Pete Robinson Plaque: July 2013

Pete Robinson Plaque

Date of Installation: July 2013
Plaque: Blue


Ten years ago the New Statemen chose Suzy Kester’s book Under My Own Colours as a Book of the Year. The book was interesting not just for detailing what life was like for a black child growing up in Britain before the Windrush, but because it referred to a legendary Jazz ensemble that had disappeared from the pages of British history. The Southern Syncopated Orchestra! But the importance of this band would soon become apparent, because Kester’s book had resurrected memories of the pioneering ensemble at the transition from ragtime to a music that would soon become defined as Jazz. For two years after world war from 1919 – 1921 the SSO were arguably the most influential jazz band in the world. Their greatest impact was felt in Britain and Europe, where they spent those years influencing the birth and popularization of this new music genre.

Then on the way to a booking seemingly with the world at their fingertips, disaster struck. It was just after midnight on 9th October 1921, and a steamship named the Rowan was sailing through foggy waters just off Corsewall Point in the Irish Sea. Two larger vessels, the American cargo liner West Camak, and the Clan liner, Malcolm, were in the distance. On board the Rowan passengers were unaware their fate lay at helm of those two ocean liners. Moments later they would be involved in a naval shipping disaster claiming 35 lives, nine of which belong to members of the Southern syncopated Orchestra. Suzy Kester’s grandfather, the charismatic drummer and one of the leaders of the band, Pete Robinson, was among them. At the time it made world-wide news and drew comparisons to the Titanic. Pete Robinson left a widow and three young children in London.

Since the publication of Under My Own Colours interest in the Southern Syncopated Orchestra has inspired research from music historians to family descendants. Indeed it through the descendants in all their varieties that the SSO are alive still, reborn with so many stories waiting to be told.

The Nubian Jak Community Trust with support from the Heritage Lottery Fund and the estate agents Avrasons, are delighted to commemorate former Lambeth resident, Pete Robinson, with a blue heritage plaque at his former home off Brixton Road at 8 Crewdston Road, the Oval. SW9. The Pete Robinson tribute is part of a Heritage Lottery Funded program Called the London Schools Remembrance Project, where students research then produce work on both the Southern Syncopated Orchestra and another musical pioneer Samuel Coleridge - Taylor. The plaque will be unveiled by Josephine and Pete Kester, also David and Janet Savage, the grandchildren of Pete Robinson, in the presence of the Mayor of Lambeth, and other dignitaries, members of the public, press and media

Date: Thursday 18 July 2013
Time: 11:00pm ceremony start at 12:00 2pm for reception
Plaque Ceremony: 8 Crewdston Road, Oval, London, SE15 3AN
Plaque Reception:
For more info email


Sue Bowers Head of HLF London said: “We are pleased to support Nubian Jak’s project which will deliver workshops for 120 pupils exploring London’s diverse music heritage in the early 20th century. The unveiling of the plaque, dedicated to the Southern Syncopated Orchestra’s Pete Robinson, will increase awareness of this important but largely unknown history and will preserve the site as an inspiration for future generations.”

British Historian and Jazz expert Howard Rye said: “It is good to know that the Southern Syncopated Orchestra, which had such an impact on British musicians and on jazz internationally, is finally being given public recognition.”

Founder of the Nubian Jak Plaque Commemorative Plaque Scheme Jak Beula said: “Just A new British timeline began after the first world a with the arrival of a band of musicians known as the SSO. They would not only change the music of Britain but also it social and cultural landscape aspect. Through their descendants their voices are being heard by a new generation.”

Notes to Editors

1. The Pete Robinson Tribute is the second of a 4 part plaque series honouring some of the illustrious musicians that played in the SSO. This includes Frank Bates, Ellis Jackson, and Sidney Bechet. The plaque series however, is only one component of a 6 month project called London Schools Remembrance Project funded by the HLF and consisting of the following:
School Workshops, Oral History Training for the unemployed, London-wide Libraries Exhibition, Performance Day (at the Royal Court Theatre), Two eBooks, A Website, and an Awards Day! There are 4 schools and approximately 120 students taking part in the project i.e. from the north, south, east and west of the capital. The students involved are in key stages 2 and 3.

2. About the Heritage Lottery Fund
Using money raised through the National Lottery, the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) aims to make a lasting difference for heritage, people and communities across the UK and help build a resilient heritage economy. From museums, parks and historic places to archaeology, natural environment and cultural traditions, we invest in every part of our diverse heritage. HLF has supported almost 35,000 projects with more than £5.3bn across the UK.

3. The Nubian Jak Community Trust is the only national BME plaque and sculpture scheme in the UK and Europe. For more information contact: 0800 093 0400 or email


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