We share achievements, groundbreaking work and activism of leading figures in music

The Bernie Grant Arts Centre was created as a creative space to develop culturally diverse artists and to share authentic stories. We’ve launched BHM X 365 DAYS BGAC; a celebration of the achievements, groundbreaking work and activism of some of the leading figures in music.

Inspired by the Black Sounds Exhibition, we will share a convention shattering artist who has challenged the mainstream through their music, their lifestyle and their actions to leave a legacy for future generations. These stories are shared at BGAC all year round and it’s important that we highlight those breaking boundaries and representing the many communities of London through Music, Theatre, Dance, Comedy and Art.

DAY 31 – ROLL DEEP (2010)

Roll Deep are an English grime crew. They were founded in 2001 by Wiley shortly before the disbandment of UK garage crew, Pay As U Go Cartel. The crew distributed a number of mixtapes and vinyl singles independently before being signed to a major label and releasing their debut album In at the Deep End in June 2005. Four singles were released from the album: “Heat Up”, “The Avenue”, “When I’m ‘Ere” and “Shake a Leg”. They won an Urban Music Award.

Their second album Rules and Regulations was released in 2007, followed by the release of Return of the Big Money Sound in 2008. The group got their first UK number 1 single with the song “Good Times” in May 2010 and the group’s second UK number 1 single was “Green Light” in August 2010. 

DAY 30 – STORMZY (2017)

The British rapper Stormzy is of Ghanaian descent grew up in Croydon, he began to garner attention for his Wicked Skengman series which resulted in him winning Best Grime Act at the 2014 MOBO Awards and an appearance of Later with Jools Holland becoming the first unsigned rapper to appear. He followed this up with another victory as Best Grime Act at the 2015 MOBO Awards and was named as an artist to look out for in the BBC’s influential Sound of 2015 list. In 2018, Stormzy released his debut album ‘Gang Signs & Prayer’ which became the first Grime album in history to reach UK number 1. GSAP went Silver in its first week and went on to win British Album of the Year at the 2018 BRIT Awards.  Stormzy has used his platform to comment on the political landscape endorsing Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn for his activism and vocalise concerns regarding the perceived lack of action from Theresa May following the Grenfell Tower fire.  He has also launched #Merky Books, an imprint with Penguin Random House and offered 2 scholarships to University of Cambridge for young Black students through the ‘Stormzy Scholarship’

DAY 29 – LAURA MVULA (2013)

The Birmingham born recording artist, songwriter and composer, started out Black Voices (an a capella group), Judyshouse  (a Jazz/Neo-Soul group) and Musical Director of Lichfield Community Gospel Choir and Alvechurch Community Choir all this before graduating from Birmingham Conservatoire at Birmingham City University. Laura Mvula released her debut album ‘Sing to the Moon’ which saw her nominated for BBC Sound, shortlisted for BRITs critics’ choice and won 2 MOBO Awards for Best Female act and Best R&B or soul artist. Laura Mvula has used her platform to support the first Global Citizen, Chime for Change following the launch of #SheWill and discussions around anxiety. In 2017, Mvula composed original music for the Royal Shakespeare Company production of Antony and Cleopatra which opened in Stratford-upon-Avon and transferred to the Barbican centre later that year.


An English rapper, recording artist and record producer. A pioneer of grime music, his work has also incorporated elements of UK garage, bassline, British hip hop, and R&B. In 2003, Dizzee signed to XL Recordings and Released his debut solo album ‘Boy in da Corner’ which saw Grime gain mainstream exposure and winning the Mercury Music Prize at 19 becoming youngest ever winner. Widely considered as the UK’s first internationally recognised rap star, he has gone on to score number-one hits “Dance wiv Me”, “Bonkers”, “Holiday”, “Dirtee Disco”, “Shout” and follow-up albums Showtime, Maths + English, and Tongue n’ Cheek have been critically praised and certified platinum.

DAY 27 – WRETCH 32 (2012)

Wretch 32 started out in music and in the early days a member of the grime collective “Combination Chain Gang”, before forming The Movement with Scorcher, Ghetts, and Mercston. In 2011, he had three top-five charting songs from debut album Black and White and amassed over a million record sales, including the single “Don’t Go” which peaked at number-one on the UK Singles Chart. The Tottenham born UK Hip Hop artist won ‘Best International Act’ at the BET Awards and was used as a main face by Adidas and Coca-Cola in their London 2012 campaigns.

