On January 11th, 1902, Evelyn Dove was born in London, England, to parents Francis Dove and Augusta Winchester. Evelyn’s father Francis was a barrister from Sierra Leone and her mother was a British woman. From an early age, entertainment was a path that Evelyn had chosen for herself; she studied singing, the piano and elocution at the UK’s oldest conservatoire the Royal Academy of Music, from 1917 to 1919. In September of 1919, Evelyn married a man named Milton Alphonso Luke; she also hoped to gain her footing performing in the various London concerts as a contralto. Despite her professional training, her skin color was a deterrent to a number of London based concert organizers. The worlds of Jazz and Cabaret would welcome Evelyn with open arms and offer her a place to start her career as a performer. “Norma Winchester” was the name that Evelyn initially used as a performer when she joined the Southern Syncopated Orchestra (SSO), an orchestra comprised of British West Indian, West African and Black American musicians. Black American Jazz music was taking America and the world by storm; it was also being recreated and performed by black artist in the UK.
Tragedy struck the SSO in 1921, nine members of the band drowned as their ship the SS Rowan collided with another ship and sank. Evelyn was fortunate to survive the crash; she along with other survivors participated in a Survivors Sacred Concert on October 14th of 1921, to honor their band members who didn’t survive the crash. Evelyn’s career and her popularity were building as she was able to join the American all-black review Chocolate Kiddies in 1925, she replaced the American performer Lottie Gee, as the revue toured Western Europe and the USSR (Russia). Evelyn Dove was becoming a household name in Europe from 1920 to 1930; she performed with London's Mile End Empire in 1926, as well as, Her Plantation Creoles. Her Plantation Creoles was unique at the time because of the style of singing and dancing they presented to their audiences was unfamiliar to the masses; they traveled Europe extensively performing in Berlin, Italy, France, the Netherlands and much more. During their time in France Evelyn was able to replace Josephine Baker in a number of performances. In 1936, Evelyn traveled to the US to perform as a headliner at the famous Harlem nightclub Connie’s Inn. While in New York she was photographed by the famed photographer and writer Carl Van Vechten; Van Vechten’s photographs of her helped to boost her notoriety.
In 1937, one of Evelyn’s performances was reviewed by The Evening News of India as she performed in Bombay, India. Her performances were so great that she received standing ovations and was being compared to the greatness of Josephine Baker; the two women were exposing the world to the greatness of black performers no matter what part of the world they came from. British writer Stephen Bourne stated the following about Evelyn Dove: “She is an artist of international reputation, one of the leading personalities of Europe's entertainment world. She is described as the closest rival of the great Josephine Baker herself. Evelyn didn't get just the big hand. She got an ovation, a roaring welcome.” Between 1939 and 1949, Evelyn worked extensively with the British Broadcasting Company (BBC) as a singer and personality on a variety of programs during World War II. She performed mostly “negro music,” but it was understood that she was more than capable of performing many different genres of music, and could outshine her competition. She was a guest feature on the CD compilation Negro Spirituals – The Concert Tradition 1909 – 1948, performing the Negro Spiritual "Couldn't Hear Nobody Pray".
BBC radio offered her the opportunity to appear as a regular on music radio programs such as Rhapsody in Black, Calling the West Indies, Variety Bandbox, Music For You, Caribbean Carnival, Mississippi Nights and Serenade in Sepia. Evelyn performed Serenade in Sepia with Edric Connor, a folk singer from Trinidad; the program was so popular that a television series was created from the radio broadcast. BBC offered their platform to broadcast the television series “Variety in Sepia” featuring Evelyn Dove, Edric Connor, and many other black artists in 1947. The television series was created for the black talent that was heard on the radio or performed in theaters. Now black, white and other audiences were able to see the amazing black artist behind the music they enjoyed on BBC radio. In 1949, Evelyn left BBC and London to perform in India, Paris, Spain and other countries until the late 1950's. She returned to London but found it hard to find work despite her extensive resume as a performer and singer. She became a part of the cast of the London television series “London Melody” in 1951.
In 1956, she played the mother of Eartha Kitt in the television drama “Mrs. Patterson.” Following her performance in “Mrs. Patterson” she was able to become one of the performing stars in Langston Hughes’ Simply Heavenly, and a few other acting or singing jobs until her star faded. In 1987, Evelyn Dove died of pneumonia as a pioneer in black British singing and acting. To be mentioned in the same breath as the legendary Josephine Baker proves how talented Evelyn Dove was. Her voice was unique and brilliant, BBC radio producer Eric Fawcett stated the following about Evelyn Dove: "She is a contralto with a perfect microphone quality and although I have used her mostly in music of negro origin this has ranged from spirituals to Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. She is, of course, a highly trained singer. She is an extremely charming person with a very attractive personality. I would rate her the best-colored contralto in this country." Mrs. Evelyn Dove, we proudly stand on your Shoulders.
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