Black Lives In Music presents:

Classically Black

At Kings Place, London on 19th October

An Exploration of the Cutting Edge of Classical

Celebrating the contribution of Black and underrepresented musicians & composers


A bespoke evening show with polymath musician and composer

Ayanna Witter-Johnson & Friends

Debut of newly commissioned compositions from innovative British Black Composers Pete Letanka and Jason Yarde

Showcase for emerging talent sponsored by Warner Classics


Black Lives In Music (BLiM), the organisation set up to address racial inequality in the music industry and create opportunities for Black, Asian and ethnically diverse musicians and professionals, today announce ‘Classically Black’, a symposium one-day event exploring the cutting edge of classical music. Tickets can be purchased here.

Shining a light on Black and underrepresented musicians and composers in an unprecedented event, Classically Black will take place at Kings Place in London on Saturday 19th October. Produced by BLiM, and sponsored by ABRSM (Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music), this ground-breaking event will explore the experience of being a minority in classical music and champion the works of Black music artists and creators past and present, while asking ‘what is classical now?’

Classically Black’ aims to stimulate and provoke thought around representation and equity for underrepresented groups. It will demonstrate that despite often being erased from its history, these artists are forging the future of classical. Using their own culture and music experience, they are shaping the music by bringing jazz, funk and more, along with technology, into classical. With the British Library’s new exhibition Beyond the Bassline: 500 Years of Black British Music celebrating the immense contribution of Black musicians to UK music and culture, Classically Black will help to bring pioneering classical music into the 21st century conversation.

Held at the multi-arts venue Kings Place, renowned for curating world-class shows and festivals which engage a breadth of different communities, the venue feels like a fitting home for Classically Black. Kings Place strives to offer a supportive environment for artists from under-represented backgrounds to build their audiences and communities. The venue is a member organisation of Black Lives in Music and a signatory to its charter aiming to reflect London’s multicultural mix across all levels of the organisation, from artistic programme to work force, partners and audiences. It also signed up to the Key Change Pledge in 2019. Events for Classically Black will take place across multiple spaces at Kings Place, including Hall One – known for its exceptional acoustics – Hall Two and the intimate St Pancras Room.

There will be two newly commissioned works by British Black composers Pete Letanka and Jason Yardeto be performed and recorded by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, plus a late afternoon showcase for emerging talent sponsored by Warner Classics,networking opportunities, interactive discussions, panels, music workshops, and much more.

The evening will host a bespoke show with multi-talented singer/songwriter, cellist, pianist, composer, Ayanna Witter-Johnson, who has collaborated with Anoushka Shankar, Nitin Sawhney, Andrea Bocelli, Jools Holland and Peter Gabriel. Her show at Classically Black will be titled The Sound of Classically Black: Ayanna Witter-Johnson & Friends, showcasing works commissioned by Solem Quartet, the Philharmonia, London Symphony Orchestra and performed by her band and members of world renowned orchestras, highlighting how her classical tone weaves its way through her musical roots of reggae, soul and jazz..

Ayanna Witter-Johnson says: “I’m really looking forward to showcasing the breadth of my artistry across a multitude of genres that all feel at home in my musical landscape. Collaborating with musicians from the classical to the contemporary music worlds is where I feel most at home and I cannot wait to light up the stage with this eclectic line-up!”

The new compositions from Pete Letanka and Jason Yarde will be premiered at Classically Black and embody its spirit.  The commissions call for the pieces to draw on wider cultural influences in harmony and melody and include technology.  Pete Letanka is a renowned jazz pianist who has composed for everyone from jazz trios to symphony orchestras.  Jason Yarde is a saxophonist, composer, arranger, producer and music director with a similar eclectic approach, composing in progressive jazz, classical, hip-hop fusion, free improvisation, broken beats, R&B, reggae, soul and more.

Roger Wilson, Director of Operations at Black Lives in Music says: “Classically Black is championing Black and global majority talent in a way that simply hasn’t happened before. Composers, new commissions, musicians, children, young people, conductors – all in one place for a festival style event. People love classical music but don’t always recognise their passion for it – partly to do with the way they experience it, through streaming or films they love. And we are poorer without the melodies and harmonies of the wider world infusing and influencing the music we refer to as classical music.

So, we are excited to showcase some of those building the classical future – the amazingly talented Ayanna Witter Johnson and the premiere of two new commissions.  Pete Letanka and Jason Yarde are exceptional composition talents, we don’t hear their music enough.  These two orchestral pieces promise to reach out and grab you. 

History hasn’t been kind in acknowledging the rich contribution to classical music by Black and global majority composers. With Classically Black we have a platform to celebrate, elevate and create – sparking thought on cutting edge and classical music.”

Robert Farhat, Contemporary Programme Manager at Kings Place, said: “We’re delighted to be collaborating with Black Lives in Music on the Classically Black event at Kings Place and to be highlighting the incredible work of these ground-breaking musicians and composers. We’re proud to be a member organisation of Black Lives in Music and this event is an exciting opportunity to celebrate diversity in classical music and explore the future of the genre.”

BLiM recentlystepped up the effort to diversify major orchestras in the UK with the announcement of a landmark agreement for a 10 Point Orchestral Plan, introduced by BLiM, Musicians’ Union (MU) and Association Of British Orchestras (ABO). 33 organisations have signed up in total, with leading orchestras including the five BBC Orchestras and BBC SingersLondon Philharmonic Orchestra, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and Philharmonia Orchestra.

The 10 Point Orchestral Plan for inclusive recruitment in orchestras calls for new measures including maximum lengths of trial periods, inclusivity training for audition panellists, candidates to audition from behind a screen to ensure an anonymised application process, auditions both in person and online for those who cannot travel, a full record of decisions taken from auditions and a reasonable amount of excerpts to be played so less experienced candidates can warm to the task.

BLiM also launched their new survey, YourSafetyYourSay, to address Bullying and Harassment in the music industry. After becoming aware of shocking abuse, BLiM will use the anonymous survey to collect real world data. This will inform legislation and the work of the new Creative Industries Independent Standards Authority (CIISA) and the wider music industry. It will also be used to support BLiM’s forthcoming Anti Racist Code of Conduct and reporting tool, which will work towards eradicating discrimination, bullying and harassment throughout the music ecosystem.

Fill in the survey HERE, which needs to be completed in full.