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Celebrating Black History Month 2020

This month, we took some time to highlight some of the most prominent black creatives that paved the way for such a new generation of talent. We documented them over the month of October, but ICYMI, here's the recap:

1) Evelyn Dove

- Born in 1902, she faced immense prejudice and discrimination daily, but nothing could hold her back. She attended the Royal Academy of Music and travelled the world performing at the best and biggest venues.

- During the second world war, the BBC employed Evelyn to sing over the airwaves to troops around the world and those they left behind at home. In 1947 she was invited to feature as a performer on a BBC TV variety show special celebrating black talent.

- Just like you, Evelyn was a freelancer performer, so she embodied the entrepreneurial spirit, often going without a paid gig for a while. She even had to apply for a job as a Post Office telephonist just to get by, but she managed her personal brand and talent all the way to becoming a headline act known internationally.

2) Charles Dawson

- Charles C. Dawson was an American painter, printmaker, and illustrator. He studied art at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, the Art Students League of New York, and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

- Dawson played a role in both the cultural and economic rise of blacks in the 1920s. From 1919 to 1922 he worked as a salesman and account manager for a downtown firm called Chicago Engravers, where he served black and white clients. Leaving the firm to become a freelancer, Dawson executed advertising illustrations for major black entrepreneurs. Dawson also provided drawings for the short-lived Chicago magazine Reflexus, as well as ads for black film director Oscar Micheaux.

- In 1933, Dawson published a children's book that he both wrote and illustrated, titled ABC's of Great Negroes. The book consists of 26 linoleum prints portraying major figures in black history. Each print is accompanied by a brief text describing major accomplishments and some biographical information on the depicted individual.

3) Babara Blake-Hannah

- Babara Hannah arrived in England in 1964 from Jamaica, her native country, with a very high skilled curriculum full of journalistic experience. She found her first job at the country’s Press Association.

- Barbara Blake Hannah, paved the way for Moira Stuart and Trevor McDonald after she made her debut in 1968 as the first black journalist on British television. Working alongside Eamonn Andrews on Today in 1968 she interviewed the likes of prime minister Harold Wilson and actor Michael Caine. But after nine months her contract was not renewed and a colleague confided that racist post from viewers along the lines of “get that n***** of the screen” had swayed bosses.

- Now, after so many recognitions of her impressive work, the broadcasting field has seen a new journalism award named after her. Specifically, the Press Gazette has launched the Barbara Blake-Hannah prize to recognise up and coming non-white journalists.

4) Chinwe Chukwuogo-Roy MBE

- Chinwe Ifeoma Chukwuogo-Roy MBE was a visual artist who was born in Awka (Oka), Anambra State, Nigeria, but spent much of her young life in Ikom on the Cameroon border, before moving back to the family home at Umubele in Awka. She lived in Britain since 1975.

- Her paintings, prints and sculptures are predominantly figurative, in the genres of portraiture, still-life, landscape and narrative subjects. She first gained international fame for painting the official Golden Jubilee portrait of Queen Elizabeth II, commissioned by The Commonwealth Secretariat. The full-length portrait was unveiled at a ceremony at Marlborough House by former Commonwealth Secretary-General Don McKinnon on Commonwealth Day, 2002. She was the first of only two Nigerian artists (the other being Ben Enwonwu) to have been allowed to paint official portraits of Queen.

- Chukwuogo-Roy won many awards and was featured prominently in the international media, both for her art and also for her charitable and educational work with young people. A biography entitled 'Chinwe Roy – Artist' is now studied by children in the UK as part of the National Curriculum. In 2010 Chukwuogo-Roy was made a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE) for her contributions to Art.

5) James Van Der Zee

- James Augustus Van Der Zee was an American photographer best known for his portraits of black New Yorkers. He was a leading figure in the Harlem Renaissance. He bought his first camera when he was a teenager, and improvised a darkroom in his parents' home. He took hundreds of photographs of his family as well as his hometown of Lenox. Van Der Zee was one of the first people to provide early documentation of his community life in small-town New England.

- Works by Van Der Zee are artistic as well as technically proficient. His work was in high demand, in part due to his experimentation and skill in double exposures and in retouching negatives of children. One theme that recurs in his photographs was the emergent black middle class, which he captured using traditional techniques in often idealistic images.

These great creatives are certainly an inspiration to us all, and we can only hope that their work goes on remembered as important parts of the British creative fabric!



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