Musical genius to get a blue plaque at last

George Bridgetower. Image: British Library

A Brixton-based charity will tomorrow (11 October) unveil a blue plaque honouring a remarkable Black Londoner who was, in his time, recognised as one of the world’s leading musicians.

The Nubian Jak Community Trust is working with Southwark council and Sony Music UK on the plaque.

George Bridgetower, who was born in Poland in 1778, became a friend of Beethoven and played violin in most major European capitals, including Paris and Vienna, and was a protégé of Britain’s Prince Regent.

He entertained Joseph II, Holy Roman Emperor of Austria-Hungary, at the age of seven.

He and his family – father Frederick of African descent and German-Polish mother Maria and George’ siblings – moved from Poland to live in London when he was still young.

By the age of 10, Bridgetower was a soloist at the Drury Lane Theatre.

For a decade, he toured Europe, performing with Beethoven in Vienna in 1803. During that period Bridgetower was considered to be the greatest violinist on earth.

Beethoven dedicated a sonata to him and gave Bridgetower his tuning fork, which is now in the British Library.

A probable falling-out with Beethoven and a failed marriage followed, and Bridgetower settled in London, buying a house at 8 Victory Cottages in Peckham, where he lived until his death in 1860.

In 1970, his former home was demolished and a retirement complex was built on the site a few years later. It was named Jack Jones House, in memory of the famous trade union leader and Spanish Civil War International Brigade veteran who had lived there.

The unveiling ceremony is at 12 Reedham Street, SE15 4PH, from 11am to 12pm.

Dr Jak Beula, CEO of the Nubian Jak Community Trust, said: “George Bridgetower, quite simply, is the greatest violin virtuoso this country has ever seen. His plaque will be music to the ears of those who have been calling for him to recognised and re-celebrated.”

Charlotte Edgeworth, director of diversity, inclusion and social impact at Sony Music UK, said: “Sony Music UK are thrilled to support the creation of this plaque commemorating George Bridgetower, who had a profound influence on classical music.

“We’re delighted he is getting appropriate recognition and hope to introduce him to a new audience with this blue heritage plaque at the house where he once lived.”

The Nubian Jak Community Trust is the largest deliverer of diverse public plaques and sculptures in the world. The Bridgetower plaque will be the organisation’s 77th London blue plaque.

Since the trust started its work on plaques, the proportion of people from diverse backgrounds honoured by one has increased from 1.6% of the total to 7%.

The Bridgetower plaque is the first of five to be sponsored by Sony Music UK’s Social Justice Fund which commemorates Black contributions to music culture and history. They will be installed in different locations across the UK over the next 12 months.