Internationally acclaimed jazz musician Courtney Pine was the star act at a fundraising concert for a forgotten Black heroine who nursed British troops in Russia more than a hundred years ago, writes Marc Wadsworth.
Pine paid a moving tribute on Saturday night to Jamaican-born Mary Seacole, who treated soldiers in the Crimean War of 1853-1856, at a London benefit last night. The celebrated saxophonist said: "I had not heard about this amazing woman until the 1990s. What I was taught in history lessons at school was about Florence Nightingale, who symbolised all nurses, but not Mary Seacole."
He told the audience at St Matthews Church, Bayswater, London, that what brought home to him Seacole's incredible feats was a visit he made to the far away place in Russia she reached, on her own, by boat, donkey and foot after she was turned down by Nightingale and the British authorities because of her colour. Seacole was not included in the party of 38 nurses chosen by Nightingale to travel to the Crimea. So, funded by herself, Seacole made the tough 4,000-mile trip.
When she arrived at the battlefield, brave Seacole, who came under fire, treated wounded soldiers from both sides of the conflict using African-based home remedies she had learned in Jamaican.
Pine told The-Latest: "She was a really strong woman I greatly admire. Mary Seacole means a lot to our culture as Black people and we owe it to her that her deeds are never forgotten."
Ex-UK Royal Air Force member Laurie Phillpotts, President of the Mary Seacole Memorial Association that organised the concert, said: "This has been a wonderful occasion, backed by a wide range of gracious and righteous people. Mary Seacole is an important part of our heritage in Britain and I am delighted that so many people now recognise that."
Lord Soley, the former MP for Hammersmith and ex-Chair of the Parliamentary Labour Party, who attended the event with the Jamaican High Commissioner Anthony Johnson, is the chair of the Mary Seacole Memorial Statue Appeal. He said plans for a monument to the heroine, to be put up outside St Thomas's Hospital, in London, in 2012, were well on the way.
He said: "Laurie Phillpotts and his team have done a magnificent job organising this fundraising concert for someone in our history that deserves to be recognised by the whole nation."
Soley added: "We are well on the way to putting up the statue, especially after the construction company McAlpine agreed to do it at cost and a well-known sculptor has come onboard."
Five hundred thousand pounds is the target amount and £100,000 of it has already been raised.
Billed as "a spectacular and dynamic concert", the event certainly lived up to that. Among the artists who performed for free were soprano Marie Garrison, Gary Crosby and his band, the London Seven Day Adventist Male Choir, the Awabi group, singer Poppy Seed and 14-year-old musical sensation Mizz Camara.
On her return to Britain, in 1857 our heroine published an autobiography titled Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole in many lands. She fell on hard times and friends and supporters organised a benefit concert to raise money for her. She died in 1881, aged 76, and is buried in Kensal Green cemetery, in London.
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