‘Something Old, Something New’ – Radio 4 Documentary Exploring An Alternative Black British Narrative

Something Old, Something New

What happens when your Dad’s an African-American soul star and your Mum’s a music-loving girl from a Sheffield council estate? Are your roots on the terraces at a Sheffield United match, or in the stylings of a Spike Lee film?

For writer and photographer Johny Pitts, whose parents met in the heyday of Northern Soul on the dance floor of the legendary King Mojo club, how he navigates his black roots has always been an issue.

Not being directly connected to the Caribbean or West African diaspora culture, all he was told at school was that his ancestors were slaves. In this programme, Johny heads off to the USA, to trace his father’s musical migration and to tell an alternative story of Black British identity.

From Pittsmore in Sheffield, to Bedford Stuyvesant in New York, and all the way down to South Carolina where his grandmother picked cotton, Johny Pitts makes a journey of self-discovery.

On the way, he meets author Caryl Phillips, a half sister he never knew, and historian Bernard Powers. He visits the Concorde Baptist Church in Brooklyn, New York, and the Bush River Missionary Baptist Church, in Newberry, South Carolina. He tracks down a whole host of long-lost cousins, and talks to Pulitzer winning writer Isabel Wilkerson.

Johny Pitts’ journey shines a light on the shadows of his ancestry, revealing stories and culture that bring a new understanding of his own mixed race identity and history.

Listen here on Tuesday at 11.30am

Produced by Peter Meanwell

A Reduced Listening production for BBC Radio 4.

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