Gospel giants celebrated in the Queen’s birthday honours

Giants of UK Gospel, media and community were recognised in the 2020 Queen’s Birthday Honours List, which was published during Black History Month and hailed as the most ethnically diverse list to date. 1,358 candidates were selected at BEM, MBE and OBE level, with 1,069 (72%) of the recipients being people who have undertaken outstanding work in their communities, either in a voluntary or paid capacity. 740 women were recognised, representing 49% of the total number of recipients (1,495), and 13% of the successful candidates came from minority-ethnic backgrounds. 

The list is normally published in June, but was postponed by PM Boris Johnson to ensure nominations included frontline well-deserving NHS workers, emergency service teams, volunteers and fundraisers, who had remained steadfast and dedicated during the coronavirus pandemic and lockdown. 

It’s truly an amazing and historic time for Black British Gospel, and we highlight a few of this year’s awardees:

MUYIWA OLAREWAJU OBE  

Multi award-winning gospel singer, presenter and station director of Premier Gospel, Muyiwa Olarewaju, was awarded an OBE for his services to Music.

The vibrant performer is known to television audiences as a star of Songs of Praise’s Gospel Choir of the Year.  He has been hugely instrumental in popularising the gospel music genre on a global scale, by mixing traditional gospel music with elements from Africa, the Caribbean and Asia with soul, r’n’b and pop.

In addition, he is host of the TV show, Turning Point, which has an estimated audience of 70 million globally.

With his group, Riversongz, Muyiwa has sold out the indigO2 London and the Eventim Apollo – the first UK gospel act to do so. He has played at the largest gospel music event in the world, The Experience, attracting a 500,000-strong audience, and is the first-ever international act to perform on America’s popular entertainment channel, BET.

A delighted Muyiwa said:  “I am honoured to be the first in my genre to receive such a wonderful recognition of my work and dedication over such a long period of time.”

Lurine Cato MBE

LURINE CATO MBE 

Lurine Cato, often referred to as the ‘Queen of Gospel’ and one of the UK’s leading gospel singers, received an MBE for services to Charity and Music.

Throughout Lurine Cato’s music career, she has championed numerous charities and causes, including: Diana Award, Gangsline, The Safety Box, The Children’s Society and Demelza Hospice Care of Children, to name but a few. During the COVID national lockdown this summer, Lurine brought to light the work of the Cavell Nurses’ Trust, by drawing together gospel artists from across the UK to sing Amazing Grace to raise funds for their charity.  She is mostly known for her collaboration with the NHS Blood & Transplant Service to encourage the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities to give blood. As lead vocalist of the NHS B Positive Choir, Lurine Cato reached the final of Britains Got Talent in 2018. More importantly, many people across the UK signed up to the NHS to give blood as a result of Lurine’s and the choir’s appearance on BGT. The choir consequently went on to perform in Europe and the USA.

Lurine said: It’s not about how many views, streams or followers you have, but it’s about expressing Gods love and unity. Its truly an honour to be a recipient of an award of this magnitude.”

MARCIA DIXON MBE 

Marcia Dixon has been awarded an MBE for services to Inter Faith Relations.

She is one of the longest serving writers at The Voice newspaper, former editor of Keep The Faith magazine, and is one of the UK’s most recognised Black gospel journalists.   

Marcia has put on concerts featuring international artists like the Winans; organised gospel music awards; was Project Manager and served as a judge on GMTV’s Gospel Challenge.

She is also the founder of Marcia Dixon Public Relations, a PR company providing services for churches, charities, gospel artists and businesses within the Black Christian community.  Her clients include NHS, Sony Music, Street Pastors, the Wise Women Awards, Tearfund, Christian Aid and the Pentecostal Credit Union.

In 2015, Marcia launched the DTS Women’s Ministry Breakfast – an event that brings together women involved in ministry, to network, start, grow and build organisations that will have major impact.  In 2019, she launched the DTS Women’s Ministry Conference.

She said: “When I started out as a reporter on The Voice newspaper in 1988, I didn’t envisage at all that I would be honoured in this way. I was just a young woman, doing work that I loved, and work that I felt I was called to do.  To be recognised in this way is truly humbling, and I’m grateful to God for enabling me to do the work that I do.”

Shirley McGreal MBE and Marcia Dixon MBE

SHIRLEY McGREAL MBE 

Shirley McGreal, founder and editor-in-chief of Keep The Faith magazine, has been awarded an MBE for services to Tackling Youth Violence, Knife Crime and Poverty.

Under her leadership, multi award-winning Keep The Faith has achieved national and international recognition as the UK’s Black and multi-ethnic Christian community magazine. Its editorial content has consistently shone the spotlight on the major issues of concern affecting the lives of Britain’s African and African-Caribbean population. It has raised the profile of hundreds of community champions and organisations, ensuring they receive due recognition for their activities and for the positive impact they have on their communities.

Shirley has worked in media for over 20 years, and her former role included serving as the former CEO of the Voice Newspaper Group.  She has held many board-level positions; has offered help and support to a number of cultural projects and initiatives, has worked with the Mayor of London’s Office, the Metropolitan Police, Street Pastors and Gangsline, and also with organisations, such as the YMCA, Social Enterprise Coalition, Synergy Network and the Ascension Trust. 

