When she was 17, pianist Isata Kanneh-Mason entered a piano competition, hoping to win it and launch her concert career. When she didn’t win, Kanneh-Mason spent the next number of years continuing her piano study with no idea regarding how to get concerts. Now, though, she looks at those years of struggle as an essential part of her development as a musician, paving the way for her current success as a concert and recording artist.
She had help along the way, primarily from her parents, who made sacrifices to ensure that she and her six younger siblings have all had wonderful music educations. Kanneh-Mason’s parents were themselves no strangers to obstacles in life. Her mother, from Sierra Leone, is part Welsh. Her father is from Antigua and encountered racism in England from a young age. The barriers the Kanneh-Masons encountered as a mixed-race couple in Nottingham, England, prepared them for the criticism they faced when people accused them of pushing their children into a world where they didn’t belong and were bound to fail.
Both parents had played the piano, and Isata and her siblings all had piano lessons. Her earliest goal was to study at the Royal Academy in London, and when she started there, she was the only Black student. She won several prizes and awards, including the Elton John Scholarship. She’s clearly been a great role model for the younger family members, because all of the Kanneh-Masons are now performing musicians.
“We're very used to growing up with music and noise all around. And I think we really enjoyed coming from a big family and coming from a musical family,” she says. “And even now, all of us siblings are still quite close, and many of us live in the same city. So we still see each other often and we still have that bond between us, which is really lovely.”
Host: Vernon Neal
Producer: Dan Nass
Writers: Andrea Blain and Scott Blankenship
Executive Producer: Julie Amacher
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