Black History Month: Laura Mvula and other Birmingham MOBO stars to admire

It’s Black History Month and it’s time to celebrate the incredible role that the Black community plays in Birmingham
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Birmingham is home to some of the best musicians in the world.

And when it comes to Music of Black Origin the city is leading the way with stars. Birmingham is the home city of four of the last six Best Female winners of the MOBO Awards.

These songstresses are from a long line of great Brummie performers an singers and BirminghamWorld, along with local music blogger Stephen Pennell who has helped to put the list together, is proud of each and every one.

Here are our four MOBO stars and other brilliant black Birmingham female music singers.

Laura Mvula performs at the Edinburgh International Festival on Sunday 29 August, at Edinburgh Park, tickets, £21–£26 www.eif.co.uk/events/laura-mvulaLaura Mvula performs at the Edinburgh International Festival on Sunday 29 August, at Edinburgh Park, tickets, £21–£26 www.eif.co.uk/events/laura-mvula
Laura Mvula performs at the Edinburgh International Festival on Sunday 29 August, at Edinburgh Park, tickets, £21–£26 www.eif.co.uk/events/laura-mvula

Laura Mvula

Laura won two MOBO awards, two Ivor Novelo wins and has had three Mercury Prize nominations for her albums since releasing her debut studio album in 2013 - and her career has continued to shine. One of her tracks features in the exciting new dance interpretation of Birmingham’s infamous Peaky Blinders performed by Rambert.

A Kings Heath native she grew up playing the piano and violin, joining local youth orchestras. Her mum hails from St Kitts and her dad from Jamaica - it was her father who introduced her to jazz. Her singing developed further when she joined her aunt’s a cappella ensemble Black Voices. Earlier this year she released more material - reworking material from her first two albums for an EP called 1/f and her third proper album was released in July called Pink Noise.

Lady Leshurr has been awarded the British Empire Medal for services to music and charity. The rapper, real name Melesha Katrina O’Garro, hails from Kingshurst, Solihull, and is best known for her Queen’s Speech series of freestyle performances.Lady Leshurr has been awarded the British Empire Medal for services to music and charity. The rapper, real name Melesha Katrina O’Garro, hails from Kingshurst, Solihull, and is best known for her Queen’s Speech series of freestyle performances.
Lady Leshurr has been awarded the British Empire Medal for services to music and charity. The rapper, real name Melesha Katrina O’Garro, hails from Kingshurst, Solihull, and is best known for her Queen’s Speech series of freestyle performances.

Lady Leshurr

Rapper, singer and producer Lady Leshurr hails from Kingshurst and rose to fame after the release of her ‘Queen’s Speech’ series of freestyle which went viral in 2016. This was when she won the Best Female MOBO award.

Most recently she picked up two awards at the Birmingham Music Awards - Best Female and Brum Bastion.

Her parents originate from the Caribbean Isle of St. Kitts and she grew up listineing to a lot of reggae such as Bob Marley and Sister Nancy.  In 2021, she entered the Channel 4 series The Celebrity Circle and Stand Up to Cancer, catfishing as Big Narstie and won. She also competed in the thirteenth series of Dancing on Ice where she reached the semi-final.

Stefflon Don won Best Female at the MOBO awards in 2017Stefflon Don won Best Female at the MOBO awards in 2017
Stefflon Don won Best Female at the MOBO awards in 2017

Stefflon Don

Twenty-six year-old Stefflon was born in Birmingham to Jamaican parents, and brought up in The Netherlands - moving back to the UK when she was aged 14.

She switches between dancehall patois, grime verses, and honeyed vocals with ease and confidence, winning the Best Female at the MOBO awards in 2017.

The dancehall/ rap artists has collaborated with several prominent artists over the years, including Jax Jones and Demi Lovato on her Hurtin’ Me EP in 2018. And in 2019 she worked with rapper Lil Baby on her single Phone Down. The following year saw the release of the Afrobeat-tinged single "Can’t Let You Go."