DAY 26 – CYRIL BLAKE (1938)

Blake moved to England about 1918, where he played in a British group called the Southern Syncopated Orchestra. He worked in Paris and London as a musician throughout the 1920s, and in the 1930s played in the bands of Leon Abbey, Happy Blake, Rudolph Dunbar, Leslie Thompson, Joe Appleton, and Lauderic Caton. The Trinidadian Jazz trumpeter formed his own band at the famous Jig’s Club in London and was praised for his unforgettable ‘Cyril’s Blues’ including by Louis Armstrong. Cyril Blake went on to lead a backing band for Lord Kitchener’s recordings for Parlophone Records taking on a calypso style.

DAY 25 – LABRINTH (2010)

Labrinth started his career by producing the track “Dead End” for recording artist Master Shortie from the album A.D.H.D. He went on to mentor the Urban Development Vocal Collective (UDVC) alongside his sister, ShezAr. The vocalists also provided backing vocals for Labrinth’s original tracks. Other artists to collaborate with the collective include Wretch 32, Chip, Maverick Sabre and Devlin. In 2010, Labrinth collaborated with Tinie Tempah on ‘Pass Out’ and ‘Frisky’ which achieved success in the UK singles chart. Later that year the British singer-songwriter, rapper & producer became the first non-TV talent show artist signed to Simon Cowell’s Syco Records. Hits No. 3 in the UK with his debut single.


Ken “Snakehips” Johnson, was a jazz band leader and dancer. He was a leading figure in black British music of the 1930s. Originally from British Guiana, Johnson at the age of 15 was sent by his parents to the United Kingdom. He visited New York in 1934 and was inspired to become a bandleader. In 1936 Johnson was invited to lead Leslie Thompson’s band, before going on to start his own, called “Ken Johnson and his Rhythm Swingers” (later renamed “The West Indian Orchestra”). The West Indian Dance Band was the UK’s first all-black swing band with no US members. Put together by Leslie Thomspon, inspired by the notion of Marcus Garvey’s Black self help. They played jazz and swing music and was composed largely of musicians from the West Indies.

DAY 23 – CY GRANT (1956)

Guyanese actor, musician, writer and poet. In the 1950s, he became the first Black person to be featured regularly on television in the United Kingdom. Grant performed Caribbean calypso and folk songs and took his music worldwide to countries including: Australia, Cyprus, Singapore, Libya and Zimbabwe. In 1956, the Guyanese calypso singer and actor launched his own chat show, ‘For Members Only’ on ATV, he intersperses interviews with singing and playing the guitar. In collaboration with Zimbabwean John Mapondera, in 1974 Grant set up the Drum Arts Centre in London to provide a springboard and provide a national centre for black artistic talent.

DAY 22 – GOLDIE (1998)

Goldie, is an English musician, DJ, visual artist and actor from Walsall. Known for being a pioneer in the 1990s UK jungle, drum and bass and breakbeat hardcore scene as well as acting in Snatch, The World is Not Enough and Eastenders. In 1998, Goldie released his second studio album ‘Saturnz Return’ which saw drum and bass make a further breakthrough into popular culture as the album featured collaborations with David Bowie, Noel Gallagher and KRS-One.


A Nigerian percussionist and bandleader who rose to prominence as a musician in London from the 1950s to the early 1970s. He led his band Ginger Johnson and his African Messengers; recording and performing with Ronnie Scott, Quincy Jones, Edmundo Ros and many more. In 1969 Ginger Johnson led his African Messengers to share the stage with the Rolling Stones at their legendary free gig providing driving percussion on ‘Sympathy For the Devil.’


The Hip Hop trio Young Fathers, formed in Edinburgh in 2008 by Alloysious Massaquoi, Kayus Bankole and Graham ‘G’ Hastings; the group started performing in nightclubs when the band members were all in their teens. They signed to LA label Anticon releasing two mixtapes (Tape One and Tape Two), with Tape Two winning the Scottish Album of the Year Award. In 2014, Young Fathers signed to Big Dada to release their debut ‘Dead’ which won them the prestigious Mercury Music Prize and broke into the UK Top 40 for the first time.

