Monday, 18 January 2021

Johnny Costa born 18 January 1922

Johnny Costa (born John Costanza; January 18, 1922 – October 11, 1996) was an American jazz pianist. Given the title "The White Art Tatum" by jazz legend Art Tatum, Costa is best known for his work as musical director of the children's television program Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. 

Costa learned to play accordion at age seven and was reading music three years later. Frank Oliver, Costa's high school music teacher, urged him to learn the piano after discovering that Costa had perfect pitch. Costa graduated from Carnegie Mellon University with degrees in music and in education. In case he failed as a musician, Costa prepared himself to teach. On the day of his graduation, he began work as the house pianist for a radio station in Pittsburgh. Eventually he performed the same role for KDKA-TV in Pittsburgh. He provided piano and organ music for many programs, eventually teaming with Fred Rogers to arrange and perform the music heard on Mister Rogers' Neighbourhood. 

Costa appeared along with guitarist Joe Negri on the 1954 Ken Griffin TV series 67 Melody Lane. Johnny and Joe played two numbers, "After You've Gone" and "Little Brown Jug", the latter with Ken Griffin at the organ. Costa's first recording was The Amazing Johnny Costa, a Savoy LP released in 1955. Savoy also released “Johnny Costa and His Trio” in 1955.   Working with producer Bob Theile Costa also released three albums in 1955 on Coral Records: "Johnny Costa Plays Piano Solos", "Johnny Costa Plays for the Most Beautiful Girl in the World", and “Costa Living”.  Costa continued to record releasing “A Gallery of Gershwin” on Coral (1958) and “In My Own Quiet Way" on Dot in 1959.  In the early-60s he recorded two LPs on Dot Record working with Sonny Lester and Milt DeLugg. He recorded two 45s for J. Arthur Rank, one was the theme song for the movie “Conspiracy of Hearts”. 

Art Tatum with Johnny and Helen Costa

Record producer Bob Theile got Johnny a twice-a-year gig at the Embers Room in NYC that last ed for seven year.  Theile also got Johnny on Steve Allen's Tonight Show.  Costa made his first appearance on the NBC Tonight Show on December 14, 1955 performing the songs “After you’re Gone” and “Froggy Day”.   In 1962 Wlliam Steinberg invited Costa to perform as a soloist with the Pittsburgh Symphony. It was the first of several symphony appearances that he made over the years. 


Although his increasingly lucrative career was beginning to bring him international attention, the amount of time away from his family and friends led him to live and perform only in western Pennsylvania. He stopped travelling and gave up his job as musical director of The Mike Douglas Show. He returned to Pittsburgh and remained there for the rest of his life. 

Johnny Costa with Fred Rogers

Costa served as musical director, arranger, and keyboardist for the children's television series Mister Rogers' Neighborhood from the program's debut in 1968 until his death in 1996. The program's creator and host, Fred Rogers, regarded Costa as one of the most gifted musicians he had ever met. Rogers' choice was surprising because Costa's style was regarded as too complicated and sophisticated for a children's program. Costa accepted the job without hesitation because it wouldn't require him to travel away from Pittsburgh, and because Rogers offered him the same amount he needed to pay his son's college tuition ($5000). 

Although Mister Rogers' Neighborhood was a children's program, Costa insisted on not playing "baby" music. He believed children understood good music and that he could experiment with his own musical styles and techniques, even for a children's program. Each day, Costa and his trio (Carl McVicker Jr. on bass, Bobby Rawsthorne on percussion) played live in the studio for the filming. In addition to the show's recognizable main theme, they played the trolley whistle, Mr. McFeely's frenetic Speedy Delivery piano plonks, the vibraphone flute-toots (on a synthesizer) as Fred fed his fish, dreamy celesta lines, incidental music, and Rogers' entrance and exit tunes. 

In 1990, jazz pianist Dick Hyman, without Costa’s knowledge, mailed a DAT tape of a Costa recording session produced by Bill Hillman to Hank O'Neal president of Chiaroscuro Records.  Chiaroscuro Records was the label that had released the recordings of Earl Hines and Mary Lou Williams.  O’neal signed Costa to his label releasing the tape on CD as "Classic Costa" in 1991.  Chiaroscuro Records released Costa’s "Flying Fingers" (1992) and "A Portrait of George Gershwin." (1994). Costa recorded in one session of first takes a collection of Johnny Mercer tunes entitled “Dream: Johnny Costa Plays Johnny Mercer” that was released in 1996.  His final recording was “Christmas Reflections” released in 1997. 

