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1919: First Jazz Band Visited UK

When you think of Jazz music, New Orleans may spring to mind, or perhaps more generally the United States.

However the genre also has strong roots in the UK, brought here in 1919 by an all-black band called the Southern Syncopated Orchestra, and inspiring many with their energy and new music. A rare photo of the entire ensemble taken at the Brighton Dome in 1919 shows a group of dashing, well-groomed performers.

Southern Syncopated Orchestra at the Brighton Dome in 1919
Southern Syncopated Orchestra | Wikipedia

Formed by American Composer Will Marion Cook, the orchestra would soon comprise of musicians from Jamaica, Guyana, Barbados, Antigua, Ghana and the US. Europe was taken by them, and the UK would soon be blown away by their fresh syncopated sound, becoming the first black group to perform at the Brighton Dome - and invited by the future King Edward VIII to perform at Buckingham Palace.

He was so impressed by the sound, he even convinced music critic Olin Downes that the "musical art of the negro should be welcomed, encouraged and cultivated in this country, for the great thing that [it] is". It may be offensive and perhaps shocking to hear today, but it was most certainly intended as a compliment.

Speaking to the Brighton and Hove Gazette in August 1921, Downes continued: "If America had produced no other music she would have made the sufficient contribution to the art of the world."


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