DAY 19 – LOUISA MARK (1974)

Louisa Mark was born in Kensal Rise, London to Grenadian immigrant parents and grew up in Shepherd’s Bush. She had her introduction to the music business initially by working as guest vocalist on Dennis Bovell’s Sufferer sound system. In 1974, Louisa Mark released a cover of Robert Parker’s ‘Caught You In a Lie’ produced by Dennis Bovell on Lloydie Coxsone’s label. This huge underground hit became acknowledged as the birth of Lovers Rock.

DAY 18 – STEEL PULSE (1987)

The Roots Reggae band Steel Pulse were born out of Handsworth, Birmingham made up of a large number of Afro-Caribbean, Indian and other Asian migrants burst on to the scene with their 1978 debut album Handsworth Revolution, this year marks their 40th year anniversary. The band used their growing fan base and platform to align themselves with Rock against Racism and quickly gained attention from Island Records. ‘Babylon the Bandit’ was their sixth studio album won the Grammy Award for Best Reggae Album becoming the first non-Jamaican artist to win the award.

DAY 17 – SADE (1985)

Debut album, ‘Diamond Life’ sold over 1.2 million copies in the UK, reaching No.2 in the chart, and won the Brit Award for Best British Album. The album became one of the best selling albums of the era, and the best-selling debut ever by a British female vocalist. It also gained widespread critical acclaim, and is largely considered one of the best albums of all-time. Their music features elements of soul, quiet storm, smooth jazz, and sophisti-pop.


Born and raised in London, England, the artist, poet, vocalist, composer and musician Clementine later moved to Paris, France becoming homeless as a teenager. There, his performances helped him to become a cult figure in the music and art scene. A number of critics described him as becoming one of the great singer-songwriters of his generation and the future sound of London, whilst struggling to place his music in any one genre. In 2015, Benjamin Clementine, won the Mercury Music Prize for his debut album ‘At Least for Now’.

DAY 15 – DUKE VIN (1954)

He began his career as a selector on the Tom the Great Sebastian sound system in the early 1950s. In 1954, Jamaican Duke Vin set up what is widely regarded as the UK’s first authentic Jamaican-type sound system – Duke Vin The Tickler, in Ladbroke Grove. The sound system played an important part in popularising ska in Britain. He initially played R&B but soon concentrated on Jamaican music. Fellow Jamaican Count Suckle soon set up a sound system in the same area, leading to a rivalry between the two and several sound clashes, with Vin involved in the UK’s first clash in 1958.

DAY 14 – RAY BLK (2017)

Born in Nigeria, the British singer and songwriter, grew up in Catford the subject for her collaboration with Stormzy ‘My Hood’ about wanting to leave and during her early years formed a school group with fellow artist MNEK called ‘New Found Content’. After the success of mini album ‘DURT’ and a MOBO nomination for Best Newcomer; she became the first unsigned winner of BBC Sound. In January 2018, she signed to a brand of Island Records and her debut album Empress is due out October 2018; her stage surname BLK stands for Building Living Knowing, which she describes as her three main values.


Dennis Bovell is a British Reggae legend. He is the originator of Lover’s Rock and the producer of big hits such as ‘Silly Games’ (Janet Kay) and ‘After Tonight’ with his band Matumbi. He has produced albums by a wide variety of artists such as Bananarama, Fela Kuti, The Slits, Madness and collaborator Linton Kwesi Johnson and many more. In 1980, Bovell scored Franco Rosso’s groundbreaking cult classic ‘Babylon’ centred on sound system culture and the Black British experience which went to win Rosso, the Evening Standard’s Most Promising Filmmaker Award.

DAY 12 – TRICKY (1995)

Began his career as an early collaborator of Massive Attack before embarking on a solo career with his debut album, Maxinquaye, in 1995. The Trip Hop pioneer released Merucry Music Prize nominated ‘Maxinquaye’, the debut led to widespread acclaim from UK publications topping many year-end lists. Tricky’s work is noted for its dark, layered musical style that blends disparate cultural influences and genres, including hip hop, alternative rock and ragga.


