Camberwell author pens book on ‘Britain’s black cabaret queen’

News Desk (19 October, 2016) Culture

Subject of Bourne's latest book was first black woman to sing on BBC radio, and the first black British woman to succeed in American showbiz

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An award-winning Camberwell writer has released a new book telling the story of London-born star Evelyn Dove, writes Kirsty Purnell.

Released this month, Stephen Bourne’s Evelyn Dove – Britain’s Black Cabaret Queen documents the eponymous singer’s career, which spanned five decades between the 1920s and 1960s. Trailblazing her way to success, the London-born artist was the first black woman to sing on BBC radio, as well as being the first black, British woman to succeed in American showbiz.

“She was a pioneer,” said Stephen of the cabaret and theatre star. “She was a woman who did not allow her race to constrain her.”

A specialist in documenting the lives of black, British figures, Stephen became interested in resurrecting Evelyn’s story after meeting a friend of the singer

“I met one of Evelyn’s friends two years after she died.  She began to tell me some of the stories about Evelyn,” he said. Despite her formidable career achievements, also including fame on the continent, Evelyn is still a relatively unknown figure – which is why Bourne chose her as a subject.

“It’s a story people won’t have heard of,” he said. “She was a big star between the Twenties and Forties – but when she became older and the work dried up, she was forgotten.”

Bourne grew up close to the Peckham Road Music Library, which has since been closed, where he used to read the stories of famous jazz musicians.

“The stories of the black, British artists were never in the books. Only the Americans. As I got older, I became more and more interested in writing about the black, British figures”

During his career, Stephen has penned a total of fifteen books on forgotten black figures. The release of Evelyn Dove coincides with the 25th anniversary of the release date of his first book, The Sun Shone on our Side of the Street: Aunt Esther’s Story.

“Evelyn Dove is a heartwarming and inspiring story,” said Stephen. “She is a survivor – and we all like to hear the story of a survivor”

Evelyn Dove is on sale now. Stephen will be doing two talks on Evelyn’s life this month. He will be appearing at the Royal Academy of Music on October 26 at 6.30pm.

November 3 he will be at the National Portrait Gallery at 1.15pm. Tickets are £3 and are available from www.npg.org.uk

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Stephen BourneEvelyn Dove