The City Theater honoured Costa as the first recipient of its Performance Award for outstanding performances from western Pennsylvania arts.  Dick Hyman and Peter Nero performed at the ceremony.  Costa was inducted into Pittsburgh Jazz Society Hall of Fame.  Costa died of aplastic anemia in Pittsburgh on October 11, 1996 at age 74.    (Edited from Wikipedia & Pittsburgh Music History) 

Here’s a 1954 clip from Ken Griffin's 67 Melody Lane  with Johnny Costa & Joe Negri performing  "After You've Gone" + "Little Brown Jug" (with Ken.) The man chatting with Ken is Sterling Yates, who became a jazz buff radio dj at Pittsburgh's KDKA. The lady at the end was Aunt Harriet from Batman and Robin.  '67 Melody Lane' was a syndicated limited-run TV show produced in Chicago.

Sunday, 17 January 2021

Irene Daye born 17 January 1918

Irene Daye (January 17, 1918 -November 1, 1971) was an American jazz singer. 

Born Irene Endyke in Lawrence, Massachusetts, singer Irene Daye landed her first professional singing job with orchestra leader Dan Murphy shortly before her high school graduation in 1935. She flew back to her hometown on graduation night to receive her diploma.

She remained with Murphy two-​and-a-half years before joining Mal Hallett. Five months after she began with Hallett, bandleader Gene Krupa heard her sing at an engagement in Philadelphia and asked her to try out for his group. When her night’s work with Hallett had ended, she made a 4 a.m. audition and landed the job. 

With Krupa, Daye found success. She had an attractive voice and a lightly swinging style, and improvised with subtlety while respecting the melody and words of the songs she interpreted. She quickly became one of the top vocalists in the country. Daye recorded 63 songs while with Krupa. She made each tune seem worthwhile, even the duds, and had success with "Jeepers Creepers," "Bolero at the Savoy," "The Lady's in Love with You," "Drummin' Man," "The Rumba Jumps," "Rhumboogie," and "Yes, My Darling Daughter." On January 17, 1941, during what would be her final record date with Krupa, she had her biggest hit, "Drum Boogie." Her voice is also heard singing "Drum Boogie" in the movie Ball of Fire, although she was ghosting for actress Barbara Stanwyck. 



She remained with Krupa from 1938 to 1941 when she quit at the age of 23 so that she could travel to the West Coast and marry left-​handed trumpeter Corky Cornelius. If she had stayed with Krupa's band, which was on the brink of making it big, she probably would have been featured on "Let Me Off Uptown" instead of her replacement, Anita O'Day. 

While Cornelius joined the Casa Loma Orchestra, Daye sang for Sam Donahue, who had also recently left Krupa to front his own band again. After her stint with Donahue, Daye happily settled into the life of a housewife, giving birth to a daughter in 1943. 

Sadly, Cornelius passed away from nephritis in August of that year, and Daye returned to singing. She auditioned for Charlie Spivak and was performing with the band by October. With Spivak, Daye found even greater success, making several hit records with the band, including “Baby Won’t You Please Come Home,” “It’s Been a Long, Long Time,” “Golden Earrings” and “I’ll Never Say Goodbye.” Daye also found romance. She and Spivak were married in 1950. 

In the late 1950s, Spivak and Daye moved to Miami, Florida, where he fronted a small outfit with Daye managing his business affairs. Illness forced him to retire briefly in 1963. After recovering, he led bands in Las Vegas and Miami before organizing another small outfit in 1967 that played regularly at the Ye Olde Fireplace restaurant in Greenville, South Carolina, with Daye as vocalist. Daye battled cancer during the last years of her life, finally losing her fight in 1971, age 53. 

During the height of her singing career, she was ranked in official music publications as one of the leading female vocalists. One of the top compliments ever paid her came from Bing Crosby, who said, "Irene Daye is one of the finest girl singers I have ever heard." 

