Arboretum Partners with Black Voices to create 'Sounds of Windrush'

Visitor Information

Visitors are advised that the Shot at Dawn Memorial is currently closed as it undergoes a full restoration, the Memorial will be closed until approximetly 21 June. 

Find out more

The National Memorial Arboretum has partnered with female a cappella quintet Black Voices to create a unique schools programme that explores the legacy of the HMT Empire Windrush, which arrived on UK shores 75-years ago, and the significant role the 'Windrush Generation' played in rebuilding the country after the Second World War.

‘Songs of Windrush’ is a free eight-week programme that delves into the story of the ‘Windrush Generation’ through music and song, with vocal workshops delivered in schools by Black Voices. Students are rehearsing a new original composition exclusively created for this project by Ken Burton, a celebrated composer, songwriter and choirmaster for the multi-Oscar winning and Grammy winning Marvel film Black Panther. The programme will culminate with a mass performance featuring all the schools at the National Memorial Arboretum on Sunday 6 August. This performance will form part of Carnival Windrush, a free community celebration event to mark the 75th anniversary of the arrival of HMT Empire Windrush. 

After the Second World War, large parts of Britain were in desperate need of rebuilding, so the UK actively invited migrants from Commonwealth nations to fill essential roles in many different industries, including the railways, construction sector, and the NHS. 


On 22 June 1948, HMT Empire Windrush arrived at Tilbury docks, bringing more than 800 passengers from the Caribbean and marking the starting point of a wave of Caribbean migration from 1948 to 1971, which became known as the ‘Windrush Generation’. It is estimated that nearly half a million men and women from the Caribbean emigrated to the UK during this period, helping to rebuild the country and contributing toward British culture and identity.   

“Those who migrated on board HMT Empire Windrush, to help rebuild the economy after World War II, have paved the way for today's Black Britons,” said Carol Pemberton MBE, founder of a cappella quintet Black Voices. “I am one of ten children to parents of the Windrush Generation. It is because of their journey that I have been able to travel every continent and perform before royalty and presidents as part of Black Voices. I feel it is profoundly important to collaborate with the National Memorial Arboretum and introduce hundreds of school pupils from across the Midlands to the dreams, ambition, and resilience of the Windrush pioneers.” 


“Sharing incredible stories of service and sacrifice has always been at the heart of the Arboretum’s learning activities, and through our partnership with Black Voices we are engaging students with inspirational and moving stories from the Windrush generation in their own classrooms in a really creative and dynamic way”, explains Rachel Smith, Head of Participation and Learning at the National Memorial Arboretum. “We can’t wait for the schools to come together at Carnival Windrush here at the Arboretum and perform their brand-new song in celebration of the lasting legacy of the Windrush generation.” 

Black Voices - (c) Black Voices
Image (c) Black Voices


As associate partner of the National Memorial Arboretum, Black Voices’ partnership with the Nation’s year-round place to Remember extends beyond the Windrush commemorations. Earlier this year, Black Voices performed at the dedication of a new ‘Trees of Life Glade’ at the Arboretum, a living tribute to those who served the country throughout the pandemic, and to remember all those who died as a result of COVID-19 in the UK. They will also be invited to perform at several other upcoming events and services.  


“Black Voices are humbled to become associate partners at the National Memorial Arboretum,” said Carol Pemberton MBE. “Every culture and community deserves space to celebrate lives lived and commemorate lives lost. Music has a unique role in remembrance through its ability to connect people to themselves and to others. We hope this partnership will support the Arboretum's commitment to being an open and inclusive environment, freely open to all.” 


Black Voices are also involved in ‘Teaching Remembrance’, an interactive cross curricular event at the Arboretum for over a thousand young people in Key Stage 2 in July and will perform at this year’s Summer Proms on 4 and 5 August. 

Header Image: (c) Simeon Thaw