The British ska-revival band The Selecter formed in the late 1970s, playing what can be described as rock fused with calypso and American jazz.
Much of what set the band apart was its charismatic lead singer, Pauline Black. As one of few women in a musical movement dominated by men, she was called “The Queen of British Ska.”
That experience is one of many recounted in her new memoir, Black by Design, which has just been released in the U.S.
Black opens her memoir with a scene from 1958: She is 4 years old and living in the working-class county of Essex, England, where her journey of self-discovery is about to begin.
“I think it was one of those occasions where I had to be told I was adopted, because the family I had been adopted into were a white, working-class family,” she tells Weekend Edition Saturday host Scott Simon. “I was about to start school — and, of course, I would be the only black child in the school.”
After Black learned she was adopted, she started to pick up on certain tensions in British society.
“For a lot of black people that grow up in a predominantly white society, obviously you do notice the difference,” she says. “It’s not just a question of skin color. It is a question of attitudes. It is a question of expectations.”
Black says that this social consciousness led her to a career in music.
“Somebody was looking for a lead singer for a band,” she says, “and I looked at this particular band, and looked at what they were saying — which was an anti-racist stand and also anti-sexist stand — and for me, I felt at that time that it was a perfect fit.”
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