(Edited from Bandchirps & All Music)

Here’s a clip of "The Call Of The Canyon" with Gene Krupa Orchestra featuring Babe Wagner on Trombone. The vocals are by Irene Daye & Howard Dulany. (1941) 

Saturday, 16 January 2021

Conny Vandenbos born 16 January 1937

Jacoba Adriana Hollestelle (16 January 1937 – 7 April 2002), known professionally as Conny Vandenbos, was a popular Dutch singer. She had her first radio hit in 1966 and continued to make hit recordings throughout the 1970s. She represented the Netherlands in the Eurovision Song Contest 1965 with the song "'t Is genoeg" (Tis Enough). 

Conny Vandenbos started her career in the AVRO children's choir and made her solo debut in February in the KRO radio programme Springplank, a showcase for young talent, in which she performed French chansons.

After her performance at the Belgian Knokkefestival in 1961, Conny signed a recording contract with Philips. She also performed in the first episode of the Rudi Carrell show. In 1962 she participated in the preliminary rounds of the Eurovision Song Contest, where she finished in third place with Zachtjes. In 1961 she appeared on Bruce Low 's VARA show. At the end of 1964 she got her own television show, "Call me Conny" for the Dutch public broadcaster NCRV. 

In 1965 she represented the Netherlands at the Eurovision Song Contest with the song "t Is Enough", reaching eleventh place. A year later she had her first hit "I am happy without you". Meanwhile, Conny's record company tried to make her more known abroad and they let her sing in English and German. However, real success at an international level was not forthcoming. The single "Where Are They Now" released in August 1968, reached 31st place in the Colorado Hit Parade, but that was it in the US. In 1971, Vanderbos moved to Hoevelaken, Gelderland. 


In 1974 she switched from Phonogram to record company Basart Records International. A short time later, she released an album, A Woman of Our Time. During this period, most of her hits were Dutch translations of foreign songs such as "Een roosje, m'n roosje", which was a translation of "Daisy a Day" by Jud Strunk. She also released a German version of the song. 

In 1976, she received an Edison Golden Harp for the album “Zo wil ik leven”. In the eighties she had a theatre program together with Ted de Braak and performed in André van Duin 's revue. She also had her own tour de chant and was frequently seen on television. She also played roles in musicals. In 1979 she was elected Woman of the Year in Belgium. In 1980, while back with Philips Records, Conny released an album of songs by Janis Ian titled Conny Vandenbos zingt Janis Ian. A duet with Janis Ian, "Don't Leave Tonight", reached number 17 in the Dutch charts in December 1980.

In 1989 she had a small success in the Netherlands with “Stapelgek op je” with Wim Rijken. In 1993 she received gold for her album 14 Greatest Hits Van Conny Vandenbos.

In the nineties she presented radio programs with Radio Noordzee (National) (Tea with Conny, every working day between 2 and 4 pm), Omroep West and Radio M Utrecht. In 1998 she was a presenter at the 1998 Eurovision Song Contest. In 2000, she was honoured with a tile in the Rotterdam Walk Of Fame. 

In 1959 Conny married Wim van den Bos. The couple had a daughter. In 1965 the marriage came to an end, but because she was now known by the name Conny van den Bos, she decided to keep that name. From now on, the name was written together as Conny Vandenbos. She now considered this a stage name, no longer her ex-husband's name. Her second marriage was to Ger Faber, bass player of the band Leedy Trio, with whom she had one son. 

Vandenbos died in Amsterdam on April 7, 2002 at the age of 65, two weeks after she was diagnosed with lung cancer. She is buried at Rusthof Cemetery in Leusden.    (Edited from Wikipedia)

Friday, 15 January 2021

Jerry Wald born 15 January 1918

Jerry Wald (January 15, 1918 – September 1, 1973) was an American clarinetist and band leader. 

Jervis Wald was born in Newark, New Jersey and started on soprano saxophone at the age of seven, later taking up alto sax and clarinet. His role model was "the king of the clarinet", Artie Shaw. This reflected strongly in his playing and led to comparisons being drawn, which Jerry eventually came to resent. In 1941, he formed his own orchestra in New York, enjoying lengthy residencies at the Lincoln Hotel and at the Panther Room of the Hotel Sherman in Chicago. 

