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Finally Black Classical composers make it on to the air waves

Margaret Bonds

Radio 3 is taking steps to diversify the classical canon by pledging to broadcast “unfairly forgotten” composers from ethnic minority backgrounds.

A Sudanese musician who conducted an orchestra for blind women, a pioneering African-American pianist and a Scottish-Jewish cantor are among those whose works will be performed — in some cases for the first time.

The project is a collaboration with the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), which has awarded £5,000 grants to academics researching seven composers whose contributions have slipped under the radar. Their findings will inform a series of programmes on Radio 3, including a concert by BBC orchestras.

Alan Davey, the station’s controller, hailed the collaboration, saying: “We want to inspire listeners by shining a light on unfairly forgotten areas of western classical music.”

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The composers include Margaret Bonds (1913-72), the first black soloist to perform with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and Robert Nathaniel Dett (1882-1943), a black Canadian-American organist and choir director.

Ali Osman (1958-2017), a self-taught Sudanese composer and rock musician who went on to conduct Egypt’s al-Nour wal-Amal (Light and Hope) chamber orchestra for visually impaired women, will also feature.

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