Black History Month UK takes place during October, with the intention of celebrating the culture and achievement of Britain’s Black communities. Black people are too often unheralded in their accomplishments and contributions, not just in the UK, but throughout the world. That’s why this month, we’re going to be joining the celebration by shining a spotlight on the people who have left an incredible legacy and those that are still fighting for change – not only within our creative industries but in society as a whole.
Nina Simone is the professional name of Eunice Waymon, who was forced to change her name to disguise herself from her family, who didn’t want her playing “the devil’s music”. Her distinctive contralto voice can be heard on the 19 studio albums and 14 live albums that she recorded and released between 1959 and 1993. Solid work-rate right there.
Despite being one of the most prominent and influential female vocalists of all time, Simone was a Civil Rights activist and a prominent voice during the Civil Rights movement of the 60s. Simone spent a lot of her time performing and speaking at Civil Rights meetings as well as attending protests and advocating equality through her music. Songs such as ‘Mississippi Goddam’ addresses racial inequality following the murder of Civil Rights activist and World War II veteran, Medgar Evers. Simone’s cover of Billie Holiday’s song, ‘Strange Fruit’ protests the lynching of Black Americans, perhaps the most powerful and haunting covers of all time.
Her activism extended beyond the Civil Rights movement. She often challenged the Eurocentric beauty standards imposed on Black people worldwide. Her song ‘Four Women’ talks about the internalised beauty dilemma that’s experienced by four Black women with skin tones ranging from light to dark. She talks about her desire to inspire Black women in her autobiography, I Put a Spell on You.
Munroe Bergdorf (@munroebergdorf)
British model, activist and DJ who became the first transgender model in the UK for L’Oréal. Munroe’s involvement in advocacy caused her to later be dropped from L’Oreal, which led to online harassment over comments she had made surrounding whiteness.
While mainstream brands in recent years have not always welcomed her advocacy, she has been awarded the ‘Changemaker of the Year’ award by Cosmopolitan and awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Sussex. She has since re-joined L’Oréal after requesting that they publicly apologise, which they did, and pledged to do better in regard to anti-racism. Her work with the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and Empowerment for Women aims to put a stop to female genital mutilation. She is also a DJ and has collaborated with events spaces such as the thriving and inclusive PXSSY PALACE.
American abolitionist and human-rights activist born into slavery in New York. After escaping to freedom in 1826 with her young infant daughter, she became the first Black woman to win a court case against a white man, leading to the return of her son that was taken off her. She’s widely remembered for her speech at the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention. The speech titled, Ain’t I a Woman? became widely known during the Civil War.
Her inspirational speeches and undeniable strength have since been commemorated by six statues and monuments in her honour throughout North America. As well as statues, there are schools, galleries and libraries named after her. She even inspired a glorious classical composition from the Black composer, Gary Powell Nash. What an inspiration and a story of strength and resilience.
SONG: R.A.E. – Melanin
R.A.E. or Rising Above Everything, is a singer, songwriter and rapper whose sound is deeply rooted in 90s nostalgia. Her unique blend of hip hop and R&B allows her artistry to seamlessly combine uplifting raps and easy-going melodies. Her influences include some huge 90s trendsetters, including the likes of Left Eye, Da Brat and MC Lyte. Using their foundations and her new take on the genre creates something modern but gloriously nostalgic all at once. Her song ‘Melanin’ is an upbeat and inspiring banger that talks about Black beauty and loving yourself no matter what.
“Represent what we have within,
our greatness is too much to keep.
How many trends did we set without trying?
They will say we’re lying but evidence goes back to ancient times
there’s no denying!”
Photo of R.A.E. by Caleb Desouza