Sheku Kanneh-Mason

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Sheku Kanneh-Mason
Born (1999-04-04) 4 April 1999 (age 22)
Nottingham, England
Years active2015–present
LabelsDecca Classics Edit this at Wikidata

Sheku Kanneh-Mason MBE (born 4 April 1999) is a British cellist who won the 2016 BBC Young Musician award. He was the first Black musician to win the competition since its launch in 1978.[1] He played at the wedding of Prince Harry to Meghan Markle on 19 May 2018 under the direction of Christopher Warren-Green. Kanneh-Mason currently plays a Matteo Gofriller cello which was made in 1700.[2]

Early life and education[edit]

Kanneh-Mason grew up in Nottingham, England. He was born to Stuart Mason, a luxury hotel business manager from London, and Dr. Kadiatu Kanneh, a former lecturer at the University of Birmingham, from Sierra Leone.[3][4] He is the third of seven children[4] and began learning the cello at the age of six with Sarah Huson-Whyte, having briefly played the violin.[5] His love for the cello started when he saw his sister perform in 'Stringwise', an annual weekend course for young Nottingham string players, run by the local music charity Music for Everyone. He then switched from violin to cello and went on to take part in Music for Everyone's Stringwise courses, impressing their conductors with his astonishing ability to play everything from memory.[6] At the age of nine, he passed the Grade 8 cello examination with the highest marks in the UK,[7][8] and won the Marguerite Swan Memorial Prize.[9] Also aged nine he won an ABRSM junior scholarship to join the Junior Academy of the Royal Academy of Music, where he was tutored by Ben Davies.[1][10][11] Kanneh-Mason received his non-specialist education as a pupil at the Trinity School, Nottingham,[11] where he studied for A levels in Music, Maths and Physics.[9] Sheku Kanneh-Mason is currently a student of Hannah Roberts at the Royal Academy of Music in London.[12]


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."[5]

Kanneh-Mason was a member of the Chineke! Orchestra, which was founded by Chi-chi Nwanoku for black and minority ethnic classical musicians; his sister Isata Kanneh-Mason and brother Braimah are also members.[5] In 2016, Kanneh-Mason told The Guardian's Tom Service that:[13]

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.

In November 2016, Kanneh-Mason was the subject of a BBC Four documentary entitled Young, Gifted and Classical: The Making of a Maestro.[14] 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.[15]

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.[16]

Kanneh-Mason signed a deal for worldwide general management with London-based boutique agency, Enticott Music Management[17] in June 2016, and went on to sign a major recording contract 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.[18] 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 (BAFTA) held in London's Royal Albert Hall.[19] 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.[20] In February 2018, Sheku became the first artist ever to be re-invited to perform a second time at the British Academy Film Awards, playing "Evening of Roses" by Josef Hadar in an arrangement by Tom Hodge.[21] For his second BAFTA performance, Sheku was joined on stage at the Royal Albert Hall by four of his siblings: Isata, Braimah, Konya, and Jeneba Kanneh-Mason.

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 streams on Spotify.[22]

On 19 May 2018, Kanneh-Mason performed as part of the musical selections for the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.[23][24] On 11 November 2018, he performed in the presence of the same couple at the Royal Variety Performance which was broadcast on ITV.[25]

Musical influences[edit]

Kanneh-Mason has cited the prominent cellists Jacqueline du Pré and Mstislav Rostropovich as his "musical heroes", alongside Bob Marley.[5]

Honours and awards[edit]

Kanneh-Mason was the winner of the 2016 BBC Young Musician competition, following which his home town of Nottingham named a bus in his honour.[1][18] In that year he also won the Royal Philharmonic Society Young Instrumentalist Duet Prize.[26][27]

In June 2017, he won the Classical category of the South Bank Sky Arts Awards' The Times Breakthrough prize.[28]

In June 2018, he won both the Male Artist of the Year and the Critics' Choice Award at the Classic BRIT Awards.[29]

Kanneh-Mason was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the 2020 New Year Honours for services to music.[30]

In March 2020, Kanneh-Mason won the public vote for Best Classical Artist at the Global Awards.[31]


Kanneh-Mason released his debut EP in February 2017 to coincide with his performance at the BAFTAs. The three tracks on the EP were recorded at the Abbey Road Studios.

These tracks followed the viral success of his video of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah", arranged by Tom Hodge. Sheku performed this arrangement at the BAFTAs in February 2017.[32] Sheku has also recorded Gaspar Cassadó's "Requiebros".[33]

Sheku appears as a guest artist on the album Tecchler’s Cello: from Cambridge to Rome by cellist and fellow BBC Young Musician winner Guy Johnston, released in September 2017.[34]

On 26 January 2018 Sheku's first full-length album, Inspiration, was released by Decca. The recording includes the Shostakovich Cello Concerto No. 1 (accompanied by the CBSO conducted by Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla) as well as shorter works by Shostakovich, Saint-Saens, Offenbach, Casals and Sheku's own arrangement of Bob Marley's "No Woman, No Cry". On 2 February 2018, the Official UK Charts Company announced that Inspiration's success had made Sheku "the UK's youngest cellist to break into the Official Albums Chart Top 20 with his debut album" (the previous holder of the accolade being Julian Lloyd Webber, who was 39 when he released Lloyd Webber Plays Lloyd Webber in 1990).[35] As well as being the highest-charting BBC Young Musician on the UK's Official Albums Chart, Sheku is also the first BBC Young Musician to break into the albums Top 40 with their debut record.

