Sheku Kanneh-Mason is a British-born teenage cellist. He grew up in Nottingham, England, with his six siblings. His dad, Stuart Mason is a business manager, and his mom, Kadiatu Kanneh, used to teach at university.
He began playing the cello at age 6 and appeared on Britain’s Got Talent with his siblings.
Kanneh-Mason, 19, was the 2016 recipient of the BBC Young Musician award and was awarded the Royal Philharmonic Society Young Instrumentalist Duet Prize the same year. He studied at the Royal Academy of music and the Trinity College Catholic school.
On Saturday, May 19, Kanneh-Mason played the cello as part of the celebration surrounding the latest royal wedding, as the UK’s Prince Henry of Wales, commonly known as Prince Harry, marries American actress Meghan Markle at Windsor.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Prince Harry Is a Fan & Meghan Markle Asked Kanneh-Mason to Play at Their Wedding
Prince Harry has been a big fan of Kanneh-Mason. The British royal was previously able to see the teen cellist play at a charity concert in London, and really admired his musical talents. Harry attended an event for the Antiguan charity, the Halo Foundation, in June 2017, which was when he first saw Kanneh-Mason perform, according to Kensington Palace.
With his wedding fast approaching, Prince Harry couldn’t resist having Kanneh-Mason attend the event — and play the cello, of course.
Based on the following message from Kanneh-Mason, it sounds like Meghan Markle made it all happen. She personally called Kanneh-Mason and asked if he would play during the couple’s ceremony — and he said “yes.”
“I’m so excited and honoured to perform at Prince Harry and Megan Markle’s wedding. I was bowled over when Ms Markle called me to ask if I would play during the ceremony, and of course, I immediately said yes!!! What a privilege. I can’t wait,” Kanneh-Mason posted on Instagram last month.
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle will exchange vows at St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle this afternoon.
2. He Was Named BBC Young Musician of the Year in 2016 & Is a Member of the Chineke! Orchestra
Kanneh-Mason started playing the cello when he was just 6-years-old. Over the course of the following three years, he honed his craft, and, soon, it paid off.
He won the Marguerite Swan Memorial Prize after earning the highest marks in the UK for Grade 8 cello. When he turned 12, he won the Nottingham Young Musician of the Year and the Royal Academy’s Lower Strings Prize three times over.
Since that time, he has earned several other awards for his talents, including the Royal Academy Dame Ruth Railton Chamber Music Prize in 2014, and the Gregynog Young Musician in 2015.
At the age of 16, Kanneh-Mason won the BBC Young Musician of the Year Award, after performing Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto No. 1 with the BBC Symphony Orchestra at London’s Barbican Hall.
This year, Kanneh-Mason was nominated for “Male Artist of the Year” at the Classic Brit Awards.
Kanneh-Mason is a proud member of the Chi-chi Nwanoku-founded Chineke! Orchestra. The group was created for black and minority ethnic classical musicians.
“Chineke! is a really inspiring project. I rarely go to a concert and see that kind of diversity in the orchestra. Or in the audience. Having the orchestra will definitely change the culture. It’s so important we’re celebrating music by black composers, too, like the piece by Chevalier de Saint-Georges we’re playing in September.” Kanneh-Mason told The Guardian back in 2016.
3. In 2015, He Competed on ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ With His Siblings
Kanneh-Mason and his siblings competed on Britain’s Got Talent. The siblings made it to the show’s semi-final, but did not win. They were, however, named “The Most Talented Family in the World,” by veteran judge Simon Cowell.
Isata Kanneh-Mason, 21, plays the piano. She is currently studying at The Royal Academy of Music. The highlight of her career, perhaps, was performing with Elton John in 2013.
Twenty-year-old Braimah Kanneh-Mason plays the violin. He is a member of The Royal Academy Symphony Orchestra, and has played with the band Clean Bandit on multiple occasions.
Konya Kanneh-Mason, 17, plays both the piano and the violin. She attends The Royal Academy of Music, Junior Academy, in London, and has performed all over the UK.
Jeneba Kanneh-Mason plays the piano and the cello. The 15-year-old musician has performed in England, Wales, and Paris.
Twelve-year-old Aminata Kanneh-Mason plays the violin and the piano. Perhaps following in the footsteps of her older brother, Sheku, Aminata is part of the Chineke! Junior Orchestra.
The youngest Kanneh-Mason, Mariatu, plays the cello and the piano. At just 8 years old, Mariatu has been on various BBC World Service and Al Jazeera TV.
4. His Album Titled ‘Inspiration’ Was ‘the Biggest-Selling British Debut of the Year to Date,’ According to BBC
Back in February, Sheku Kanneh-Mason became the youngest cellist to be featured on the UK charts when his album, Inspiration, popped up at No. 18.
“[He] also tops the UK classical albums chart and was the most-streamed classical artist of the week, notching up 2.5 million streams on Spotify alone. … The teenager also becomes the highest-charting Young Musician winner, beating violinist Nicola Benedetti, whose fifth album Homecoming peaked at number 19 in 2014,” BBC News reported.
“As a classical cellist, I can’t quite believe I’ve made the Top 20 in the pop charts with my first ever album! I hope the pieces on this album inspire others the way they’ve inspired me,” he told the outlet.
5. He Is on Tour & Has a Few U.S. Dates Scheduled
Kanneh-Mason has been on tour, performing on various stages all over the world. In October, he will touch down on U.S. soil for three performances in Seattle, Washington. He will play Benaroya Hall on October 18, 19, and 20, as part of the Masterwork Series. This particular concert will feature music by Beethoven and Tchaikovsky.
“One of the most popular composers of all time takes center stage as the orchestra performs Beethoven’s bold and playful Symphony No. 1. Since being named the BBC’s Young Musician of the Year at 17, cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason has rocketed to the upper echelons of classical music. Like his heroes Jacqueline du Pré and Bob Marley, Kanneh-Mason has a special gift for crossing musical barriers and social divisions with his magnetic artistry. See this artistry at work as he takes on Tchaikovsky’s beloved Rococo Variations,” reads the event’s description on Benaroya Hall’s website.
In April 2019, Kanneh-Mason will return to the United States for two nights at Symphony Hall in Atlanta, Georgia. There he will be a part of the Elgar Cello Concert at 100.
“Elgar’s melancholic Cello Concerto went unnoticed for years until English prodigy Jacqueline du Pré made it her signature piece in the 1960s. It’s been a hands-down favorite ever since. Now audiences are abuzz over a new English prodigy: Sheku Kanneh-Mason, the 2016 BBC Young Musician of the Year. Kanneh-Mason plays with “urgency and bite, impeccable technique” [The Times of London]. The fiery Uruguayan maestro Carlos Kalmar returns to conduct the Elgar, Schumann’s Second Symphony, and a rarely heard overture by Sir Arthur Sullivan of Gilbert and Sullivan fame,” reads the concert’s description on Symphony Hall’s website.