Celebrating the Life of Stewart Tippett and the History of Soul

Stewart Tippett was a man of mixed race, believing that his father was of Afro-American origin, although our attempts to confirm this over many years remained fruitless.

Interview Stewart Tippett and Nick Duckett (his partner in History of Soul) gave to BBC Manchester in 2013.

Stewart didn’t know his mother when he was a child and was brought up in care, and then at Royal Wansted Boarding School, it originally being known as the Infant Orphan Asylum and now Snaresbrook Court.

As a person of colour, born in 1949, and raised in these institutions he was always very much in a minority and faced racism, both casual and intentional on a daily basis. He was very interested in his putative roots and was well-read on the subject of Afro-American history as well as taking a general interest in the treatment of people of colour throughout the world. From his days in boarding school, hearing jazz music being played in a master’s room adjacent to his dormitory, he grew to have a passion for music and had an encylopaedic knowledge of many types of music and musical artists, notably (but not exclusively) Jazz, Soul, RnB and Gospel. He was also very interested in the historical context to the music and became a well informed historian of the Black experience, particularly in the United States. He played the saxophone and was a well-respected musician and music historian in Reading, as the tribute being paid to him on what would have been his 68th birthday attests. Lawrie Wright, in writing about the event on the Facebook page, and in invitations to our friends, wrote:

“A remarkable man with a remarkable history, Stewart had a passionate interest in the history of Black music and a record collection that reflected it. His research is reflected in many compilations of rare music released under the banner of History Of Soul Records, and before that in lovingly compiled tapes that he made for local musicians that he worked with.”

Leaving care Stewart found himself homeless on the streets as a teenager and worked in the building trade for many years, as a carpenter. In 1994 he determined to change the course of his life and enrolled on an Access to HE course and studied Humanities. He went on to achieve a BA (Hons) in American History from Thames Valley University in 1998, his final year dissertation being “Wade in the Water, Storefront Churches and Preachers in Harlem & Chicago, 1905-1940”. He then achieved an MA from the University of Reading in Modern History, his dissertation was entitled “The Image on the Cover, Race and Representation Through American Popular Sheet Music 1870-1920” which drew upon his long-standing fascination for the racist stereotypes used on sheet music during that period, of which he held a large collection.

His most recent projects, after he retired having run a hostel for homeless people for about 10 years, have been to work on compiling tracks to trace the histories of Rhythm and Blues and then Soul into CD compilations with extensive historical notes as to the origins and influences of the music, and the social context within which the pieces sat. This work being carried out with his partner, Nick Duckett, under the umbrella of a small record label they set up called History of Soul. Their work has attracted very favourable reviews in many countries and media, including The Rhapsody, MOJO, and The Independent newspaper, which can be read here on the History of Soul website:

Stewart died in March 2017 having battled a grave and insidious cancer, myeloma, for two years; the disease having rendered him frail and weak in body, but failed to defeat his eternal optimism and joy for life.

This is the backdrop to the memorial that his friends are holding for Stewart on what would have been his 68th birthday on 6 October 2017.