Black British female songwriters behind your favourite tracks part II

Annique Simpson shines a spotlight on the Black female writers behind some of your favourite songs.

Annique Simpson
  • By Annique Simpson
  • 21 Oct 2020
  • min read

Earlier this week, we celebrated six Black British female songwriters who have written some of the biggest global hits over the past 25 years.

Included in the list was Sade Adu (Your Love is King, Smooth Operator), Kamille (Little Mix’s Shout Out to My Ex, The Saturday’s What About Us?) and Michelle Escoffery (Liberty X’s Just a Little, Tina Turner’s Complicated Disaster).

But just as UK Black history isn’t only for October, it’d be foolish to limit our celebration of brilliant Black British female lyricists to only six individuals.

So here are another six talented Black female songwriters who, like the previous sextet, are the lifeblood of the UK music scene.

Corrine Bailey Rae

The Leeds-based, singer-songwriter burst into the UK mainstream in 2006 after her distinctive bluesy vocals and songwriting talent saw her top the BBC’s Sounds of list.

The accolade came off the back of Rae’s first single Like a Star, a floaty acoustic ballad based on one of Rae’s old flames. Her debut self-titled album proved equally as popular, topping the UK albums chart – making Rae the fourth British woman to do so – and earning Rae four Grammy nominations.

Following her husband’s suicide in 2008, Rae took a short break from music before releasing her second album, The Sea. She has since said that writing the album helped her deal with her emotions at the time. However, her lyrics aren’t necessarily 100 percent autobiographical. ‘None of [my songs] are pages torn from a diary, which is what people think. It’s art. It’s made up,’ she recently said

Beverley Knight MBE

Singer-songwriter Beverely Knight’s powerhouse vocals and authentic penwomanship have captivated fans for the past 25 years, landing her the title of ‘the undisputed Queen of Soul’.

Her commitment to speaking her truth through her music means her catalogue – eight studio albums and over 20 solo singles to date – serves as a melodic window into her soul. Prominent examples include the MOBO Award-nominated Made it Back, her first single following her acrimonious split from Dome Records in 1997, and her fourth album Affirmation which was largely inspired by the death of a close friend.

It’s an approach that clearly works. Knight currently boasts four gold certified albums, three MOBO Awards, nods from the Mercury Music Prize and Brit Awards and an MBE for services to music in 2007.

Caron Wheeler

As the voice of the eclectic collective Soul II Soul, Caron Wheeler was instrumental in shaping the UK’s ‘90s urban music scene.

Wheeler co-wrote the group’s most famous song, UK chart-topping house Back to Life (However Do You Want Me). Widely considered as one of the best dance songs of all time, the song went platinum in the US and earned the group a Grammy Award for Best R&B performance in 1990.

That same year, Wheeler left the band and released her first solo album, the self-penned UK Blak. The project, which was heavily influenced by Wheeler’s African-Jamaican heritage, peaked at number 14 in the UK charts and included the top 20 single Livin in the Light.

Errollyn Wallen CBE

While not a household name, Belize-born composer and songwriter Errollyn Wallen is a pretty big deal in the classical world.

In 1998, she became the first Black female composer to have their works performed at the BBC Proms – all the more impressive considering it was her first orchestral commission. Wallen has since had her work performed at the Royal Opera House, Wigmore Hall and the 2012 London Paralympic Games.

Wallen’s lyrical work has appeared alongside songs by Björk, Sting and Elvis Costello. She’s also released three albums, Meet Me at Harold Moores, Errollyn and The Girl in My Alphabet, all of which showcase her eclectic blend of avant-garde classical music and pop-influenced songwriting.


Best known as the bass-playing frontwoman for blues-punk band Noisettes, singer-songwriter Shingai’s quirky style and frenetic performances helped the band gain notoriety on London’s live-act circuit in the early naughties.

The band’s first commercial hit was the stomping disco-rock track Don’t Upset the Rhythm (Go Baby Go). Co-written by Shingai, the track shot straight to number 2 in the UK charts in 2009 and appeared on TV ads for Mazda. Shingai also co-wrote the band’s other signature song Never Forget You, a jolly ditty reminiscent of ‘50s US soul.

Shingai’s recently released debut solo album, Too Bold, is more conscious and Afrocentric than her Noisettes work. From the reminder on the album’s intro track that you’re never ‘too dark, too smart, too bold’ to the lead single War Drums which explores the murky world of political warfare. Even the afro-house remix of Dennis Ferrer’s Hey Hey, which featured Shingai’s uncredited vocals, is in itself an act of defiance. But we wouldn’t expect anything less from UK rock’s shock queen.

Jin Jin

Since her move to London in 2008 Janée Bennett, aka Jin Jin, has established herself as one of the UK’s premiere songwriters. Alongside her own work, including the singles Sex in the City and Fire Me Up, Janée discovered Jess Glynne while teaching a masterclass at an east London college where the emerging singer-songwriter was studying.

Subsequently, Janée has co-written some of Jess’s biggest hits, including her first official single Right Here and Hold My Hand, which was a UK No.1 and also hit the Billboard Hot 100.

In addition to that longstanding collaboration, she has also written for Tinie Tempah, Olly Murs, Raye, Paloma Faith and Rita Ora, to name a few.

In recognition of her achievements she was nominated for Songwriter Of The Year at the Music Business Worldwide Awards 2018, and won the Music Creative Award at Music Week’s 2018 Women In Music event. She also won her second BMI award for Madison Beer’s Home With You.

This piece was guest edited by Michelle Escoffery. Michelle is an award-winning singer, songwriter and vocal producer. One of the UK’s most respected songwriters, she has penned songs for acts including Tina Turner, All Saints, Beverley Knight and Artful Dodger, worked on vocal arrangements for Rod Stewart and performed with Stevie Wonder and George Michael.