The band's theme song was "Call of the Wild". A number of good arrangements were provided by Ray Conniff and Jerry Gray. Sidemen included several illustrious former Shaw alumni, notably saxophonist Les Robinson, guitarist Art Ryerson, bassist Sid Weiss and trumpeter Bernie Privin. A good swinging outfit, Wald's 15-piece band adopted a more progressive sound by the late 1940's. Recording contracts were with Decca, Majestic and Columbia. Moreover, Wald was featured on the Robert Q. Lewis radio show. 

Jerry Wald’s orchestra never made the big time. Nonetheless, he had several notable vocalists on his roster during its existence. A reviewer gave the name of Wald’s vocalist during his first Roseland engagement in 1942 as Francis Wayne. Wayne, who later sang for Woody Herman and married Neal Hefti, was still an unknown at the time. Anita Boyer had joined the band by mid-​1942, however, and was Wald’s most notable canary. 

She stayed until December, when Lillian Lane replaced her. Lane remained until at least February of 1943. Betty Bonney was singing by July 1943 and stayed through at least November of that year. Ginnie Powell had replaced Bonney by December. Male vocalist Dick Merrick remained with Wald for many years, though he left for the McFarland Twins’ band in late 1942, returning to Wald in May 1943. Johnny Bond replaced him in the interim. 

In 1944, Wald changed his sound and added a six-​piece string section to his orchestra. Powell served as female vocalist until she left in October of that year. By 1945, though, Wald was back to his old sound. Vocalists were Merrick, who sang ballads, and Kay Allen, who handled pop tunes. The pair of singers fell in love and later married. 


Wald also briefly had a major asset in Billie Rogers. This female trumpet player and vocalist had formerly played with Woody Herman and then led her own band, joined Wald in March 1945. One of the very few women to play in a male band, Rogers’ sensational trumpet playing and bluesy vocal style were highlights of Wald’s 1945 group. Rogers only stayed a few months however, leaving in October to front her own combo. 

Jean Porter with Jerry Wald 

In 1946, Wald’s band began a noticeable decline. April reviews panned vocalist Anne Russell. Merrick left that month as well, replaced by Bill Raymond. Mary Nash also sang in 1946. Wald disbanded his jump orchestra in November of that year during the big band bust, when many notable leaders hung up their batons, and formed a sweet orchestra. Vocalist was Nick Delano. Jimmy Vanni had replaced him by June. The band appeared in four movies and one short, including "Little Miss Broadway" (a 1947 Columbia Pictures film, not the 1938 Shirley Temple 20th Century-Fox feature). The new group struggled, and in January 1949 Wald formed a short-​lived bop orchestra before opening a night club. 

Jerry Wald (left) with Gordon MacRae, Mel Tormé ,
Marion Hutton, and Jerry Jerome 1947

In May 1950, Wald formed a new sixteen-​piece orchestra in Los Angeles with Carolyn Grey, ex-​Woody Herman vocalist, joining the group in March 1951. In 1952, Chris Connors was female vocalist and recorded 6 sides for Decca. In 1953, Wald did a 10-inch "Tops in Pops" LP for an MGM subsidiary, Lion.  In 1955 Kapp records  released "Listen to the Music of Jerry Wald and His Orchestra."  He finished off his recording career with some 45s for smaller companies, Todd (Moon Over Miami / Sheba) and his own Waldork label (The Creeper / Nightmare) in 1958. 

He later moved back to New York and worked in both radio and television. He died on 1st September, 1973 (age 55) in Las Vegas, Nevada. He was buried in Woodlawn Cemetery.   

(Edited mainly from Bandchips  & IMDb)

Date of death sourced from h**ps:// 

Thursday, 14 January 2021

Billie Jo Spears born 14 January 1938

Billie Jo Spears (born Billie Joe Moore; January 14, 1938 – December 14, 2011) was an American country music singer. She reached the top 10 of the country music chart five times between 1969 and 1977, her biggest being "Blanket on the Ground", a 1975 number-one hit. She also had a large following in the United Kingdom with two of her singles reaching the pop top ten. 

