The 2016 BBC Young Musician of the Year winner, 18-year-old cello player Sheku Kanneh-Mason, has become the best selling British debut artist for 2018 (well, so far, that is), making history as the first of the young BBC classical winners to celebrate UK Top 20 success.
Sheku’s album, Inspiration, has just hit number 1 in the classical charts and number 18 in the main charts, placing him alongside unlikely contemporaries such as Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran, Rag’n’Bone Man and Fall Out Boy.
He’s the youngest cellist ever to reach the “Top 20”.
Since his BBC Young Musician of the Year win, likeable Sheku has made it his vocation to engage audiences of his own age with classical music, by speaking on youth radio stations not normally associated with classical music, getting out to meet his young public, and generally giving classical music an edgier vibe with young audiences – and this week all his hard work paid off.
(If you were fortunate to watch the BBC 4 documentary that follows his extraordinary musical family of seven siblings and intriguing home life, you’ll know that behind his success is an incredible and supportive mum.)
Said the young star: “As a classical cellist, I can’t quite believe I’ve made the Top 20 in the pop charts with my first ever album! It has been an amazing experience and I’m very grateful to everyone who’s supported me. I hope the pieces on this album inspire others the way they’ve inspired me.”
Released this week on Decca Classics, Inspiration was recorded in Birmingham and Nottingham with City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO) and music director Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla. The album features a selection of his personal favourites including Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto No 1, the piece he played to snatch the BBC title, and Bob Marley’s No Woman, No Cry, which was shared by MOBO and Bob Marley’s daughter on social networks – giving him an even wider reach.
The teenager’s rise to the top of the charts has been rapid: he topped Spotify’s classical chart with 2.5 million streams, performed before the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge at the BAFTAS (where he will return to perform this year with his musical siblings), played at 10 Downing Street as part of the 30th anniversary of Black History Month, and made his Carnegie Hall debut in The Children’s Monologues directed by Danny Boyle. He also made his BBC Proms debut as a soloist with Chineke! – Europe’s first majority BME (Black and minority ethnic orchestra – who relaxed their code of not having a star soloist as a celebration of his accomplishments). Perhaps his biggest claim to cool, however, is performing at the Paul Smith show during Paris Fashion Week.