As well as performing across the world, Dove opened doors for her successors as the first black singer on BBC radio – here’s why the search giant is commemorating her story.
A young talent
Evelyn Dove was born in London on 11 January 1902, the daughter of Francis Dove, a leading barrister from Sierra Leone, and his English wife, Augusta Winchester.
She began studying at the Royal Academy of Music at the age of 15, graduating with a silver medal two years later.
Despite her powerful contralto voice, Dove struggled to break into the classical music scene as a woman of mixed race, instead focusing on the cabaret and jazz scene.
She became a member of the Southern Syncopated Orchestra (SSO), which was made up of British West Indian and West African musicians and played a key role in making black music popular in Britain.
The orchestra, which was successful enough to be invited to perform at Buckingham Palace, met tragedy in October 1921, when their boat from Glasgow to Dublin collided with another vessel.
Although Dove escaped with her life, several members of the SSO were among 35 people who died when the ship sank.
From Stalin to Harlem
She joined the all-black cast of the revue Chocolate Kiddies in 1925 which brought her to a global audience with tours of western Europe and Russia, where they played in front of Stalin.
Dove’s star continued to rise when she took her own show – Evelyn Dove and Her Plantation Creoles – on tour in November 1926, appearing in Berlin and the Netherlands.
In the 1930s she continued to travel the world, performing cabaret in Harlem in 1936 and being photographed in New York by the prestigious photographer Carl Van Vechten.
Such was her standing by this time that, following a performance in Bombay in 1937, Dove was described in one review as “an artist of international reputation, one of the leading personalities of Europe’s entertainment world”.
Blazing a trail on the BBC
She became the first black singer to perform on BBC radio, and her regular appearances – received to great acclaim – helped to open doors for women of colour in the industry.
Dove enjoyed particular success with her series Serenade in Sepia alongside Trindadian folk singer Edric Connor, which later spawned a BBC TV version and a variety show devoted to black artists titled Variety in Sepia, recorded live at the Alexandra Palace.
After leaving the broadcaster in 1949, Dove focused on cabaret, travelling across India, France and Spain, but struggled to find work upon her return, even applying for a job as a Post Office telephonist in 1955.
Although Dove’s reputation as a singer gradually faded towards the end of her career, she secured some TV work as an actress in a series of BBC dramas in the late 1950s.
She also starred in the West End, appearing in Langston Hughes’s musical Simply Heavenly.
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