Evelyn Dove, the mixed-race singer, actress and all-round ground-breaker
Evelyn Dove was born in London in 1902 to Sierra Leonean barrister Francis Dove, and his white English wife Augusta.
Dove studied piano, singing and elocution at the Royal Academy of Music from 1917 until her graduation in 1919.
As a woman of colour, despite her extensive training, she found if difficult to break into the classical music scene.
She started off using the name ‘Norma Winchester’ when she joined the Southern Syncopated Orchestra (SSO), which was a band composed of British West Indian and West African and American musicians who were bringing black music into the mainstream on the UK club scene.
She was with the SSO on board the SS Rowan when their ship accidentally crashed into another. The result was a tragedy in which 35 people died, including eight or nine of her band members – it seems the exact number is lost to history.
Even through that adversity, Evelyn persisted.
Soon enough, she had her own show, called Evelyn Dove and Her Plantation Creoles – a name that admittedly hasn’t aged very well – and was touring internationally.
Her reputation as a singer continued to rise through the 20’s, but she found her greatest success throughout the 30’s and 40’s.
In 1939, she made history as the first black singer to ever feature on BBC Radio.
When she left the BBC in 1949, she went on to work around the world in India, Paris and Spain.
Sadly though, she ended up struggling to find jobs. In 1956, she was cast as Eartha Kitt’s mother in a drama called Mrs Patterson, and continued to take roles on television and the West End stage where she could.
She died of pneumonia in Horton Hospital, Surrey, at the age of 85.
However, even though she’s gone, her legacy as an artist and history-maker remains.
The Evening News of India once referred to her as, ‘an artist of international reputation, one of the leading personalities of Europe’s entertainment world.
‘She is described as the closest rival of the great Josephine Baker herself. Evelyn didn’t get just the big hand. She got an ovation’.