George Shearing's autobiography "Lullaby
of Birdland" is available at Amazon.com
Shearing enjoys an international reputation as a pianist, arranger
and composer. Equally at home on the concert stage as in jazz
clubs, Shearing is recognized for inventive, orchestrated jazz. He
has written over 300 compositions, including the classic “Lullaby
of Birdland,” which has become a jazz standard.
was born in 1919 in the Battersea area of London. Congenitally
blind, he was the youngest of nine children. His father delivered
coal and his mother cleaned trains at night after caring for the
children during the day. His only formal musical education
consisted of four years of study at the Linden Lodge School for the
Blind. While his talent won him a number of university scholarships,
he was forced to refuse them in favor of a more financially productive
pursuit…playing piano in a neighborhood pub for the handsome
salary of $5 a week! Shearing joined an all-blind band in the
1930’s. At that time he developed a friendship with the
noted jazz critic and author, Leonard Feather. Through this
contact, he made his first appearance on BBC radio.
1947, Mr. Shearing moved to America, where he spent two years establishing
his fame on this side of the Atlantic. The Shearing Sound commanded
national attention when, in 1949, he gathered a quintet to record “September
in the Rain” for MGM. The record was an overnight success
and sold 900,000 copies. His U.S. reputation was permanently
established when he was booked into Birdland, the legendary jazz
spot in New York. Since then, he has become one of the country’s
most popular performing and recording artist. In 1982 and 1983
he won Grammy Awards with recordings he made with Mel Torme. Mr.
Shearing was the subject of an hour-long television documentary entitled “The
Shearing Touch” presented on the Southbank Show with Melvyn
Bragg on ITV in the UK.
presidents have invited Mr. Shearing to play at the White House..
Ford, Carter and Reagan. He performed at the Royal Command
Performance for Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip. He is
a member of the Friars Club and the Lotos Club in New York and the
Bohemian Club in San Francisco.
awards and honors are many. In May 1975, he received an honorary
degree of Doctor of Music from Westminster College in Salt Lake City. In
May of 1994, Hamilton College in upstate New York awarded him another
honorary doctorate in music. DePauw University in Greencastle,
Indiana presented him with an honorary doctorate of music on June
1, 2002. He received the prestigious Horatio Alger Award for
Distinguished Americans in 1978 and a community recreational facility
in Battersea, south London, was named the George Shearing Centre
in his honor. In May of 1993, he was presented with the British
equivalent of the Grammy…the Ivor Novello Award for Lifetime
Achievement. In June of 1996, Mr. Shearing was included in
the Queen’s Birthday Honors List and on November 26, 1996 he
was invested by Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace as an Officer
of the Order of the British Empire for his “service to music
and Anglo-US relations.” He was presented the first American
Music Award by the National Arts Club, New York City, in March of
1999, his 80th birthday was celebrated in England where
he played to a sold-out house at the Birmingham Symphony Hall. Also
appearing with him were the BBC Big Band, the strings of the London
Symphony, Dame Cleo Laine and John Dankworth. BBC Radio 2 presented
a 2 1/2-hour “Salute to Shearing” in honor of his birthday.
following year another sold-out house at Carnegie Hall was treated
to his birthday celebration featuring the George Shearing Quintet
with Nancy Wilson, Dave Brubeck, Dr. Billy Taylor, the John Pizzarelli
Trio, Tito Puente and Peter Schickele who brought a special greeting
from PDQ Bach!
Shearing’s biography, “Lullaby of Birdland,” published
by Continuum, was released February 2005. In conjunction with
the autobiography release Concord Records released a composite of
Shearing recordings in a 2-CD set entitled “Lullabies of Birdland.:
A Musical Autobiography” which was immediately followed
up with “Hopeless Romantics” with Michael Feinstein.
Concord then released the collectors set Mel Tormé & George
Shearing The Concord Years. Mr. Shearing’s popularity
continues to rise.
In November 2006, a letter arrived from the Prime Minister's office
in London reading, in part, "The Prime Minister has asked me to
inform you, in strict confidence, that .......he has it in mind, on
the occasion of the forthcoming list of New Year Honours, to submit
your name to The Queen with a recommendation that Her Majesty may be
graciously pleased to approve that the honour of Knighthood be conferred
upon you." When the letter was read to him, George simply
said, "I don't know why I'm getting this honor.....I've just been
doing what I love to do." And, when asked by the press how he
felt about receiving the highest honor the Queen can give, he replied, "My
mind keeps flashing back on my beginnings as pianist playing in a pub
for the equivalent of $5.00 a week. What a journey it has been
from that pub to Buckingham Palace. Receiving such an honor as
a Knighthood might also show young people what can be achieved in life
if one learns his craft and follows his dreams."
So, the poor, blind kid from Battersea named George Shearing, the
youngest of nine, whose father once delivered coal to the Palace, with
four years of formal musical training but with a tremendous will to
make good, traveled with his wife, Ellie, to London to claim his honor. On
June 13, 2007 George was presented to Queen Elizabeth II in the Ballroom
of Buckingham Palace. The Queen first touched him on each shoulder
with the sword her father had used, then stepped down off the dais
to put the medal around his neck, adjusted it, shook hands with him
and talked to him for several minutes. He became Sir George Shearing "for
his contribution to music", as the Lord Chamberlain put it. Now,
that's a fairy tale come true!
After the ceremony, Sir George and Lady Shearing hosted a luncheon
for some of their closest friends including Dame Cleo Laine and Sir
John Dankworth, the BBC personality and interviewer, Michael Parkinson
(who championed George's receiving a Knighthood on his radio and television
shows), and the actress Julia McKenzie.
The following week, Sir George's relatives came to lunch.....including
his 97-year-old sister, Dolly. She was the life of the party....leading
the Sing-Song between courses of the meal! And the celebratiions
didn't stop there. The Shearings hosted a tea for the member
of Parliament and former Home Secretary, David Blunkett, along with
the Dean of Canterbury, The Very Reverend Robert Willis. Mr.
Blunkett was also born blind and lived for ten years right next door
to the Linden Lodge for the Blind.
And, the honors keep coming! Back in New York, on October 21,
2007, the Town Hall Foundation presented Sir George with its Annual
Friend of the Arts Award "in recognition and appreciation of his
babiding interest in the development, enrichment and support of the
arts". With this award also came a medal placque, bearing
Sir George's name, being placed on the back of one the seats in the
legendary Town Hall.
But, come July 1 every year, one can find the Shearings traveling
from their New York City apartment up to the beautiful Berkshires near
Tanglewood where, for the entire summer, they will attend concerts
by the Boston Symphony, entertain their many friends (both in and out
of the music profession), and, yes, listen to the crickets while sipping
a glass of wine while simply enjoying life together.
Shearing's autobiography "Lullaby
is available at Amazon.com
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