Mahalia is an R&B/hip-hop singer-songwriter with a slick sound and a wonderfully emotive, smoky voice. Her latest song, Jealous, featuring Rico Nasty, has a funny video. Mahalia headlines T'Other Stage Live on Saturday.Mahalia is an R&B/hip-hop singer-songwriter with a slick sound and a wonderfully emotive, smoky voice. Her latest song, Jealous, featuring Rico Nasty, has a funny video. Mahalia headlines T'Other Stage Live on Saturday.
Mahalia is an R&B/hip-hop singer-songwriter with a slick sound and a wonderfully emotive, smoky voice. Her latest song, Jealous, featuring Rico Nasty, has a funny video. Mahalia headlines T'Other Stage Live on Saturday.

Mahalia

Mahalia won her Best Female award at the latest ceremony in 2020 - she also won both the Best Sou/ RnB prize.

Mahalia wasn’t born in Birmingham, but attended the Birmingham Ormiston Academy. Her father is British-Irish and her mother is Jamaican.

On receiving her awards, the Midlands chanteuse said: “I remember seeing my first MOBOs and it’s an honour. As a young black female artist, it really is special to be here and to be recognised in this way.”

Her old school sounded just as pleased. Gaynor Cheshire, CEO of the BOA Group where Mahalia studied from 2012 to 2016 beamed: “BOA is extremely proud of Mahalia’s achievements and we continue to follow her meteoric rise to success with interest and anticipation.”

Mahalia can now polish her prizes, put them on the mantelpiece and look forward to the Grammys, where she is nominated in the Best R&B performance category for All I Need with Jacob Collier and Ty Dolla $ign.

Singer-songwriter Joan Armatrading was made a CBE for services to music, charity and equal rights.Singer-songwriter Joan Armatrading was made a CBE for services to music, charity and equal rights.
Singer-songwriter Joan Armatrading was made a CBE for services to music, charity and equal rights.

Birmingham’s black female talent through the ages

Stephen says: “Of course, Birmingham’s glittering array of talent predates the MOBOs by several decades. Birmingham’s Queens are as majestic as ever and still casting their spell over the world of music.”

Here are some more brilliant black brummie singers that we want to celebrate as part of Black History Month:

Joan Armatrading was the first black British female to achieve international music success.

She moved to Brookfields (now Winson Green and Rotton Park) in Birmingham from Antigua to be with her mum and dad and two elder brothers when she was seven years-old.

Over the past 50 years she has released 20 studio albums as well as several live albums and compilations.

Birmingham-born Jaki Graham followed Joan Armatrading’s lead in achieving international success and holds an all-time Top 20 hits record.

Originally from Handsworth, Jaki first met her husband Tony when they were both attended Ladywood School. They have two children, Ryan and Natalie.

Jorja Smith performing at the Orpheum Theatre in in Vancouver, CanadaJorja Smith performing at the Orpheum Theatre in in Vancouver, Canada
Jorja Smith performing at the Orpheum Theatre in in Vancouver, Canada

Ruby Turner was born in Montego Bay, Jamaica, and moved to Handsworth with her family in 1967. Her grandfather sang the lead in one of Jamaica’s gospel groups. In the early 1980s, she worked with Culture Club at the height of their popularity. And got to No 1 on the US R&B chart with It’s Gonna Be Alright in 1990. She’s worked with a raft of international stars including Bryan Ferry, UB40 and Mick Jagger.

Beverley Knight is actually from Wolverhampton, but it’s so nearby, we thought we’d include her too. She’s had such an amazing career as a recording artist and musical theatre actress since releasing her first album in 1995.

JameliaJamelia
Jamelia

Jamelia and Jorja Smith have also achieved major breakthroughs and the success shows no sign of abating anytime soon.

Kezia Soul ripped it up on the latest series of The Voice, while Janel Antoneshia, a long-time collaborator of brilliant Birmingham MC TrueMendous, made the semi-finals.

Stephen says: “In fact, there’s a host of quality performers making waves and establishing beyond doubt the city’s incredible strength in depth in this particular demographic.

“Birmingham’s Queens are as majestic as ever and still casting their spell over the world of music.”

You can read more about Birmingham’s music scene with Stephen Pennell on his KingCity website

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