Mykaell Riley tells Graham Norton about the celebrated artists featured in Virgin Radio’s Black History Month series

Virgin Radio

2 Oct 2023, 10:14

Mykaell Riley and Graham Norton at Virgin Radio Studios

Steel Pulse founding member and academic Mykaell Riley will celebrate Black History Month 2023 right here on Virgin Radio throughout October. 

Every Sunday evening at 7pm, Mykaell will focus on a band or artist from his Windrush75 playlist. He started last night (Sunday 1st October) with The Story of Billy Ocean, and the rest of the series will include in-depth interviews with UB40, Beverley Knight and Liz Mitchell of Boney M. 

In June, Mykaell compiled the Windrush75 playlist to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the arrival of the ship, HMT Empire Windrush, at Tilbury docks in 1948, bringing more than 800 passengers from the Caribbean to the UK. The celebrated playlist featured songs from the 1940s right up to present day with songs from Lil Simz and Stormzy. 

As well as being a member of the British roots Reggae band Steel Pulse, Riley has also performed, produced, managed and consulted on many successful artists and their projects. When he’s not making brilliant music, Riley is also a senior lecturer and director for The Black Music Research Unit (BMRU) at the University of Westminster.

Speaking on The Graham Norton Show with Waitrose ahead of the Black History Month series, Riley revealed how they went about compressing 75 years of music history in 20 songs, and the importance of artists like Ocean, Knight and Mitchell. 

On how you even begin to think about fitting seven decades worth of music into one playlist, Riley explained: “You make it small. So, in terms of 75 years of artists and songs being published and charting, I suggested we just reduce it to 20 songs. We find a list that, I suppose, would create the least problems, or the least problematic in terms of an audience saying, 'what have you left off?' So it was coming up with 20 artists, and then just fighting the fire that started.”

You can listen back to the Billy Ocean special which aired on Virgin Radio last night, and when asked why the Carribean Queen singer was so pivotal to the music community, Riley told Graham: “He's exceptional, and he's singular in terms of his sales, which I think is around about 50 million as a solo artist. 

“He's a phenomenal artist that started in the 70s, then had a series of hits in his own right, and then working with film and so forth. He is also a steel pan player, as well. At Westminster, we gave him an honorary doctorate…to help profile who is he and his contribution.”

Musical star and chart-topper Beverley Knight will also feature on the Black History Month series, and Riley described the talented singer as “our Aretha Franklin.”

“We should put her on that kind of pedestal. She is our soul, gospel, musical representation in terms of black British females who've survived the industry.”

Mykaell Riley’s Black History Month 2023 specials continue on Virgin Radio from 7pm every Sunday in October. 

Listen to The Graham Norton Radio Show every Saturday AND Sunday from 9.30am on Virgin Radio or catch up on-demand here.