Steve Conway (12 October,1920 – 19 April,1952) One of the finest British ballad singers of his generation, Steve Conway’s death at an early age robbed the musical world of a first-class talent that was only just coming into bloom.
A native of London, Steve Conway was born Walter James Groom in Bethnal Green, East London on 12 October 1920. Throughout his life friends and family called him Jimmy. he was born into a very poor family, his father, Walter Groom being a labourer. As a child, his life was blighted by illness. A severe attack of rheumatic fever left him with the weak heart, which was to dog him for the rest of his life. Despite this debilitating handicap, young Steve was determined to make his way in music.
When the Second World War broke out Conway wanted to enlist but failed the medical. He began to make his name as a singer. The venues for which he was engaged were far from glamorous, but years spent performing in bars, clubs and ballrooms established his reputation as a rising talent. It was during his mid-teens that he
reached one of the crucial turning points of his life, when he met a local East End girl called Lilian Butcher, who worked in a textile factory near his home. Lilian was to become the great love of his life. She was the woman who inspired profound devotion in him and infused his singing with such romantic power. They married in 1941.
During the war, Lilian worked in a munitions factory, but Jimmy had a shock when he tried to enlist for military service. He was declared unfit due to a heart condition, a legacy of childhood rheumatic fever, which had damaged his coronary valves. Unfortunately, Jimmy was never told to seek treatment, a failure that would ultimately have disastrous consequences for him.
1945 was a key year in Steve’s rise to the top of the tree. He made his broadcasting debut on the Variety bandbox Show and was a guest singer with Ambrose and Lew Stone. The composer, arranger and conductor Peter Yorke, was impressed with his singing and invited him to appear in a regular series of programmes with his concert orchestra. He acted as a mentor to Conway and was to play a part in his subsequent recording career.
Steve signed with the UK Columbia label in 1945 and made nearly one hundred sides for the company over the following six years. He could sing almost anything to great effect. No sooner than Steve Conway had begun to realise his dream of stardom, his health began to deteriorate. He toured the large UK variety circuit, but found the hours on the road hard to endure. He was a strong, determined character who kept going for as long as he could, but in the end he was forced to admit defeat. A collapse on stage in December 1951 effectively signalled the end of his working life.
The last few months of Steve Conway’s life were spent going in and out of hospital as his heart condition became progressively more serious. In the spring of 1952 he was admitted for surgery to Guys Hospital in London, where he died on 19 April, only six months short of his thirty-second birthday.
He was cremated at Golders Green Crematorium on the 25th April following a service at 2:30PM. A congregation of about 100 attended which included bandleaders, vocalists, musicians, recording executives, music publishers, song writers, artistes, agents, managers and reporters. Amongst the many wreaths from fans and stars alike was one from his daughter and was in the shape of a miniature chair inscribed "Daddy's Little Girl", a poignant memory of his hit song.
What was so remarkable about Conway’s all-too-brief spell of fame was that he had no musical training whatsoever. He never sang in a school or church choir as a youth; nor did he ever learn to read music. But he always had an extraordinary, natural ear for music, which meant that he could repeat the notes of a tune to perfection after just one hearing. When he had seen a musical for the first time, he could hum the entire score immediately afterwards. This ability was combined with his instinctive gifts both for interpreting a melody and for bringing sincerity to a lyric, all factors that made him such a compelling singer.
Given a longer life span it is highly probable that a singer of his quality would have gone on to become an international star. His abrupt and premature end was a cruel injustice, which denied his reputation the lasting greatness that his talent deserved. As it was, his contribution to the music of post-war Britain was enormous. He is one of those artists who will always be remembered with immense pleasure by those who appreciate first-rate music. With mournful appropriateness, the last song that Steve Conway recorded was entitled With All My Heart and Soul. It was a sad twist of fate that the man who made romance the enriching central theme of his life, both on and off the stage, should have died of damaged heart.
(Info edited from Tony Watts & The Independent article “Ode to Steve Conway “and various sources )