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Blowing the trumpet for John Blanke

Mon 17 January 2022

Trinity Laban and Nubian Jak Community Trust unveil Blue Plaque honouring the 16th century court musician.

Royal-court trumpeter John Blanke served two kings and contributed to some of the greatest spectacles of the Tudor age. Playing in the courts of Henry VII and Henry VIII, he was amongst the highest-paid musicians working at Greenwich Palace.

Blanke is believed to be the earliest known Black Briton for whom we have both an image and a record, featuring twice in the Great Tournament Roll of Westminster, a 60ft manuscript depicting the royal procession and tournament to celebrate the birth of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon heir on New Year’s Day 1511.

On Friday 14 January 2022, over 500 years since the sounds of John Blanke’s trumpet filled the air in Greenwich, Trinity Laban and Nubian Jak Community Trust unveiled a commemorative blue plaque to honour the musician.

Speaking at the event to share insight into Blanke’s life and work were historian and National Director of the John Blanke Project, Michael Ohajura, Inspector of Ancient Monuments at Historic England, Jane Sidell, The Reverend Simon Winn of St Alfege Church, Greenwich, and Dr Jak Beula, CEO of Nubian Jak Community Trust.

In a contemporary nod to Blanke’s musicality, Trinity Laban trumpeters played African-American composer Gary Powell Nash’s Enigmatic Fanfare, while writer Mark Thompson shared his poem John Blanke in which he responds to how the musician has and will be remembered.

Four trumpeters with music stands stood holding instruments to lips playing

The blue plaque has been installed at Trinity Laban’s Faculty of Music at the Old Royal Naval College, the site of the former royal residence.

In attendance were local dignitaries, representatives from the College of Arms, The National Archive and Historic England, and Trinity Laban staff.

Havilland Willshire, Trinity Laban’s Director of Music, comments –

“As the current guardians of King Charles Court, Trinity Laban treasures and celebrates the building’s unique history. It is a privilege for us to host the John Blanke plaque at our Faculty of Music as part of our Black Culture 365 series, our year-round commitment to celebrating Black history and art.”

Dr Jak Beula, CEO of Nubian Jak Community Trust, comments –

“The Trust is delighted to receive the support of Historic England, Trinity Laban, The John Blanke Project and other stakeholders, to celebrate and blow the trumpet of a pioneering 16th-century musician, who just by his very presence has forced us to rethink what it was like to be a Black Briton over 500 years ago and beyond.”

Michael Ohajura, National Director of the John Blanke Project, comments –

“This plaque dedicated to John Blanke marks him out in our history not just as the first Black Briton for whom we have both an image and a record but a sign of how diverse this island was and is, and how we celebrate our diversity today.”

Dr. Miranda Kaufmann, Author of Black Tudors. The Untold Story comments –

“It’s fantastic that the life of John Blanke, about whom scholars including Professor Imtiaz Habib, Dr. Onyeka Nubia, and myself, have discovered so much more over the last fifteen years, is being celebrated in this way, 510 years after John Blanke married in Greenwich in January 1512. I hope he will inspire the students who pass by the plaque every day.”

Image credit Stephen Berkley-White; L-R: Mark Thompson (poet and educator), Michael Ohajura (National Director of the John Blanke Project), Jane Sidell (Inspector of Ancient Monuments at Historic England), David Bahanovich (TL Assistant Director of Music), Jak Beula (CEO of Nubian Jak Community Trust)