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Sheku Kanneh-Mason

Sheku Kanneh-Mason
Born 1999
Genres Classical
Instruments Cello
Labels Decca Records
Associated acts Chineke! Orchestra
Website []

Sheku Kanneh-Mason (born 1999) is a British cellist who won the 2016 BBC Young Musician of the Year award. He was the first black musician to win the award since its launch 38 years earlier.[1]


Sheku Kanneh-Mason grew up in Nottingham, England. He is the third eldest of the seven children of Stuart Mason (a business manager) and Kadiatu Kanneh (a former university lecturer),[2] and began playing the cello at the age of six, having briefly played the violin.[3] At the age of nine, he passed the Grade 8 cello examination with the highest marks in the UK,[4][5] and won the Marguerite Swan Memorial Prize.[6] Also aged nine he won an ABRSM junior scholarship to join the Junior Academy of the Royal Academy of Music, where he is tutored by Ben Davies.[1][7][8] Kanneh-Mason received his non-specialist education as a pupil at the Trinity School, Nottingham,[8] where he studied for A levels in Music, Maths and Physics.[6]

In 2015, he and his siblings were competitors on Britain's Got Talent as The Kanneh-Masons. He won the BBC's Young Musician of the Year contest in May 2016, later telling The Observer that appearing on Britain's Got Talent had been "a good experience for getting used to performing in front of lots of people, with cameras and interviews. When it came to BBC Young Musician there were fewer cameras so I wasn't fazed at all."[3]

Kanneh-Mason is a member of the Chineke! Orchestra, which was founded by Chi-chi Nwanoku for black and minority ethnic classical musicians; his sister Isata and brother Braimah are also members.[3] In 2016, Kanneh-Mason told The Guardian's Tom Service that

"Chineke! is a really inspiring project. I rarely go to a concert and see that kind of diversity in the orchestra. Or in the audience. Having the orchestra will definitely change the culture. It's so important we're celebrating music by black composers, too, like the piece by Chevalier de Saint-Georges we're playing in September."[9]

In November 2016, Kanneh-Mason was the subject of a BBC Four documentary entitled Young, Gifted and Classical: The Making of a Maestro.[10] The following month, he was interviewed for BBC Radio 4's Front Row round-up of the year's major arts and entertainment award winners.[11]

In January 2018, it was reported that Kanneh-Mason had donated £3,000 to his former secondary school, enabling ten other pupils to continue their cello lessons.[12]

Sheku is currently studying at the Royal Academy of Music in London.[13]

Musical influences

Kanneh-Mason has cited the prominent cellists Jacqueline du Pré and Mstislav Rostropovich as his "musical heroes", alongside Bob Marley.[3]


Sheku Kanneh-Mason signed a record deal with classical music label Decca Classics in November 2016. The record deal was signed on board a Nottingham City Transport bus which the local authority had named in his honour after Kanneh-Mason won the BBC Young Musician contest.[14] The label announced that his first recording would feature the piece with which he won the BBC's Young Musician of the Year contest, Shostakovich's Cello Concerto No.1.[1]

Kanneh-Mason performed at the 2017 British Academy Film Awards held in London's Royal Albert Hall.[15] In the same year, he was the soloist for the Chineke! orchestra's performance at the BBC Proms, playing Antonín Dvořák's Rondo in G Major.[16]

In early February 2018, the BBC reported that Kanneh-Mason's album Inspiration was "the biggest-selling British debut of the year to date", entering the UK Albums Chart at number 18, had become number one on the UK classical albums chart, and had achieved 2.5 million streamings on Spotify.[17]


Kanneh-Mason was the winner of the 2016 BBC Young Musician of the Year award, following which his home town of Nottingham named a bus in his honour.[1][14] His other awards include the Royal Philharmonic Society Young Instrumentalist Duet Prize 2016.[18][19] In June 2017 he was nominated in the 'Classical' category of the South Bank Sky Arts Awards' The Times Breakthrough prize,[20] which he went on to win.[21]


To coincide with his performance at the BAFTAs in February 2017, Kanneh-Mason released his debut EP. The three-track EP was recorded at the Abbey Road Studios.

These tracks follow the viral success of Sheku's video of Leonard Cohen's 'Hallelujah', arranged by Tom Hodge. Sheku performed this arrangement at the BAFTA Awards in February 2017.[22] Sheku has also recorded Gaspar Cassadó's 'Requiebros'.[23]

On 26 January 2018 Sheku's first full length CD was issued by Decca. The recording includes the Shostakovich Cello Concerto No. 1 (accompanied by the CBSO conducted by Mirga Grazintye-Tyla) as well as shorter works by Shostakovich, Saint-Saens, Offenbach, Casals and others.


