Mona Baptiste was just one of 300 women who arrived on the HMT Empire Windrush, which carried over 1000 migrants in total.
She was listed as a clerk, however this seems to have been disingenuous, as at the time of her arrival she was already an established blues singer in Trinidad. Baptiste had been singing on the radio and in dance halls since childhood and by 13 she’d even had her own weekly radio show.
This iconic photo of Baptiste was captured on the Tilbury docks, where she can be seen performing with a saxophone while a group of West Indian RAF servicemen watch on. It’s clear Baptiste didn’t let arriving in a new country slow her down and began making a name for herself the moment she stepped off the Empire Windrush.
After only a few weeks in England Baptiste was already set to appear on the radio. A performance which seemed to fully launch her career within the UK, as she continued to book radio slots. Alongside her performances over the airways, she sang with numerous jazz groups, and she toured England with jazz singer Cab Kaye.
In 1951 she released her first song, a cover of Nat King Cole’s ‘Calypso Blues’. It was filled with nostalgic reminiscing about island life and the struggles that come with being a migrant.
Baptiste’s fluency in French, Spanish and German helped her build a name across Europe as her fame grew and she would sing her songs in the country’s native language as she toured. She also crossed over to the screen at various points in her career, building an impressive IMDB record.
Mona Baptiste arrived in a new, strange country and quickly propelled herself forwards. She started from scratch when she arrived in the UK and managed to build a name, career and fame for herself. She is a testament to the ways the Windrush generation helped enrich the UK and a wonderful woman to celebrate this Black History Month.
Merissa Hylton is a London based artist who has worked across many disciplines throughout her journey as an artist, which she launched in full after breaking away from a 13-year career in design to set up her own art practice. She also works as an educator, sharing her love of art with the next generation. Hylton teaches at multiple London locations, including Westminster University.
However, Hylton mostly channels her creativity through painting and sculpture. Inspired by African storytelling, symbolism and spirituality, Hylton uses art as a way to explore her own identity and ancestry.
She is a strong advocate for the transformative power of art, especially through a therapeutic lens. She believes that engaging in art, whether that’s as a creative or as an admirer, can have a positive impact on mental health and wellbeing.
Hylton was a contributor to ‘The World Reimagined’, which is a project where artists across the UK are asked to create globes that explore the history, legacy and future of the African people who were enslaved during the Transatlantic Slave Trade. These globes are then used to form trails, which audiences can follow, bringing forward questions of journey and discovery.
Merissa Hylton is an artist that everyone should know. She is a testament to how art and creativity can help people connect both with themselves and each other. She uses her art to reflect on elements of herself and her skills as an educator to give young artists the tools to connect with themselves and others through their own art.