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“The very first black band to make its mark in the UK, the Southern Syncopated Orchestra, brought West Indians into the British jazz world in 1919. Put together by composer Will Marion Cook in New York the previous year, the 27-piece African-American band arrived in London to fulfil long-term contracts first at the Philharmonic Hall in Great Portland Street, and then at Kingsway Hall in Holborn. Along with the all-white Original Dixieland Jazz Band, who came from the US for an  extended stay at around the same time, the SSO can be credited with introducing jazz to the UK.

The Prince of Wales, later Edward VIII, invited the SSO first to play at Buckingham Palace, and subsequently to headline a grand ball at the Albert Hall to mark the first anniversary of Armistice Day. With demand high, the band stayed on beyond 1920 Over the ensuing years, its original American members drifted away, to be replaced by London-based musicians who hailed from Barbados, Guyana, Trinidad, Jamaica, Antigua, Haiti, Sierra Leone and Ghana.” - Lloyd Bradley; Sounds Like London

Between the late 1920s and the mid 1940s, a black intelligentsia started to find traction in London. The city became a gathering point for African and West Indian students, professionals and political dissidents. Organisations like the League of Coloured Peoples, the West African Student Union and the Union of Students of African Descent all set up shop, exchanging ideas and experiences from around the world. Much of what was discussed in London was to influence the break-up of the British Empire.

Trinidadian singer Sam Manning arrived in London in 1934 as calypso’s first international star. His influence was much more than strictly musical. Manning had spent the 1920s in New York, recording his trademark jazz/calyspo hybrids and featuring alongside Fats Waller in the original performances of the jazz musical Brown Sugar. That was where he first met his partner; the show’s producer Amy Ashwood Garvey, who had formerly been married to Marcus Garvey. The couple founded the Florence Mills Social Club, a jazz nightclub and restaurant in Carnaby Street. Named after the legendary black American cabaret star, it became a gathering place for London’s Caribbean and African intellectuals, and students of the growing Pan-Africanism Movement.

—  Lloyd Bradley; Sounds Like London