Schoolgirl’s song reaches human rights contest final

Isla Ratcliff. Picture: Contributed
Isla Ratcliff. Picture: Contributed
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A SCHOOLGIRL’S song about a convicted killer who was allegedly wrongly executed has reached the final of a humanitarian music contest.

Isla Ratcliff, who attends the City of Edinburgh Music School, impressed judges in Amnesty International’s Our Voices Protest song competition with her composition, Death Row.

The 15-year-old was inspired by the case of Troy Davis, who was executed in the US state of Georgia in 2011 despite more than a million people signing a petition as part of a ­high-­profile campaign.

Her recording – which has drawn comparisons between her and jazz legend Billie ­Holiday – was judged by a panel of musicians, ­producers and wordsmiths, including writer Dorian Lynskey, ­producer Steve Brown and rapper and poet Kate Tempest.Isla said: “I am delighted to have made the final. Music and human rights both mean a lot to me.

“I hope to study music after school and I am also very interested in human rights issues.

“I think it’s awful that the death penalty exists and I hope that my song will help to raise awareness of it.”


A talented violin player and pianist, the music student from Inverleith has already performed a duet with Nicola Benedetti at the Usher Hall.

She will find out if her entry has won at a ceremony at Amnesty’s headquarters in London on Tuesday.

Tudor Morris, principal of the Edinburgh Music School, said: “I am delighted that Isla has been shortlisted.

“It brings together two of her driving passions – music and human rights.”

Around 700 children took part in the nationwide contest, which includes two categories – Best Protest Lyrics and Best Performance of an Original Composition. Isla’s entry has been shortlisted in both.

Dan Jones, of Amnesty’s education team, was involved in the shortlisting process and described Isla’s song as “immensely powerful”.

He said: “The lyrics to Death Row draw in the listener to a place where she says ‘smiles are as strange as the summer to snow’. Her performance is also compelling – a chilling lament for a life lost that brings to mind Billie Holliday’s classic Strange Fruit.

“Isla is clearly a very talented young musician.”

Case that sparked Isla’s work

TROY Davis, 42, was executed by lethal injection in 2011 despite significant doubts over the safety of his original conviction.

Davis had been on Death Row for more than 20 years since being convicted in August 1991 of the killing of off-duty policeman Mark Allen MacPhail, who was shot in Georgia in 1989.

Campaigners said there was no physical evidence linking Davis, who protested his innocence.