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Al Bowlly

Since several Blues Musos and DJ’s have hinted at a like for the great Al Bowlly we thought it about time to tell you about him. So read on and enjoy


Albert Allick ‘Al’ Bowlly (7 Jan 1899– 17 Apr 1941) was a hugely popular British jazz singer who was also known as a skilled guitarist.  Between 1927 and 1941 he made more than 1,000 recordings. He presented an almost unsurpassed range of material and was also a truly international recording artist. He was killed during the Blitz by the explosion of a parachute mine outside his flat in Jermyn Street London.

Al Bowlly was born in what was then the Portuguese colony of Mozambique to Greek and Lebanese parents who had met en route to Australia and moved to South Africa. He was raised in Johannesburg SA. His early musical experience was singing for a South African dance band led by Edgar Adeler. He eventually got to London in 1928  one year after his 1927 debut recording date in Berlin, where he recorded ‘Blue Skies’ with Edgar Adeler. He arrived in London for the first time as part of Fred Elizade’s orchestra.  In 1928 ‘If I Had You’ became one of the first popular songs by an English jazz band to become popular in the USA.  Bowlly had gone solo by the beginning of the 1930s however redundancy, result of the Great Depression forced him to go busking in order to survive.


He signed two contracts in the 1930’s which  changed his fortunes — first to record with Ray Noble and his orchestra in and then with Roy Fox to sing in with his band at the Monseigneur Restaurant in London. During the next four years, he recorded over 500 songs. By 1933 Lew Stone took over as bandleader from Al Fox, and Bowlly was singing Stone’s arrangements with Stone’s band. Extensive radio exposure and a UK tour with Stone led to much demand for personal appearances and gigs. He made a solo UK tour and continued to make the bulk of his recordings with Ray Noble. There was competition between Noble and Stone for Bowlly’s time; for much of the year, Bowlly would spend days in the recording studio with Noble’s band, and evening playing live at the Monseigneur with Stone’s band.

Bowlly married Freda Roberts in December 1931, but Bowlly discovered his new wife in bed with another man on their wedding night. They separated after two weeks, and sought a rapid divorce. He remarried in December 1934, this time to Marjie Fairless, the marriage lasting until his death.

Further success followed a visit to New York with Noble and their recordings first achieved popularity in the USA. He appeared at the head of an orchestra hand-picked for him and Noble by Glenn Miller – the band included notables Claude Thornhill and Bud Freeman. During the early-mid 1930s, Songs like ‘Blue Moon’, ‘Easy to Love’ ‘I’ve Got You Under My Skin’ were very successful in the USA and Bowlly got his own radio series NBC; he went to star in The Big Broadcast in 1936, alongside one of his biggest competitors, Bing Crosby.

Al Bowelly’s continued presence in the USA affected his popularity with UK audiences and his career began to suffer as a result of problems with his voice. This affected the frequency of his recordings. He also played a few bit parts in films around this time, but he had never professed to be an actor and his parts were often cut and the scenes that were shown were brief.  Ray Noble was offered a role in Hollywood but this did not include Bowlly so he and Marjie moved back to London in January 1937.

Bowlly appeared with his own band, the Radio City Rhythm Makers, but they  split by late 1937 when his vocal problems were traced to a wart in his throat, which briefly caused him to lose his voice entirely. Bowlly was forced to borrow money for a trip to New York for surgery. He successfully underwent major throat surgery for the removal of his vocal wart, but had further difficulties with his voice late in his career.


His success in Britain faded and he toured regional theatres and recorded as often as possible to make a living, he moved from orchestra to orchestra, including those of Sydney Lipton, Geraldo, and Ken Johnson. His popularity underwent a revival from 1940, as part of a double act with Jimmy Messene  with an act called Radio Stars with Two Guitars, performed on  London stages. It was his last venture before his death in April 1941. The partnership was uneasy one, as Messene suffered from a drink problem. Bowlly’s last recorded song; two weeks before his death, was a duet with Messene of Irving Berlin’s satirical song about Hitler ‘When That Man is Dead and Gone.’



Al Bowlly died on 17 April 1941, Bowlly and Messene had just given a performance at the Rex Cinema in High Wycombe both were offered the opportunity of an overnight stay, but Bowlly decided to take the last train home to his flat; it proved a fatal decision; he was killed by a Luftwaffe parachute mine that detonated outside his flat that night.  His body was unmarked: the massive explosion had not disfigured him, but it had blown his bedroom door off its hinges and the impact against his head proved fatal. Al Bowlly was buried with other bombing victims in a mass grave at the Westminster Cemetery, Uxbridge Road, Hanwell London; where his name is spelled Albert Alex Bowlly.



Al’s most famous song was the evergreen standard since recorded by some of the all time greats – Tony Bennett, Sara Vaughan, and numerous others click here to listen to Al’s version


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