Something Old, Something New
From a Sheffield estate, to the shores of South Carolina, Johny Pitts heads off in search of the roots of his family's musical migration and an alternative Black British identity.
What happens when your Dad's an African-American soul star and your Mum's a music-loving girl from working class Sheffield? 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, so for BBC Radio 4, he heads off to the USA, to trace his father's musical migration, and tell an alternative story of Black British identity.
From Pitsmore in Sheffield, to Bedford Stuyvesant in New York, and all the way down to South Carolina, where his grandmother picked cotton, Johny Pitts heads off on a journey of self-discovery. On the way he meets author Caryl Phillips, Kadija, 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. On the way he shines a light on the shadows of his ancestry, and finds stories and culture that deliver him to a new understanding of his own mixed race identity and history.