British singer and actress Evelyn Mary Dove was born 11 January 1902 at the Lying-in Hospital, Endell Street, London, she was the daughter of leading Sierra Leonean barrister Francis (Frans) Dove (1869–1949) and his English first wife Augusta, née Winchester. Evelyn’s older brother Frank Dove, who studied law at Oxford University, was called up by the British army in 1915 and fought at the Battle of Cambrai, being awarded the Military Medal.
Evelyn Dove studied singing, piano, and elocution at the Royal Academy of Music from 1917 until 1919, when she graduated. In 1919 she married Milton Alphonso Luke in London and became a member of the Southern Syncopated Orchestra (SSO),composed of British West Indian and West African and American musicians who were popularising black music on the UK club scene. Unfortunately they were involved in a sinking in 1921 whilst travelling aboard the SS Rowan from Glasgow to Dublin when it accidentally collided with another and eight or nine members of the SSO were among the 35 passengers who died when the Rowan sank. Later Dove and other SSO members such as Cyril Blake who survived the disaster took part in the “Survivors Sacred Concert”.
In 1925 she joined the cast of the all-Black revue Chocolate Kiddies replacing Lottie Gee,when they toured Europe performing in in France, Germany, Italy, Austria, the Netherlands, Hungary and Spain. The also performed in Russia playing in Leningrad and Moscow, to an audience which included Stalin. Dove’s career burgeoned internationally in the 1920s and ’30s. She was performing at London’s Mile End Empire in June 1926, then five months later Evelyn Dove and Her Plantation Creoles – “the only singing and dancing act of its kind in Europe” – appeared at Wintergarten in Berlin, and her revue appeared in the Netherlands in February 1927 She went to France to replace Josephine Baker starring in a revue at the Casino de Paris, and then to the US, where in 1936 she appeared in cabaret at the famous Harlem nightclub Connie’s Inn. During 1937 She visited Bombay, India, where she performed at the Harbour Bar. The Evening News of India described her as an artist of international reputation, one of the leading personalities of Europe’s entertainment world and a rival of the great Josephine Baker herself.
Dove was described as an extremely charming person with a very attractive personality as well as a highly trained singer who sang contralto with a perfect microphone quality and performed music ranging from spirituals to Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. Between 1939 to 1949 Dove did many radio broadcasts with the BBC and appeared regularly on such popular music and variety radio programmes as Rhapsody in Black, Calling the West Indies, Variety Bandbox, Music For You, Caribbean Carnival, and Mississippi Nights.
Dove also made more than 50 broadcasts with Trinidadian folk-singer Edric Connor, for the radio series Serenade in Sepia (1945–47) which became so popular that the BBC decided to turn into a television show. In 1947 Dove and Connor – along with other artists including Mable Lee, Cyril Blake and his Calypso Band, Buddy Bradley, Winifred Atwell, and Adelaide Hall – performed in Variety in Sepia, an early example of a UK television special dedicated to Black talent, which was filmed live on 7 October 1947 at the RadiOlympia Theatre, Alexandra Palace, London, and aired on BBC TV
After Leaving the BBC in 1949, Dove worked in cabaret in India, Paris and Spain. When she returned to Britain at the end of 1950, as Stephen Bourne has written, she struggled to find work, “though she did appear in the cast of London Melody with ice-skater Belita and comedian Norman Wisdom at London’s Empress Hall in 1951. Despite her experience and talent, she found herself understudying Muriel Smith in the role of Bloody Mary in the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical South Pacific at Drury Lane.” In 1955, her search for work led her to apply for a job as a Post Office telephonist, asking the BBC for a reference. In 1956 the BBC cast her as Eartha Kitt’s mother in a television drama called Mrs Patterson, and more television work followed, and then a role on the West End musical stage, as one of the stars of Langston Hughes’s Simply Heavenly, directed by Laurence Harvey. Bourne notes that another cast member was Isabelle Lucas, who later recalled: “We became friends, but Evelyn’s life took a bad turn. Her reputation as a singer faded, and she became very ill. She lost contact with her family. Her spirit was broken.”
Evelyn Dove sadly died of pneumonia at Horton Hospital in Epsom, Surrey, aged 85, on 7 March 1987, registered as “Evelyn Dove, otherwise Brantley” (after marrying her third husband William Newton Brantley, in 1958, having previously been married to Felix John Basil Inglis Allen in 1941. In 1993, Moira Stuart featured Evelyn Dove in Salutations, a BBC Radio 2 series celebrating black British and British-based musical entertainers who came to fame between the 1930s and 1950s. Abiography by Stephen Bourne, entitled Evelyn Dove: Britain’s Black Cabaret Queen, was published in October 2016. She also features on a two-CD compilation Negro Spirituals – The Concert Tradition 1909 – 1948 singing the spiritual “Couldn’t Hear Nobody Pray.