Sheku's second album Elgar was released by Decca Classics on 10 January 2020. It features a recording of the Elgar Cello Concerto in E minor, Op. 85, with the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Simon Rattle. The album also includes arrangements of traditional melodies, along with works by Bloch, Bridge, Elgar, Fauré, and Julius Klengel.[36]


Title Details Peak chart positions
  • Released: 26 January 2016
  • Label: Decca
Elgar 8

Charitable work[edit]

Sheku was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of 12. In September 2018, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) announced that it had appointed Sheku as a global ambassador.[38] Kanneh-Mason is also an ambassador for the charities Music Masters[39] and Future Talent.[40]


  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. ^ "Sheku Kanneh-Mason loaned 1700 Gofriller cello". The Strad. 8 June 2021. Retrieved 2 August 2021.
  3. ^ Nepil, Hannah (10 January 2018). "Sibling harmony: how the Kanneh-Mason family became a musical force". Financial Times.
  4. ^ a b Crampton, Caroline (4 September 2016). "Sheku Kanneh-Mason on football, maths and Shostakovich". New Statesman. London. Retrieved 30 November 2016.
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ "Stringwise: Youth String Weekend". Retrieved 19 February 2019.
  7. ^ Freeman-Attwood, Jonathan (16 May 2016). "The Principal's Blog: Congratulations, Sheku". Royal Academy of Music. Retrieved 29 November 2016.
  8. ^ Finnigan, Lexi (16 May 2016). "Nottingham comprehensive school teenager wins BBC Young Musician competition with 'electric' performance". The Telegraph. London. Retrieved 22 November 2016.
  9. ^ 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.[permanent dead link]
  10. ^ Davies, Ben (31 August 2016). "Behind the talent". European String Teachers Association (ESTA). Archived from the original on 24 November 2016. Retrieved 22 November 2016.
  11. ^ a b "Sheku Kanneh-Mason: Strings". BBC Online. Retrieved 24 November 2016.
  12. ^ "Academy Student Becomes Best-Selling British Debut of 2018". Royal Academy of Music. 7 February 2018. Retrieved 16 April 2018.
  13. ^ 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.
  14. ^ 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.
  15. ^ 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.
  16. ^ "Young, gifted and giving back". BBC News Online. 6 January 2018. Retrieved 6 January 2018.
  17. ^ "Enticott Music Management Welcomes 2016 BBC Young Musician of the Year SHEKU KANNEH-MASON To its Roster for General Management". Enticott Music Management. Retrieved 11 May 2018.
  18. ^ a b Wright, Katy (10 November 2016). "Sheku Kanneh-Mason signs with Decca Classics". Rhinegold Publishing. Retrieved 29 November 2016.
  19. ^ "Winners Announced for the EE British Academy Film Awards in 2017". BAFTA. 12 February 2017. Retrieved 9 September 2017.
  20. ^ 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.
  21. ^ "Sheku Kanneh-Mason performs at the Baftas 2018 – and becomes first musician to perform at the awards twice". Classic FM. Retrieved 11 May 2018.
  22. ^ Savage, Mark (2 February 2018). "Sheku Kanneh-Mason breaks UK chart record". BBC News Online. Retrieved 6 February 2018.
  23. ^ Kanneh-Mason, Sheku (24 April 2018). "I'm so excited and honoured to perform at Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's wedding. I was bowled over when Ms Markle called me to ask if I would play during the ceremony, and of course I immediately said yes!!! What a privilege. I can't wait!". ShekuKM. Twitter.
  24. ^ "Music at the St George's Chapel Wedding Service: Sheku Kanneh-Mason". The Royal Household. 2018.
  25. ^ "Who's on The Royal Variety Performance: Line up of acts revealed". TellyMix. 11 December 2018. Retrieved 12 December 2018.
  26. ^ "RPS Duet Prize Winners Announced". Royal Philharmonic Society. 5 May 2016. Retrieved 29 November 2016.
  27. ^ "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.
  28. ^ Dickson, Andrew (17 August 2017). "30 and under: Meet the young stars of the Proms 2017". BBC Online. Retrieved 10 September 2017.
  29. ^ "Classic BRIT Awards Winners 2018". Classic BRIT Awards. 13 June 2018. Retrieved 14 June 2018.
  30. ^ "No. 62866". The London Gazette (Supplement). 28 December 2019. p. N20.
  31. ^ "2020 Winners". The Global Awards. March 2020. Retrieved 29 March 2020.
  32. ^ "Watch: Cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason on BAFTA performance". ITV News. 13 February 2017. Retrieved 10 September 2017.
  33. ^ "Requiebros". BBC Online. Retrieved 10 September 2017.
  34. ^ "Guy Johnston: Tecchler's Cello – From Cambridge To Rome". The Strad. 19 December 2017. Retrieved 20 February 2020.
  35. ^ "Lloyd Webber Plays Lloyd Webber | full Official Chart History". Official Charts Company. 1990. Retrieved 11 May 2018.
  36. ^ Kelly, Sharon (10 January 2020). "Sheku Kanneh-Mason's New Album 'Elgar' Out Now". uDiscover Music. Retrieved 11 January 2020.
  37. ^ "Sheku Kanneh-Mason | full Official Chart history". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 18 January 2020.
  38. ^ "International cellist sensation, Sheku Kanneh-Mason named JDRF global ambassador". JDRF. 13 September 2018. Retrieved 20 February 2020.
  39. ^ "Sheku Kanneh-Mason". Music Masters. Retrieved 2 August 2021.
  40. ^ "Future Talent". Retrieved 2 August 2021.

External links[edit]