Black history month: new exhibition showcases the history of Croydon's most influential black talent 
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By Olivia Otigbah

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From 1st October, Heritage Consultancy, Past Futures, will lead virtual visitors through 120 years to honour the influence Black musicians have had on  Britain's music scene and global genres. 

“The Sounds of Croydon: From Samuel Coleridge-Taylor to Stormzy”, begins with the story of Samuel Coleridge Taylor, a mixed-race composer born in Holborn, London, in 1875 to a white mother and a black father from Sierra Leone.

Despite being born at a time when interracial relationships were still deemed taboo, young Samuel was taught to play the violin by his maternal grandfather, who later paid for his studies at the Royal College of Music. 

After switching his violin for composition, Coleridge-Taylor became of one of the most celebrated Black musicians of his era both in Britain and in the US, with fans from the highest ranks of society, including former US President, Theodore Roosevelt.  

Speaking about the inspiration behind the exhibition, Head Curator of Past Futures, Micha Nestor said: "Having grown up in South Norwood for half my life, I regularly drove past the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor youth centre and the blue plaque commemorating the composer and wondered who he was.

“That sparked my curiosity, and I quickly became fascinated by the story of this mixed-race, Victorian man who had conquered the classical music world and lived just down the road from me."

In addition to indulging in Coleridge-Taylor’s classical section, visitors can experience a night of Dubstep in Rave section, with photography of Croydon’s Dubstep scene from Ben Donoghue.

The virtual tour will then stop at the Grime section, following the humble beginnings of rapper Stormzy, from young Croydon schoolboy to the UK's most recognisable Grime artist, including exclusive images with his mum captured by photographer Olivia Rose.

Owing to these famous faces, Croydon is now regarded as a hub of the diverse and original sound, earning the title of ‘music capital’ of the UK in 2018 by streaming service Deezer.  

While the exhibition offers a contemporary experience of Black history, in recent months, heritage organisations in the UK have been criticised for a lack of diversity when teaching both Black and British culture.

Past Futures said it hopes that by creating engaging ways of teaching history, it will “lead to a more inclusive historical narrative being curated for future generations”.   

The Sounds of Croydon: From Samuel Coleridge-Taylor to Stormzy exhibition will be available to view exclusively online at PastFutures.co.uk from October - December 2020.