Thursday, 20 June 2013

Two Commemorations to Samuel Coleridge-Taylor

Portrait in PRS Boardroom

A sculpture and park bench and a modern portrait of Croydon's composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor who died in 1912 were unveiled on Tuesday 18 and Wednesday 19 June respectively. 

The bench and statues of the composer, the comedian Ronnie Corbett and the actress Peggy Ashcroft, are in Croydon's Charles St. The portrait was unveiled in the boardroom of the Performing Rights Society in Berners St off Oxford St. The PRS came into being following the composer’s death.

The Choice of People

The choice of famous Croydonians for the bench statues was made in a public poll last year in which SC-T came top. Those attending the unveiling included Jonathan Butcher, who was Artistic Director of the Croydon Festival last year, and Stephen Harrow, the Chairman of the Festival Committee.

The Croydon Advertiser queries whether the choice was correct and has asked for people’s views. One respondent posted: ‘Coleridge-Taylor - surely not - that's a windup?” I have tried to log in to post the following reply without success.

‘SC-T was top of a poll well ahead of Ronnie Corbett and Peggy Ashcroft. Up to his death he was perhaps Croydon's most famous resident as a highly popular composer, conductor and Festival adjudicator in Britain, and whose Hiawatha was a major fixture of the musical calender in the 1920s and 1930s at the Albert Hall and revived after the War. The 100 years of his death was commemorated in a Croydon Festival throughout last year. His death led to the formation of the Performing Rights Society so that composers earnt royalties when their music is played.  A new generation of performers have been discovering his music and last year Croydon teenagers performed  at Fairfield Halls; two playing their own piano duet composition, and a third performing a jazz improvisation based on works by SC-T. I have recently being running workshops on him with primary and secondary school pupils.   There are of course hundreds of people who should be commemorated in some way, whether through benches/statues or plaques, but few have a continuing influence like SC-T does. To find out more go to’ 

PRS Portrait
The portrait in the Performing Rights Society Board Room was arranged by Kwaku of the Black British Music organisation and SC-T Collective. The image was commissioned for the 'NARM (Naming And Role Model) Highlighting African British Male Role Models 1907-2007' (BTWSC 2010) book.

Guy Fletcher, the President of PRS, officiated at the unveiling. Kwaku also spoke. I said a few words about last year’s Festival and the opera Thelma, about the Jeff Green booklet about the composer, and the London Schools Remembrance Project school workshops. 

I also indicated that last week I found in the South Western Star in the early 1920s a letter by the conductor of the Battersea Borough Council Municipal Concerts series complaining about the PRS expecting him to apply for a licence. The PRS said he had played several pieces for which he needed a licence, including one by SC-T. I will be following up this story with PRS to see what there is on it in its archive.

Those attending the unveiling at the PRS included Jeffrey Green, SC-Ts biographer, Mykaell Riley of the Black British Music Research Unit at Westminster University, and representatives of the Royal College of Music and the Royal Choral Society.

THE PRS Link with SC-T

When SC-T he died in 1912, there was great furore in the media after the poor finances of his estate was revealed - he sold outright the publishing rights to his biggest hit “Hiawatha‟s Wedding Feast‟ for £15.75. The PRS was founded in 1914 partly as a consequence of the deliberations over Coleridge-Taylor‟s finances.

Although his heirs did not own the copyright to many of his compositions, they shared in the performing royalties later collected by the PRS.

Guy Fletcher Chairman of PRS commented, “Samuel‟s contribution to the musical world at a time when his colour could have held him back is nothing short of incredible. It is right his life and work is celebrated and we would be honoured to have his picture centre stage in our office.”

PRS for Music represents the rights of 95,000 songwriters, composers and music publishers in the UK. As a membership organisation it ensures creators are paid whenever their music is played, performed or reproduced; championing the importance of copyright to protect and support the UK music industry.

It provides business and community groups with easy access to over 10m songs through its music licences. In an industry worth £3.8bn, it collected £630.8m in 2011. 

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