Spears was born January 14, 1937, in Beaumont, Texas to Myrtie (née Smith), a homemaker who worked as a shipyard welder during World War II, and Carl Wilson Moore, a truck driver. She made her professional debut at age 13 at a country-music concert in Houston, Texas. She cut her first single, "Too Old For Toys, Too Young For Boys", while still a teenager. It was released by independent record label Abbot Records, under the name Billie Jean Moore. She also performed on the Louisiana Hayride at 13. After graduating from high school she sang in nightclubs and sought a record deal. She began performing as Billie Jo Spears after her parents divorced; Spears was the surname of her older half-siblings whose father (also named Carl) had died in 1935, leaving their mother Myrtie a widow. 

Spears' early career was orchestrated by country/rockabilly songwriter Jack Rhodes. Working out of his makeshift recording studio, Rhodes took it upon himself to provide Spears with material and clout in her early years. Spears moved from Texas to Nashville, Tennessee, in 1964. She gained her first recording contract with United Artists Records and worked with producer Kelso Herston. Her first singles brought her little success. Soon her producer moved to Capitol Records and she followed; the label placed her under contract in 1968. 

One of Spears' first singles for the label was "Harper Valley PTA", but her single release was beaten off the presses by Jeannie C. Riley's version, which became a monster crossover hit; Spears' failed to chart. Her first hit came in 1969, when her Capitol Records release "Mr. Walker It's All Over" reached #4 on the country chart. It also reached the pop charts at number 80. The song told of a secretary who quit a job where she was unappreciated for her skills and encountered sexual harassment. She gained four more top-40 country hits during the next two years, but by late 1972 she was off Capitol and had two years without a charting release. 


In 1975, Spears signed again with United Artists Records, now the home to some of country music's pop-based acts such as Kenny Rogers. She returned to the charts in 1975 with "Blanket on the Ground". The song had been previously turned down by Nashville producers who feared controversy due to the phrase "slip around", though the tune was not about adultery. The expected controversy never materialized, and it became her only number-one song. 

In the United Kingdom, the song climbed into the top 10 of the UK Singles Chart in August 1975, reaching number six. Her 1976 country top-five record "What I've Got in Mind" proved to be a second major British pop hit for her, peaking at number four, though it did not cross over to the American pop charts. Spears had a third British pop hit, albeit a lesser one, peaking at number 34 with "Sing Me an Old Fashioned Song", a track that was just an album cut in the US. 

Billie Jo Spears was a steady presence on the American top-20 country chart for the remainder of the 1970s with such hits as "Misty Blue" (a remake of the 1960s Wilma Burgess classic), "'57 Chevrolet", "Love Ain't Gonna Wait For Us", and "If You Want Me". The 1981 cover version of Tammy Wynette's 1960s hit, "Your Good Girl's Gonna Go Bad", was her last voyage into the American country top 20. 

Spears continued releasing albums in the United States into the 1980s. By the mid-1980s, her overall success had tapered off. However, she retained a following in the UK, and remained a popular live performer there. Spears recorded a number of albums for the British market that had limited or even no release in the US. This level of fame in the UK was summed up by the magazine, Country Music People, during the 1990s, when their article described Spears as "The Queen Mother of country music." 

She recovered from triple bypass surgery in 1993 and continued to tour for more than 16 years when coronary heart disease and emphysema forced her to cut back on touring, particularly in the US. She made some 30 albums, four of which went gold, the last of which was in 2005. 

She paid her final visit to the UK during May 2011, touring in the Ladies Of Country Show with the veteran Irish country singer Philomena Begley. Sadly by the end of the year she died of cancer at her home in Vidor, Texas, near her hometown of Beaumont on December 14, 2011, at age 73. 

(Edited from Wikipedia except birth year which is on her birth certificate. Apparently BJ’s family edit it but Wikipedia always change it back)

Wednesday, 13 January 2021

Carl Dobkins Jr. born 13 January 1941

Carl Edward Dobkins Jr. (January 13, 1941 – April 8, 2020) was an American singer and songwriter,and one of those rockabilly legends who wouldn’t quit, even decades after his last chart entry. From a number three hit in 1959 with "My Heart Is an Open Book," he maintained a decades-long career that delighted audiences for generations on both sides of the Atlantic. 

Dobkins was born into an Appalachian family that had transplanted themselves to Cincinnati in search of a better life. The family was filled with amateur musicians -- both of his parents sang, and his mother played guitar -- and at age nine Dobkins was given a ukulele by his parents. He quickly learned the instrument and moved on to the guitar, learning first the country and hillbilly songs that his family favoured. While Dobkins was in high school, he started writing songs of his own and singing at local events with his backup group The Seniors. 

