British cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason won the prestigious BBC Young Musician of the Year competition in 2016 when he was just 17 years old, performing Shostakovich’s fiendish Cello Concerto No. 1. The first black musician to win the competition in its 38-year history, Kanneh-Mason was born and raised in a suburb of Nottingham, England. The third of seven siblings who all turned out to be exceptionally musically talented, he was inspired initially by his eldest sister Isata, who showed an early aptitude for the piano and was accepted at the age of eight into the Royal Academy of Music’s junior department. Following in her footsteps, Sheku took up the cello at the age of six, and, aged nine, won a scholarship to also attend the Royal Academy. He joined Chineke, Europe’s first BAME (black and minority ethnic) classical orchestra, and, together with Isata and his violinist brother Braimah, formed the Kanneh-Mason Trio, appearing in 2015 on Britain’s Got Talent. His experience on the show prepared him for Young Musician’s relatively sedate televised segments, where he appeared almost preternaturally calm. After winning Young Musician, where his ecstatic playing immediately drew comparisons with Jacqueline du Pré, he was signed by Decca. His 2018 debut album Inspiration featured the Shostakovich concerto along with other classical pieces and his own versions of songs by Bob Marley and Leonard Cohen. It became the first debut album by a Young Musician winner to chart, entering the U.K. pop rankings at number 18. ~ John D. Buchanan
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