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Elisabeth Margaret Welch (February 27, 1904 – July 15, 2003) was an American singer, actress, and entertainer, whose career spanned seven decades.[4] Her best-known songs were "Stormy Weather", "Love for Sale" and "Far Away in Shanty Town". She was American-born, but was based in Britain for most of her career.

Elisabeth Welch
Elizabeth Welch Allan Warren.jpg
Elisabeth Welch in 1977 by Allan Warren
Born
Elisabeth Margaret Welch

February 27, 1904[1][2][3]
DiedJuly 15, 2003(2003-07-15) (aged 99)
ResidenceNew York City
London, England
NationalityAmerican
OccupationActress, singer, entertainer
Years active1922–1996
Home townNew York City
Spouse(s)
Luke Smith (m. 1928–1936)

Contents

Early lifeEdit

Welch was born in Englewood, New Jersey, where her father was chief gardener of an estate. Her father was of indigenous American and African American ancestry; her mother was of Scottish and Irish descent. Welch was brought up in a Baptist-Christian family, and began her singing in a church choir.

She first intended to go from high school into social work, but instead chose to become a professional singer. She started her career in New York in 1922, but in 1929 she went on to Europe – first to Paris and then to London.

Professional careerEdit

After her first appearance in America in Liza in 1922, Welch was the initial singer of the Charleston in the show Runnin' Wild (1923). During the 1920s she appeared in African-American Broadway theatre shows, including Chocolate Dandies (1924) and Blackbirds of 1928. She made relatively few recordings. Before moving to Europe she made only one record – "Doin' The New Lowdown", b/w 'Digga Digga Do", as vocalist for the Irving Mills-assembled Hotsy Totsy Gang (Brunswick 4014, 27 July 1928).

One of these was taken to Paris, where in 1929 and 1930, following artist Josephine Baker, she was in cabaret shows, including performances at the Moulin Rouge.

Welch was then asked to return to New York, where she replaced a singer in The New Yorkers (1930–1931) and sang Cole Porter's controversial song "Love for Sale". The composer met her afterwards in Paris, and then invited her to perform his song "Solomon" in Nymph Errant in London in 1933. That year, before this show was available, Welch was given permission to perform in London in Dark Doings, in which she sang "Stormy Weather", newly written by Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler. She subsequently took the song as her signature tune.

Welch's show-stopping performance in Nymph Errant was seen by Ivor Novello, and in 1935 he gave her a part in his show Glamorous Night, in which she stood out again singing his blues song "Far Away in Shanty Town". In 1931 she had included in her cabaret act the new song "As Time Goes By", almost a dozen years before it achieved screen fame in Casablanca.

In the late 1930s Welch entered two media: she appeared in films – usually as a singer, including two with Paul Robeson – and was also one of the first artists to perform on television, appearing on the BBC's new TV service from Alexandra Palace.

During World War II she remained in London during the Blitz. She entertained the armed forces along with many other artists.[citation needed]

After the war she was in many West End theatre shows, including revues. She continued on both television and radio, and was even in one pantomime, Aladdin. She also had a series of one-woman shows, until 1990. She was in the Royal Variety Performance in 1979 and 1986. In 1979 her recording of "Stormy Weather" was used by Derek Jarman in his film version of Shakespeare's The Tempest.

In 1980 she returned to New York to appear in Black Broadway and she appeared there again in 1986, when her one-woman show earned her an Obie Award. She was nominated for a Tony Award for her performance in Jerome Kern Goes to Hollywood.[citation needed]

Welch was the subject of This Is Your Life in October 1985 when she was surprised by Eamonn Andrews outside London's Palace Theatre.[citation needed]

Her final performance was in 1996, for a television documentary, in which she sang "Stormy Weather", at the age of 93.

Personal lifeEdit

In 1928 she was married to Luke Smith, a musician, and remained with him until his death in 1936. They had no children.

Welch died at the age of 99 in Northwood, London, on July 15, 2003.

LegacyEdit

In February 2012, writer Bonnie Greer unveiled an English Heritage blue plaque at Ovington Court in Kensington, London, where Welch lived from 1933 to 1936.[5]

She was twice a guest on the BBC radio programme Desert Island Discs, on February 26, 1952 and November 18, 1990; her latter appearance is now part of the programme's online archive.[6]

Theatrical performancesEdit

  • Liza – 1922 – on Broadway
  • Running Wild – 1923 – on Broadway
  • Chocolate Dandies – 1924 – on Broadway
  • Blackbírds of 1928 – 1928 – on Broadway
  • Blackbirds of 1929 – 1929 – at the Moulin Rouge, Paris
  • Cabaret – 1930 – at the Le Boeuf sur le Toit, Paris
  • The New Yorkers – 1931 – on Broadway
  • Dark Doings – 1933 – at Leicester Square Theatre, London
  • Nymph Errant – 1933 – at Adelphi Theatre, London
  • Glamorous Night – 1935 – at Drury Lane Theatre, London
  • Let's Raise the Curtain – 1936 – at Victoria Palace, London
  • Its in the Bag – 1937 – at Saville Theatre, London
  • All the Best – 1938 – at the Opera House Theatre, Blackpool
  • No Time for Comedy – 1941 – at Comedy Theatre, London
  • Sky High – 1942 – at Phoenix Theatre, London
  • Happy and Glorious – 1944 – at London Palladium, London
  • Twopenny Coloured – 1947 – review
  • Oranges and Lemons – 1949 – review
  • Penny Plain – 1951 – review
  • The Crooked Mile – 1959 – London
  • Cindy Ella – 1962 – London
  • Pippin – 1973 – London
  • Black Broadway – 1980 – on Broadway

Film performancesEdit

Further readingEdit

  • Peter Gammond, The Oxford Companion to Popular Music Oxford University Press, 1991. ISBN 0192800043
  • Guinness Who's Who of Stage Musicals, ed. C. Larkin. Guinness – ISBN 0851127568)
  • Stephen Bourne, Elisabeth Welch – Soft Lights and Sweet Music (foreword by Ned Sherrin) (2005, Scarecrow Press) ISBN 0810854139

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ "Elisabeth Welch Biography – Father Walked Out on Family, Moved to London, Still Brought Down the House, Selected works". Archived from the original on 10 June 2018. Retrieved 10 June 2018.
  2. ^ "Elisabeth Welch". The Telegraph. July 16, 2003. Archived from the original on 10 June 2018. Retrieved 10 June 2018.
  3. ^ "Elisabeth Welch". Oxford Reference. Oxford University Press. Archived from the original on 10 June 2018. Retrieved 10 June 2018.
  4. ^ Bourne, Stephen (16 July 2003). "Elisabeth Welch Black diva whose roles ranged from Cole Porter's 'Nymph Errant' to Derek Jarman's 'The Tempest'". The Independent Obituary. Retrieved 2009-03-06.
  5. ^ "Welch, Elisabeth (1904–2003)". English Heritage. Retrieved January 7, 2012.
  6. ^ Desert island Discs Castaway Archive.

External linksEdit