The Seniors first met with a common interest in singing at Nast Memorial Methodist Church in Cincinnati. The group sang together for approximately eight years. Dobkins and the Seniors were promoted by Gil Sheppard, a local Cincinnati radio disc jockey, who noted the young singer's early high school compositions and a two-song demo record. This led to a recording contract with Fraternity Records, who released their first record. Rock & roll was breaking nationally and Sheppard saw Carl Dobkins Jr. as a potential star. Thus, he became "the Teenage Rage," and began singing at dance parties and record hops. 

Every record label was looking for the next Elvis Presley or Carl Perkins, and Dobkins was signed to the Cincinnati-based Fraternity Records, which released "Take Hold of My Hand" b/w "That's Why I'm Asking." It failed to chart, and he next moved to the much larger King Records for a recording session, but Sheppard sold the master to the still larger Decca Records label. Issued on Decca, "If You Don't Want My Lovin'" became a regional hit on its initial release, and did well enough to justify Decca investing more time in Dobkins. He cut his first sessions for Decca in Nashville under the aegis of Owen Bradley. The result was "My Heart Is an Open Book," which was Dobkins' lasting claim to immortality in the field of rockabilly. One of the better crossover records, it rocked hard with a solid guitar sound and a great beat, and featured the artist backed by two of the Anita Kerr Singers. 

Ironically, the record took six months to take off, requiring two rounds of promotion by the label. When the smoke cleared, Dobkins was making appearances on national television behind "My Heart Is an Open Book," including Dick Clark's American Bandstand the day after his graduation from high school. He toured nationally and worked in six months of army reserve service in the infantry as well, as "My Heart Is an Open Book" soared to number three nationally in the spring of 1959, earning a gold record in its 24-week chart run. A follow-up, "Lucky Devil," reached number 25 in a 17-week run late in the year, and even "If You Don't Want My Lovin'" made it to number 67 when it was reissued nationally around the same time. Carl also appeared in June of 1959 with the first R & R show to play the Surf Ballroom after the plane crash that took Buddy Holly, Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens. 

By 1960 Dobkins married Janice Cox and also got to number 62 with "Exclusively Yours." Carl Dobkins Jr. made all of the usual moves that a young rock & roller did in those days. He was featured frequently at Castle Farms, and on television for the Bob Braun Show (WLW-T, Cincinnati) and appeared fourteen times as a guest on Dick Clark's American Bandstand. He touredng with Bobby Freeman, Bobby Rydell, Bobby Vee, Buddy Knox, Frankie Avalon, Jan & Dean, Frankie Ford, Freddie Cannon, and Jimmy Clanton, the Drifters, and the Crickets. 

He started to go into more lyrical, romantic sounds as the public's taste for rock & roll seemed to retreat in the early '60s -- by 1961, he was even cutting versions of movie themes, such as "Pretty Little Girl in the Yellow Dress" from the western The Last Sunset, starring Kirk Douglas and Rock Hudson. 

It was 1964 before he made another record, "If Teardrops Were Diamonds," a pop ballad on Atco with a Vic Dana vibe. "His Loss is My Gain" came out on Colpix in '65 and had a little more bite but didn't get far. During a long hiatus he was a part-time radio announcer at WCNW, then a dispatcher in a Greyhound Bus Terminal. He reappeared with two singles for the Chalet label in 1969: the sentimental "The Days of Sand and Shovels" (Bobby Vinton's version ended up being the hit) and a rerecording of "My Heart is an Open Book." In all, he cut 18 singles, 2 LP’s and a CD in 2008. His last job was working as a procurement specialist until he retired in April of this 2001.

More recently in 2012 Carl played in Vienna Austria at the largest outdoor festival in Europe, along with Ray Campi, Buddy Knox and Frankie Ford. He was inducted into the Cincinnati Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and the Rockabilly Hall of Fame. Carl died in Cincinnati, Ohio on April 8, 2020 at the age of 79. 

(Edited from AllMusic & Wikipedia)

Tuesday, 12 January 2021

Des O'Connor born 12 January 1932

Desmond Bernard O'Connor CBE (12 January 1932 – 14 November 2020) was an English comedian, singer and television presenter who went on to record 36 albums, perform in cabaret in Las Vegas, at Sydney Opera House and more than 1,000 times at the London Palladium. 