From the 1950s Winifred Atwell, enjoyed great popularity in Britain and Australia with a series of boogie-woogie and ragtime hits, selling over 20 million records. The Trinidadian pianist released single ‘Let’s Have Another Party’ and was the first Black person ever to score a UK No. 1. Atwell’s single was the first piano instrumental to reach number one in the UK Singles Chart and still stands as the only female instrumentalist to do so.

DAY 10 – SOUL II SOUL (1990)

The British musical group that started as a sound system but transformed into one of the most popular Soul groups in the UK. ‘Back to Life’ was a UK No.1 for 4 weeks, their most successful single in the United States and won them their first Grammy Award in 1990. They went on to win another Grammy Award, and have racked up five Brit Awards—twice for Best British Group.


The Queen of Lovers Rock burst on the scene in 1980 with a new take on the gospel traditions of her grandmother’s home. In 1981 Sold over a million copies of her iconic debut album ‘Hopelessly in love’ topping UK Reggae charts for two and a half years and winning multiple GLR Reggae awards including Best Female Performer two years running. She’s also worked with the likes of Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Boy George, Billy Ocean and M People.

DAY 8 – MS DYNAMITE (2002)

Ms. Dynamite, is a rapper, singer, songwriter and record producer. In 2002, she won the Mercury Music Prize with ‘A Little Better’ and donated the £20,000 prize money to charity NSPCC. Following her Mercury Music Prize win, she has gone on to close the Commonwealth Games ceremony, performed at Live 8, win two Brit Awards, three MOBO Awards and in 2018 was awarded an MBE for services to music.


In 1982, British Reggae band Musical Youth released one of the biggest selling singles of the year – ‘Pass the Dutchie’ topped the UK singles chart, went on to sell 4 million copies and was nominated for a Grammy Award.  Following a number of successful singles throughout 1982 and 1983, including a collaboration with Donna Summer, they earned another Grammy Award nomination for ‘Best New Band’ before disbanding in 1985. The band returned in 2001 as a duo.


A Guyanese conductor, clarinetist, and composer who left British Guiana aged 20 to begin carving a music career in New York, studying Institute of Musical Art (now Juilliard), performing with the Harlem Orchestra. It was these experiences and some in the UK and Europe that led Rudolph Dunbar to achieving many firsts. In 1942, he was the first Black man to conduct the London Philharmonic Orchestra and went on to also become the first in Germany with Berlin Philharmonic (1945), 8 orchestras in Poland (1959) and in Russia (1964) – a true pioneer that opened doors for future generations.

DAY 5 – JANET KAY (1979)

In 1979, Janet made history by becoming the first British born black female to have a reggae song at the top of the British charts. The song ‘Silly Games’, (produced by Dennis Bovell) this feat in the UK and European charts secured a place in the Music Guiness Book of Records. Amongst Platinum, Gold and Silver discs from countries across the world she was featured in Top 100 Black Britains by the Evening Standard as well as being celebrated with awards for her influence in music by Black British, Reggae Fraternity, Men & Women of Merit and more.

DAY 4 – EDDY GRANT (1988)

Founding member of The Equals, one of the United Kingdom’s first racially integrated pop groups, he pioneered genre ringbang. With a string of hit singles with the Equals and his solo projects spanning his career and has been using his platform for political purposes including the release of his 1988 charting anti-apartheid single “Gimme Hope Jo’anna” In 2016 it was announced that Grant would receive a lifetime achievement award from the government of Guyana


After selling several million records, winning two Brit Awards and the Mercury Music Prize in 1994 with M People for their seminal album ‘Elegant Slumming’, Heather Small is undoubtedly one of the most successful female recording artists of recent years. Alongside her music career, she is focused on her charity work including BeatBullying, Mencap, Asthma UK, Barnardos among others.


The grand master of Calypso, Lord Kitchener born in Trinidad and Tobago took passage on the Empire Windrush to England in 1948 where he wrote “London Is the Place for Me” as Kitch and Calypso achieved international success, he became an important figure for the first 5,000 West Indian immigrants to the UK as well as in Trinidad & Tobago dominating Calypso competitions.

DAY 1 – SKEPTA (2016)

A modern day activist and pioneer of DIY culture, Joseph Junior Adenuga better known as Skepta has become a global superstar. From humble beginnings, weekly pirate radio sets to winning the Mercury Music Prize award with Konnichiwa and a monumental sell-out show at Alexandra Palace, Skepta has secured a place in the history books of music.