Guest Post! Black Singer (@noahsofficial) Tops UK Classical Charts by Gillian King of The London Chronicler

 I have a few things that I love in life – of course one of those things is beauty, I am an avid reader, but music is also a passion of mine!  Music is such an intrinsic part of me it is very much a part of my identity.
I am a singer (purely an amateur mind you…I have no desire to make an appearance on a TV talent show any time soon!),  and I have sung for as long as I can remember, starting in church, but I also sang at school and college.  I have had the privilege to have sung many genres, from Gospel (see image!) to Rock, Motown to Jazz, and thus developed a love  for all types of music and I have a wide-ranging, eclectic taste.  One genre that I adore is Classical.  I discovered the beauty of classical music whilst I was a student.  It is truly emotive and has the ability to move you deeply.
When I heard that Noah Stewart was announced as the  first Black artist to top the Official  UK Classical Album Chart on Monday, I was over the moon! His album also entered the Official  UK Album charts at number 14!

OK...OK...his voice IS amazing, but I have to admit that he is also VERY pleasant the eye 🙂

Of course, music should not see colour,  but it would be naive to say that the world of classical music and opera is not seen to be associated with a certain class and culture and to not acknowledge that few people of colour have been able to penetrate its ‘glass ceiling’  to the reach the pinnacle on the stage or in the studio.   This has never been an issue for me, but I was buoyed to see that here in the UK, slowly but surely, we are making progress and having a presence in all areas of society.
I was going to blog about this incredibly talented artist….but my good friend and fellow blogger.  The London Chronicler, is an excellent writer and is equally passionate about the genre, so here is her reflection on Noah’s historic achievement….
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Black Singer Tops UK Classical Charts by The London Chronicler

Noah Stewart - Image from classicfm.co.uk

Noah Stewart - Image from classicfm.co.uk

I was browsing through my twitter feed the other day when I suddenly spotted a retweet from the Royal Opera House (Yes, I follow them as I love opera and all things classical, I’m out of the closet!). The retweet was from an up and coming black tenor announcing that his debut album, Noah, had reached  number one on the classical charts.  The Royal Opera House, where he has just finished his debut performance in Judith Weir’s Misfortune, promptly tweeted their congratulations, which is how I got to hear about it!

It was very exciting! I had seen him on Gabby Logan’s Channel 5, morning show and enjoyed his interview with Gabby, covering his childhood in Harlem New York and his love of music. He was charming, well-spoken, intelligent and erudite. He also performed an impromptu song, an excerpt from the album and was excellent, just like any other tenor.

So I kept asking myself, why did it make the headlines that a black singer topped the classical charts?

I’m not the only one to ask this question.  Many of the commentators on the Telegraph’s online piece on Noah, seemed to imply the same thing.  My son, when I shared a tweet from Radio 4 from their interview with him, where he said he had been told he couldn’t sing opera because he was black, was baffled as to why anyone would say that.

I tried to explain it by asserting that people generally stuck to stereotypes they are familiar with, and since there were generally hardly any black people in opera, I thought the advisers were probably only trying to be helpful, telling him to stick to a genre he was ‘more likely’ to be successful in.

Not terribly satisfied with my analysis, I asked myself another question, why aren’t there more black people in Opera, it can’t be all discrimination. Afterall, Noah got there in the end and has managed to play Carnegie Hall, the Royal Opera House and a number one debut album by the age of 33. No mean feat for anyone.

My experience of mainstream middle class, white activities in Britain is that black people don’t venture into that arena too often, and if they do, as soon as there is the slightest hint of criticism or resistance, we retreat, wondering if we really have the right to be there in the first place.

My own ‘mixed heritage’ background frequently causes me to deny parts of myself that are ‘too white’ for black company.  So it is only now in my forties, that I feel confident enough to indulge my passion for classical music. I was once in a gospel choir, where we sang Handel’s Messiah for Christmas. When I shared the story about the King standing up in awe of the Halleluyah Chorus, creating the tradition of standing when it’s played, a story that I thought was common knowledge, I did get a few funny looks.

My parents exposed me to an eclectic array of music when I was growing up in the sixties and as a result, there is only a very small part of any genre of music that I don’t enjoy. Now that there is a Black man in opera, no doubt I’ll make more of an effort to go and see one! (I’ve always wanted to see Puccini’s Madam Butterfly.)

I would suggest that it’s okay to be who you are, do what you do and be the best you can be at it and nothing or no one can stop you. That’s probably why Noah made the headlines, the fact that he overcame many obstacles, some of it has to be said, his own biased expectations, to achieve his dream.

For me issues of race can be summed up perfectly by a quote from Professor Patricia Williams, an American law scholar and proponent of critical race theory, who gave theBBC’s Reith lectures,

‘What a world it would be if we could all wake up and see all of ourselves reflected in the world – not merely in a territorial sense, but with a kind of non-exclusive entitlement that grants not so much possession as investment. A peculiarly anachronistic notion of investment, I suppose, at once both ancient and futuristic; an investment that envisions each of us in each other.’

This of course is an ideal, but I think it’s one that we would all do well to aspire to.

 

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