O’Connor was born in Stepney, east London, the son of Harry O’Connor, a dustman, and Maude (nee Bassett), a cleaner. His mother was Jewish and his father was Irish, and Des joked he was the first O’Connor to celebrate his bar mitzvah. “We were poor when I was a kid, but there wasn’t a day when we didn’t laugh or have something to look forward to. You can sit down in a corner and cry, or you can get on with living.” 

He suffered from rickets and wore calipers until he was six, when his father told him to throw them away. He was later badly injured in a hit-and-run car accident which meant he had to be in an iron lung for six months. He had a brother, William, and a sister, Patricia, one year his junior. He was evacuated to Northampton during the Second World War, where he worked in a shoe factory and was a schoolboy and reserves player with Northampton Town. 

After the war he did his national service with the Royal Air Force. “Coming from a poor background, I’ve always felt the need to prove myself,” he told one interviewer. He realised for the first time he was unfit and uneducated, so started training and reading. “I’d like to say it’s the taking part, but it’s the winning,” he once said. “I came second in every race in the air force. So I trained and trained until I entered the marathon and won it.” 

After completing his national service in the Royal Air Force, he worked as a Redcoat at Butlin's holiday camp in Filey, where he met his first wife Phyllis, and as a shoe salesman at Church's in Northampton, and for United Counties, both on the road and in the office, before entering show business. Prior to his break on television, his first fully professional stage appearance in variety, was in a Newcastle theatre. Later, while he was in Leeds, he invited the Welsh singer Shirley Bassey out on two dates. In 1958, when Buddy Holly toured the UK, O'Connor was the show's compere for which he was paid £100 per week. 

Des with Buddy Holly

In 1958 he, along with Robert Morley, Pete Murray and Ted Ray, became one of the regular hosts of Spot the Tune, the Granada TV game show in which contestants named a popular song after hearing a few bars of music. After five years, Granada TV hired him to headline his own variety show. The Des O’Connor Show, launched in 1963, became a huge hit in Britain and in America, establishing him as a prime-time entertainer. On the back of his television fame he launched his career as a singer and had his first hit single in 1967 with Careless Hands (a cover of a Mel Tormé song). 


His second single, I Pretend, went to No 1, selling well more than a million copies. His third single, 1 2 3 O’Leary, became his final Top 10 hit of the 1960s; four more singles made the Top 20, though some, including Dick-A-Dum-Dum and Feelings, later garnered the dubious accolade of featuring in “worst records ever” lists. 

The Des O’Connor Show, with a variety format that ran for the next decade. When ATV syndicated the show to CBS in America, O’Connor became a household name there too, leading to performances in Las Vegas and throughout the US. From then onwards he was seldom off the small screen. 

O’Connor appeared alongside the great comedians Morecambe and Wise on many occasions. The duo would tease him relentlessly, making him the butt of the joke, with quips such as “Des in Des O’Connor is short for desperate” and  “Des has just done a one-man show – let’s hope two turn up next time”, lines that it later transpired were written by O’Connor himself. 

In 1977, he began hosting the chat show Des O’Connor Tonight, which ran for 25 years. In 2001, he signed a £3.7 million (€4.1 million) deal with ITV for a year’s work, making him Britain’s highest paid TV entertainer. The deal included four one-off specials and a lunchtime chat show, Today With Des and Mel, that he presented with Melanie Sykes. And in 2007 he replaced Des Lynam as the host of the Channel 4 quiz show Countdown. The following year he was appointed CBE. 

Des with carol Vorderman

In 2011, O’Connor starred in Dreamboats and Petticoats at the Playhouse Theatre in London, and the following year he replaced Russell Grant in the West End musical The Wizard of Oz at the London Palladium, as Professor Marvel. At the age of 85 he toured a two-man show with Jimmy Tarbuck, as well as his own one-man show it was about this time Des was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease. 

Des with Jimmy Tarbuck

He had experienced a fall at home in Buckinghamshire and had began to recover but relapsed and died peacefully in hospital on 14 November 2020.  (Edited mainly from The Irish Times & The Independent)