Shirley said: “It’s an honour to be included in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List.  Publishing Keep The Faith is a labour of love to inform the wider world about the many achievements and concerns of Britain’s Black faith community.  For my work and efforts to be recognised in this way is truly humbling.”

KAREN GIBSON MBE 

Karen Gibson, founder and conductor of The Kingdom Choir and worship leader, receives an MBE for services to Music.

Described as ‘Britain’s Godmother of Gospel’ by both the Guardian and the BBC, Karen Gibson is recognised throughout the world as one of the best gospel music directors. The Kingdom Choir achieved international prominence when invited to perform ‘Stand by Me’ at the Royal Wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, seen by 1.9 billion people.

Since then, the Choir have performed concerts all over the world, including sold-out shows at the Hollywood Bowl, Royal Albert Hall and closing ceremony of the Invictus Games in Sydney. They regularly perform on television in the UK, US and Australia, and this year the Choir celebrate their 25th anniversary.

Karen presented Britain’s Easter and Christmas Stories on BBC One, and is currently presenting a series on Scala Radio celebrating the human voice.

Karen says: “Gospel music delivers a message of love, hope, joy, faith, courage and unity, and it has been the greatest honour in my life to see people the world over enjoy the inspiration of this genre. Over time, my work taught me that I wasn’t only teaching singing, but that I was also equipping people with tools for life, and so my ambition has always been to continue to do this with great intention.”  

Karen Gibson MBE

JOHN FISHER BEM

John Fisher, founder of We Sing U Sing, has been awarded the British Empire Medal (BEM) Award for his services to Education.

John has been creating music for over 25 years, and has been a songwriter, music producer, radio DJ, TV presenter, vocal arranger, music director, mentor, youth leader and vocal tutor during his long and fruitful career.  

He has worked with many established names in the gospel and music arena, such as The London Community Gospel Choir (LCGC), Chaka Khan, Noel Robinson, Mica Paris, Deniece Williams, Ruby Turner, Candi Staton, Alexander O’Neal, Gabrielle, Michelle Gayle, Cece Winans, David Carrick (Genesis) and Manu D’bango, to name but a few.

John has led the IDMC gospel soul choir since 1995 and, through this, We Sing U Sing was birthed, combining both to bring a message of love, joy, peace and hope through his music.  Croydon-based John and We Sing U Sing have seen over 15,000 kids pass through its many programmes. 

John says: “ I am truly humbled with this award. It has been a total joy leading the team at We Sing U Sing, and I’ve enjoyed the 1000s of workshops I’ve been able to lead with our awesome teachers. I really want to thank all the schools, head teachers and staff who have allowed me in, and trusted me without question to do what I do and, of course, the awesome children who have sung with joy and a beautiful smile on their faces. This award is for all of us together.”Other community members, who received honours, were:

Other community members, who received honours, were:

  • Paulette Simpson, Deputy Chair of the Windrush Advisory Panel and the Windrush Commemoration Committee, was made CBE for services to the Caribbean Community in the UK
  • Trinidadian cultural and political activist, Ansel Wong, was made CBE
  • Actor Adrian Lester was made CBE for services to Drama
  • Yvonne Conolly, Britain’s first Black head teacher, was awarded a CBE for her exceptional services to Education
  • Singer-songwriter Joan Armatrading was made CBE for services to Music, Charity and Equal Rights 
  • Author Bernardine Evaristo has been made an OBE  
  • Felicia Margaret Kwaku, Associate Director of Nursing, King’s College NHS Foundation Trust, has been awarded an OBE for services to Nursing during COVID-19
  • Dawn Walton was made OBE for her services to Theatre  
  • Ndidi Okezie, Chief Executive of UK Youth, was awarded an OBE for services to Young People during the COVID-19 response
  • Kunle Olulode, Director of Voice4Change England, was awarded an OBE
  • Leahman Filmore Pratt, Christian Chaplain at HMP Exeter, has been awarded an MBE for services to HM Prison and Probation Service during COVID-19
  • Derrick Evans, aka Mr Motivator, has been awarded an MBE for services to Health and Fitness
  • Yvonne Lawson, founder and chief executive of the young people’s development charity, the Godwin Lawson Foundation, was awarded an MBE for services to Tackling Knife and Gang Crime in London
  • Footballer Marcus Rashford has been given an MBE for services to Vulnerable Children during COVID-19, with his campaigning work on free school meals  
  • Maxie Hayles, Human Rights Campaigner, was awarded an MBE for services to the Community in Birmingham  
  • Dylan Mills, aka rapper Dizzee Rascal, was awarded an MBE for services to Music  
  • Carrie Grant was awarded an MBE for services to Music, Media and Charity
  • The soap star and singer, Mica Paris, was awarded an MBE for services to Music  
  • Melesha O’Garro, aka rapper and singer Lady Leshurr, has been awarded the British Empire Medal (BEM) for services to Music and Charity, after releasing a coronavirus-inspired song telling people to wash their hands 
  • Winsome Thomas, Matron for Quality and BAME Nurses and Midwives Network Chair, Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, was awarded a BEM for services to Nursing during COVID-19

We congratulate all awardees for their exceptional and outstanding service to the UK, which has been recognised in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List 2020.

To view the full list, visit https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/birthday-honours-list-2020-cabinet-office

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