Benjamin Baruch Ambrose (15 September 1896 – 11 June 1971) was an English bandleader and violinist. His professional name was officially Bert Ambrose, but he was universally known simply as Ambrose.
Ambrose was born in the East End of London; his father was a Jewish wool merchant. He began playing the violin at a young age, and soon after he was taken to the United States by his aunt he began playing professionally — first for Emil Coleman at New York's Reisenweber's restaurant, then in the Palais Royal's big band. After making a success of a stint as bandleader, at the age of twenty he was asked to put together and lead his own fifteen-piece band. After a dispute with his employer, he moved his band to another venue, where they enjoyed considerable popularity.
In 1922 he returned to London, where he was engaged by the Embassy Club to form a seven-piece band. Ambrose stayed at the Embassy for two years, before walking out on his employer in order to take up a much more lucrative job in New York. After a year there, besieged by continual pleas to return from his ex-employer in London, in 1925 he was finally persuaded to go back by a cable from the Prince of Wales: "The Embassy needs you. Come back — Edward".
This time Ambrose stayed at the Embassy Club until 1927. The club had a policy of not allowing radio broadcasts from its premises, however, and this was a major drawback for an ambitious bandleader; this was largely because the fame gained by radio work helped a band to gain recording contracts (Ambrose's band had been recorded by Columbia Records in 1923, but nothing had come of this). He therefore accepted an offer by the May Fair Hotel, with a contract that included broadcasting.
Ambrose stayed at the May Fair for six years, during which time the band made recordings for Brunswick Records, HMV, and Decca Records. This period also saw the musical development of the band, partly as a result of Ambrose's hiring of first-class musicians, including Sylvester Ahola, Ted Heath, Joe Crossman, Joe Jeannette, Bert Read, Joe Brannelly, Dick Escott, and Max Goldberg.
In 1933 Ambrose was asked to accept a cut in pay at the May Fair; refusing, he went back to the Embassy Club, and after three years there (and a national tour), he rejected American offers and returned to the May Fair Hotel in 1936. He then went into partnership with Jack Harris (an American bandleader), and in 1937 they bought a club together (Ciro's Club); they alternated performances there until a disagreement led to the rupture of their partnership. Ambrose worked at the Café de Paris until the outbreak of World War II, when he again went on tour.
His major discovery in the years leading up to the war was the singer Vera (later Dame Vera) Lynn (b. 1917), who sang with his band from 1937 to 1940 and, during the war, became known as the "Forces' Sweetheart". Lynn married Harry Lewis, a clarinettist in the band, in 1939. Other singers with the Ambrose band included Sam Browne, Elsie Carlisle, Denny Dennis (who recorded a number of duets with Vera Lynn), and Evelyn Dall.
After a short period back at the May Fair Hotel, he retired from performing in 1940 (though he and his orchestra continued to make records for Decca until 1947). Several members of his band became part of the Royal Air Force band, The Squadronaires, during the war. Ambrose's retirement was not permanent, however, and he formed and toured with the Ambrose Octet, and dabbled in management.
In the mid-1950s, despite appearances back in London's West End and a number of recordings for Decca, Ambrose was – in common with other bandleaders – struggling; rock and roll had arrived. He was forced to start performing in small clubs with casual musicians, and his financial position deteriorated catastrophically. His situation was saved, however, when he discovered 16 year old Kathy Kirby singing at the Ilford Palais, and decided to promote her, and her song "Secret Love". They received a lot of embarrassing publicity, when unsavoury stories appeared portraying Ambrose as a kind of "sugar daddy" for the young singer. It must have hurt his pride, but Kathy was a goldmine and he needed the money. He had always been a compulsive gambler, boasting that he spent a million pounds at the tables. Once when in the south of France, he had to wire his London office for money to pay his musicians. The money from Kathy Kirby's stardom would just slip though his hands.
On Saturday, June 11th, 1971, Ambrose collapsed at Yorkshire Television Studios, while Kathy was recording a show, and he died of a haemorrhage that night. It was the end of Kathy's career too, as she never got over his death, nor did she find another mentor. Ambrose's death certificate death shows his place of residence to be 17, Davies Street, Berkeley Square, London and gives his name as "Bert Ambrose otherwise Benjamin Baruch Ambrose".
His music was kept alive after death by, among others, the Radio 2 broadcasters Alan Dell (1924–1995) and Malcolm Laycock, the latter continuing to play his records into the 21st centuury. (Info mainly Wikipedia)