while facing rivalries from political foes and challenges in his personal life.
The smash-hit musical has famously cast non-white actors as the Founding Fathers and other historical figures with writer Lin-Manuel Miranda explaining the story is “America then, as told by America now”. The show’s score blends a mix of rap, blues, jazz and R&B with show tunes, aptly reflecting modern America while telling the story of a pivotal point in its history.
Diana Ross began her career as a member of The Supremes – who, with their unique soulful pop sound, became the best-charting female group in history.
Following the group’s demise, Ross struck out as a solo artist, achieving a No.1 single in 1970 with Ain’t No Mountain High Enough. Since then, she has never looked back, notching up a string of hit albums and singles.
In 1993, Ross was inducted into the Guinness Book Of World Records as “the most successful female music artist in history” having more hits than any other female artist at the time. She has inspired an endless list of other artists including Michael Jackson, Beyonce, and Madonna, to name a few.
BAFTA 2019 nominee, Royal Television Society 2019 winner and National Television Awards 2020 double nominee Mo Gilligan has come a long way since uploading comedy videos to social media channels.
Influenced by comedians such as Chris Rock, Gilligan – “the funniest man in Britain” (according to The Times) – burst onto the circuit in 2015 after winning several comedy competitions. His high-energy style, charisma and physicality have won him legions of fans not only in the UK but around the world.
In May 2021, he announced the biggest show of his career, Mo Gilligan + Friends – The Black British Takeover. Speaking of the tour, he said, “I’m really proud of the Black British comedy circuit that I started on. The talent on this scene is exceptional, but all too often ignored by mainstream media. We’re ready to bring the Great British Public a show like you’ve never seen before!”
The multi award-winning Croydon rapper got his start performing at youth clubs during the emergence of the UK grime scene. In 2015, he was featured on the BBC’s Sound Of 2015 lis and named Best Grime Act at the MOBO Awards.
Stormzy’s debut album Gang Signs & Prayer came out in 2017, winning BRIT Awards for Best British Album and Best Solo Male. Heavy Is The Head followed in December 2019, which included Vossi Bop, Stormzy’s first No.1 single. In 2019, he became the first Black British solo artist to headline Glastonbury.
Stormzy has devoted his career to giving back to his community and shining a light on the social issues that affect it, from wearing a Banksy-designed stab vest at Glastonbury to highlight knife crime to his work in aid of the victims of the Grenfell fire. Following the death of George Floyd in 2020, Stormzy pledged to donate £10 million to justice reform and Black empowerment.
TINA combines an electric atmosphere reminiscent of being front row at a Tina Turner concert, coupled with a unique insight into the backstage drama of her life. The live theatre show explores her personal life and her career in music, acting as a new stage for her signature songs.
Known as “The Queen of Rock and Roll”, Turner has often been hailed for breaking the glass ceiling for female performers in the genre, pioneering a new style of rock and reinventing herself time and time again throughout her lengthy career.
In 2021, Turner became the first Black woman inducted into The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame twice.
The son of Ugandan immigrants, Kiwanuka was named the BBC’s Sound of 2012 before he’d even got his debut album on the shelves.
When the deeply soulful folk of Home Again finally arrived two months later, it reached number four in the album charts and was nominated for the Mercury Music Prize. Two more nominations would follow and Kiwanuka’s Cold Little Heart was chosen as the theme song to the acclaimed HBO series, Big Little Lies.
Kiwanuka has spoken often about battling with imposter syndrome, struggling to accept it was perfectly acceptable for a Black man to play soulful folk. On his 2016 single, Black Man In A White World, Kiwanuka discusses racial prejudice and personal identity and it has gone on to be one of his best-known works.
A real Renaissance woman, Alicia Keys is one of the most successful R&B artists of all time, her soulful voice and adept piano skills bringing her accolades all around the world.
Her first studio album, Songs In A Minor, won five Grammys and its lead single, Fallin’, also topped the Billboard 100 singles chart for six weeks.
Keys has won a staggering 15 Grammys over the course of her career but has made even more impressive strides in humanitarian circles, an ever-present at benefits for important causes, being named Amnesty International’s Ambassador of Conscience, founding the HIV/AIDS charity Keep A Child Alive, and winning BET’s Humanitarian Award.
Beverley Knight stars as Faye Treadwell, the legendary manager of The Drifters, who, alongside her husband, fought for three decades to turn Atlantic Records’ hottest vocal group into a global phenomenon.
The Drifters Girl charts the trailblazing efforts of the world’s first African American, female music manager and how she refused to ever give up on the group she loved.
Thirty years, and hundreds of hit songs later, there is no doubt that Faye Treadwell was and always will be, The Drifters Girl.