  1. ^ a b c d "17-year-old cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason signs to Decca Classics". The Strad. Newsquest. 10 November 2016. Retrieved 22 November 2016. 
  2. ^ Crampton, Caroline (4 September 2016). "Sheku Kanneh-Mason on football, maths and Shostakovich". New Statesman. London. Retrieved 30 November 2016. 
  3. ^ a b c d Jaward, Isa (20 November 2016). "Sheku Kanneh-Mason: 'I've always felt that I fitted in'". The Observer. London. Retrieved 22 November 2016. 
  4. ^ Freeman-Attwood, Jonathan (16 May 2016). "The Principal's Blog: Congratulations, Sheku". Royal Academy of Music. Retrieved 29 November 2016. 
  5. ^ "Nottingham comprehensive school teenager wins BBC Young Musician competition with 'electric' performance". The Daily Telegraph. London. 16 May 2016. Retrieved 22 November 2016. 
  6. ^ a b NottmPostEG (19 October 2016). "BBC Young Musician of the Year 2016 Sheku Kanneh-Mason on his Royal Concert Hall debut". Nottingham Post. Nottingham. Retrieved 29 November 2016. 
  7. ^ Davies, Ben (31 August 2016). "Behind the talent". Retrieved 22 November 2016. 
  8. ^ a b "Sheku Kanneh-Mason: Strings". BBC Online. BBC. Retrieved 24 November 2016. 
  9. ^ Service, Tom (1 September 2016). "Sheku Kanneh-Mason: 'Classical music isn't elitist – the problem is it's expensive'". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 22 November 2016. 
  10. ^ Narrator: Sophie Okonedo, Director: Eddie Hutton-Mills, Producer: Clare Bradbury, Production Company: Outline Productions Ltd (20 November 2016). "Young, Gifted and Classical: The Making of a Maestro". Black and British. BBC. BBC Four. 
  11. ^ Presenter: Kirsty Lang; Producer: Hannah Robins (27 December 2016). "Award Winners of 2016". Front Row. 25:32 minutes in. BBC. BBC Radio 4. Retrieved 27 December 2016. 
  12. ^ "Young, gifted and giving back". BBC News Online. 6 January 2018. Retrieved 6 January 2018. 
  13. ^ "Academy Student Becomes Best-Selling British Debut of 2018". 7 February 2018. Retrieved 16 April 2018. 
  14. ^ a b Wright, Katy (10 November 2016). "Sheku Kanneh-Mason signs with Decca Classics". Rhinegold Publishing. Retrieved 29 November 2016. 
  15. ^ "Winners Announced for the EE British Academy Film Awards in 2017". British Academy of Film and Television Arts. 12 February 2017. Retrieved 9 September 2017. 
  16. ^ Conductor: Kevin John Edusei; Musician: Sheku Kanneh-Mason; Singer: Jeanine De Bique; Orchestra: Chineke!; Producer: Sasha Duncan; Director: Oliver Macfarlane (8 September 2017). "Chineke!: 2017". The Proms. 15:55 minutes in. BBC. BBC Four. Retrieved 9 September 2017. 
  17. ^ Savage, Mark (2 February 2018). "Sheku Kanneh-Mason breaks UK chart record". BBC News Online. Retrieved 6 February 2018. 
  18. ^ "RPS Duet Prize Winners Announced". Royal Philharmonic Society. 5 May 2016. Retrieved 29 November 2016. 
  19. ^ "Nottingham City Transport honours Nottingham-born BBC Young Musician 2016, Sheku Kanneh-Mason, with his very own bus!". Nottingham City Transport. 13 September 2016. Retrieved 1 December 2016. 
  20. ^ Doran, Sarah (6 June 2017). "The Crown and Harry Potter nominated in 2017 South Bank Sky Arts Awards". Radio Times. London. Retrieved 10 September 2017. 
  21. ^ Dickson, Andrew (17 August 2017). "30 and under: Meet the young stars of the Proms 2017". BBC News Online. BBC. Retrieved 10 September 2017. 
  22. ^ "Watch: Cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason on BAFTA performance". ITV. 13 February 2017. Retrieved 10 September 2017. 
  23. ^ "Requiebros". BBC. Retrieved 10 September 2017.