Sean Mayes and Sarah K. Whitfield, the authors of An Inconvenient Black History of British Musical Theatre 1900-1950 (Methuen Drama), are celebrating the launch of their book with a concert at Wigmore Hall on Tuesday, September 21 at 7:30pm GMT.
Presented by Sean and Sarah, featuring arrangements by Sean, the concert will be hosted by West End performer Jonathan Andrew Hume (Come From Away, The Lion King) and feature performances by Hume and Esme Sears as they explore, rediscover, and celebrate the forgotten heritage of Black practitioners to Wigmore Hall and the wider British musical theatre industries. Through innovative hybrid concert and discussion form, Mayes and Whitfield will discuss the hidden history the book uncovers, the urgency of uncovering the work of Black creative practitioners, and what it means for the future. The concert is directed by Shanté Campbell and has been generously supported by the Canada-UK Foundation.
Tickets are £20, with a range of £5 tickets available for Under 35s. Click here for tickets. Wigmore Hall is located at 36 Wigmore Street, London W1U 2BP.
You can also watch the livestream below (7:30pm GMT, 3:30pm ET, 12:30pm PT).
When Sean Mayes and Sarah K. Whitfield wondered if the story they had always been told about the history of British musical theatre was true, that Black practitioners only really made a difference to the form after the SS Windrush, they found a complicated, brilliant reality. Black performance practice has always been an essential and vibrant part of British culture, and it shaped the musical. Let Mayes and Whitfield introduce you to the Black theatre community in London’s Roaring 20s, and hear about the secret Florence Mills memorial concert they held in 1928. Acquaint yourself with Buddy Bradley, Black tap and ballet choreographer, who reshaped dance in British musicals – and was often to be found at Noël Coward’s apartment for late-night rehearsals.
Meet Jack Johnson, the first African American Heavyweight Boxing Champion, who toured Britain’s theatres during World War 1 and brought the sounds of Chicago to places like war-weary Dundee. Discover the most prolific Black theatre practitioner you’ve never heard of, William Garland, who worked for 40 years across multiple continents and championed Black British performers. Marvel at performers like cabaret star Mabel Mercer, born in Stafford in 1900, who sang and conducted theatre orchestras across the UK, as well as Black Birmingham comedian Eddie Emerson, who was Garland’s partner for decades.
Many of their names and works have never been included in histories of the British musical— until now.
September 21st is the official launch date for the book from Bloomsbury & Methuen and copies will be available to buy on the night. You can also preorder An Inconvenient Black History of British Musical Theatre 1900-1950 here.
Sean Mayes is a MD & conductor whose work has involved productions on stages across the United States, Canada and the UK. He is an active member of the Broadway community as an MD, orchestrator-arranger, vocal coach, accompanist and pit musician and is currently working as the Associate Music Director for the Broadway company of Hadestown and recently served as Music Director for Tony, Grammy and Emmy winner André De Shields on his theatrical concert, Black By Popular Demand: A Musical Meditation on How Not to Get Eaten By the Sphinx. In Spring 2019, Mayes was Music Director and Conductor of the all-Canadian premiere of The Color Purple. He is based between New York City and Toronto.
Sarah K. Whitfield is a Senior Lecturer in Musical Theatre at the University of Wolverhampton, UK. She writes about the history of musical theatre, and recovering the work that women and minoritised groups do through archival research and digital humanities. She is based in the West Midlands, UK.
Lia Chang is an actor, a multi-media content producer and an award-winning filmmaker. She is the co-founder of Bev’s Girl Films, making films that foster inclusion and diversity on both sides of the camera. Lia has appeared in the films Wolf, New Jack City, A Kiss Before Dying, King of New York, Big Trouble in Little China, and The Last Dragon. She stars in and served as Executive Producer for the short indie films Hide and Seek (Asian American Film Lab’s 2015 72 Hour Shootout Best Actress Nomination), Balancing Act, Rom-Com Gone Wrong, Belongingness and When the World Was Young (2021 DisOrient Film Audience Choice Award for Best Short Narrative). BGF collaborates with and produces multi-media content for artists, actors, designers, theatrical productions, composers, musicians and corporations. Lia is also a portrait and performing arts photographer and an award-winning multi-platform journalist. Lia writes about arts and entertainment on her Backstage Pass with Lia Chang blog. The Lia Chang theater portfolio collection, 1989-2011, is housed in the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) collection located in the Library of Congress’ Asian Reading Room.
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