Inspirational Diversity Champion of the Month – October 2017

October is Black History Month and with that in mind we have chosen Shirley Thompson as our Inspirational Diversity Champion of the Month.

Shirley is an English composer who became the first woman in Europe, within the past 40 years, to have composed and conducted a symphony with her New Nation Rising, A 21st Century Symphony written in 2002.

Shirley was born in London to Jamaican parents. Her early musical experience included playing the violin in various youth symphony orchestras in London, and choral singing with local choirs in Newham. She graduated in music from Liverpool University and in composition from Goldsmiths’ College.

After university she composed a body of solo and instrumental ensemble works for concert hall as well as working as a freelance composer of music for TV, films and the theatre. She set up the Shirley Thompson Ensemble in 1994 and this became the main vehicle for her instrumental and vocal works that fused contemporary classical orchestrations with popular and world music styles.

Shirley was the first woman to compose and musically direct music for a major drama series at the BBC and she also directed the film Memories in Mind, which was broadcast by the BBC in 1998.  She also co-scored the award-winning ballet PUSH, which premiered in 2005 which has since toured the world in major and prestigious venues.

Shirley has composed for opera, orchestra, contemporary dance, TV and film. Some of her other works include:

  • The Woman Who Refused to Dance– for solo singer, speaker and orchestra
  • Spirit of the Middle Passage– for solo singers, speaker and orchestra
  • Viola Concerto, Oslo Odyssey– for orchestral and electronic instruments and multi-media
  • 100 Days of Barack Obama– for solo voice, instrumental ensemble and video projection
  • The Lodger– theatrical music
  • A Child of the Jago– opera
  • Tapestry Song Cycle– for soprano and instrumental ensemble 

In 2010 Shirley was included in the “Power List of Britain’s 100 Most Influential Black People 2010”.  In April 2016 she was honoured with the Luminary Award (presented to people of Caribbean heritage) who have made significant, outstanding contributions on an international scale or have brought to prominence issues that affect the Caribbean region.

To find out more about Shirley and her work see her website at

To find out more about Black History Month see the website at

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