Elisabeth Welch’s biographer, Stephen Bourne, will share his personal memories of the stage and screen legend. Born in New York, Elisabeth settled in London in 1933 and became the most famous Black woman in pre-war Britain. Her 70-year career included work with Paul Robeson, Cole Porter and Derek Jarman, and she performed in West End musicals throughout. A sophisticated interpreter of popular songs, British audiences were drawn to Elisabeth’s soft, lovely voice and charming personality.
Ticket prices £8 (on the door) £6.50 (advance) £5 (concessions)
Black British History went through something of a coming out party in the late 1990′s and early naughties. Real interest arose in the contributions of Black people in Britain and The Internet brought forth a whole plethora of sites and snippets of information all with the aim of finally setting the history books straight.
However, during the decline of the Blair Years, the interest in Black British history seemed to wain somewhat. Even BBC History magazine failed to pay much attention to Black History Month, which comes around every October here in the U.K. It seems to have become “P.C” to discuss or to even mention Black History, and so, as a follower of Black History in Britain I was wondering where the next contributions were going to come from. I even considered writing something myself. Fear not though, you can rest easy in your beds because the London raised Author Stephen Bourne has produced yet another invaluable book which is sure to encourage fresh, new, green shoots in the research and reportage of Black British history.
Bourne who is also the Author of such beautiful resources as “Aunt Esther’s Story” and ” A Sophisticated Lady- A Celebration of Adelaide Hall” , has in his latest offering brought together a fair collection of disparate reports, articles and photographs depicting the efforts and struggles of black people on the Home Front.
“Mother Country – Britain’s Black community on the Home Front 1939-45 brings the spotlight to such personalities as Dr Harold Moody, The Peckham Doctor who founded the First Pressure group for Black people in the U.K. Another Gem, is the story of Ken “Snake Hips” Johnson, the charismatic young Guyanese Bandleader who rose to fame during the War years only to be killed by German bombs whilst performing.
This book is different to many others that have mentioned the contribution of Black people people during the Second World War because it focuses solely on individuals who were based here in Britain during the War and not those serving in the Armed Forces. Bourne doesn’t fill the book with celebrity profiles either, he unfurls the stories of ordinary working people from a range of different countries and social backgrounds.
People Such as the Nigerian Air Raid Warden E.I Ekpenyon who was so popular with Local londoners that they would visit him at his home at all hours should they need his help or advice.? Another Londoner profiled is Bourn’es own Aunt, Esther Bruce, who lived through the Blitz hardships and sewed and altered dresses for the American Actress and Singer Elizabeth Welch. Others featured in the book include , Learie Constantine, Adelaide Hall, Una Marson, and many others.
Only in recent years has the effort of non white and non British Soldiers truly been acknowledged by the mass media, and as former soldiers die with each passing year, their story is once again in danger of becoming lost.? So Stephen Bourne’s book is a timely release for historians, helping guide them to further research and giving us all a sound, eye opening introduction to the Sacrifices made by Black Britons and Commonwealth subjects in Wartime Britain. I would fully recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in Black history.? This book should grace the shelves of every black household in Britain, and then some.
“Stephen Bourne brings great natural scholarship and passion to a largely hidden story. He is highly accessible, accurate, and surprising. Mother Country is quite simply a home-grown triumph.”
In 1991 Stephen Bourne and his adopted aunt, Esther Bruce (1912-94), collaborated on her autobiography Aunt Esthers Story. This is now recognised as one of the first books to document the life of a Black working-class Londoner.
In 2007 Bourne assisted in the production of a short documentary, also called Aunt Esther’s Story, with no money, in his living-room, using old family photographs and a videotaped interview with Esther.
Following successful screenings at the Tate Modern, Imperial War Museum, Peckham Library and National Portrait Gallery, as well as several film festivals, Bourne has made Aunt Esther’s Story available to view in two parts on You Tube (www.youtube.com).
Just type Aunt Esther’s Story into the search box.
Later this year Bourne’s 11th book, Mother Country: Britain’s Black Community on the Home Front 1939-1945, will be published by The History Press.
Says playwright and critic Bonnie Greer: “Stephen brings great natural scholarship and passion to a largely hidden story. He is highly accessible, accurate, and surprising. You always walk away from his work knowing something that you didn’t know, that you didn’t even suspect.”