Black Icons: Leaders of the Band

Black Icons, FAD Projects, Heritage
In the third of our research sessions, FAD’s young volunteers go behind the scenes at the Black Cultural Archives and meet with one of London’s leading black historians, Stephen Bourne.

Funded by the Heritage Lottery, FAD’s black icons project launched in August with 20 young volunteers aged 18-24. The session began with a behind-the-scenes tour of the BCA’s grade II listed Georgian building, located in the heart of Brixton on Windrush Square.

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Victoria Northridge at the BCA talking through original photos from the archive

In the archive room, where records are kept at controlled temperatures, the young volunteers were able to handle pamphlets, posters and photographs from the early 20th century. They learnt about the Pan-African movement promoting black culture, and the wave of black jazz artists who emigrated from America to London during the 1920s and 30s.

“Seeing materials first hand is more authentic than just googling. It offers you a chance to make your own opinions”. Dapinder, FAD volunteer

“It has been surreal at times; holding original photographs and notes has given me a connection and insight into people’s lives at that time.” Angelica, FAD volunteer

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Playing detective. FAD young volunteers learning archive skills.

In the afternoon there was a fascinating talk from author and local black historian Stephen Bourne. His first book was written about his adopted Aunt Esther, a black working class Londoner born before the First World War. After leaving school in the 1920s she worked as a seamstress. In the 1930s she made dresses for the famous black singer Elisabeth Welch.

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Author & historian Stephen Bourne talking about female performers

“For me this project is really helping me to appreciate the lives of those before me.” Samra, FAD volunteer

It was this personal connection that started Stephen on his journey documenting the lives of black people in early 20th century London, with a special focus on female performers and screen icons such Elizabeth Welch and Adelaide Hall. He shared his incredible archive of photographs and film with us, including the first ever audio recording of a black British music hall singer.

Thanks to Stephen Bourne and Victoria Northridge at the BCA for sharing their inspiring archives. If you are interested in becoming a research volunteer for the next round of workshops in November 2015 please email Joanna at FAD.

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