Beryl Audrey Bryden was born in Norwich, the only child of Amos and Elsie Bryden. Her love of jazz music began in her teenage years and she joined the local branch of the National Rhythm Club movement at the age of seventeen and became the Norwich club’s secretary by 1941. On a visit to London she heard black musicians playing at the Jigs Club in Soho, which was to have a profound influence on the course of her life.
In 1942 Beryl moved to Cambridge, where she ran the city’s Rhythm Club and began singing Billie Holiday’s songs. At the end of the war she moved to London determined to become part of the jazz world. She sang semi-professionally and met and worked with Humphrey Lyttleton, Clinton Maxwell, George Webb, Cy Laurie and John Haim’s Jelly Roll Kings, and made her recording début in 1948 with the trumpeter Freddy Randall. She sang early songs by Bessie Smith and accompanied herself on a metal washboard.
In May 1949 Bryden formed Beryl’s Back-Room Boys, with whom she broadcast before joining the trumpeter Mike Daniels as commpère and singer at his Delta Jazz Club in Soho. It was there, in 1952, that she met the French clarinettist Maxime Saury; he engaged her to sing with his band at the Vieux Colombier in Paris, which was her first professional engagement. It was in Paris that she befriended notable American expatriates, among them the trumpeter Bill Coleman, the singer Billie Holiday, and the pianist Mary Lou Williams, with whom she recorded.
As European re-creations of pre-war traditional jazz grew in popularity in the 1950s, Bryden sang and recorded with the trombonist Chris Barber and played the washboard with his guitarist Lonnie Donegan; their record of Rock Island Line (1956) sold 2 million copies and entered the British and United States hit parades.
She later graduated to the Monty Sunshine jazz band, where she covered Bessie Smith ("Young Woman's Blues", "Gimme a Pigfoot (And a Bottle of Beer)") and long-term favourite "Coney Island Washboard Blues", which demonstrated her washboard technique.
Here's a solo effort on the Columbia label from 1962 with accompaniment directed by Ken Jones.
She continued to travel in Europe, where she worked with the Dutch Swing College Band and then, as the ‘trad boom’ became big business in Britain, was heard with the genre’s more sophisticated representatives such as the trumpeter Alex Welsh.
Bryden did not make her American debut until the 1970s, although in the years to follow she toured the U.S. on a regular basis, appearing both as a solo performer and in tandem with jazz players like Pete Allen; while abroad, she also recorded the 1975 LP Way Down Yonder in New Orleans. She also became the only British female jazz musician to be awarded the freedom of the City of New Orleans.
Bryden announced her retirement during the early 1980s, but she continued appearing live on a regular basis for years to follow. She played with the Metropolitan Jazz Band, Digby Fairweather and her own Blue Boys. Beryl was a larger-than-life figure who dressed in zebra-striped gowns, wore sculptured blonde wigs, and played a star-spangled washboard. Though her repertoire was from the lighter side of jazz she earned respect for her sincerity and interest in authenticity. She travelled widely and practised her hobbies of photography and deep-sea diving, she lived for many years at 166 Gloucester Terrace, Paddington, London.
Her last recording session was to take place in Holland in March 1997 alongside her old mate, Nat Gonella, after which her health began to fail and sadly on the 14th July 1998, Beryl died from lymphatic cancer at St Mary’s Hospital, Paddington, London, aged 78. (Info edited from Wikipedia & AMG & mainly norfolkwomeninhistory.com)
Below is a clip taken on the 21st June 1997, at The Kings Head in Swinton Street, London and this is probably the last time that Beryl appeared in 'public'. The event was a 50th Anniversary reunion of John Haim's Jellyroll Kings, with which Beryl sometimes sang. She was accompanied here by Alan Wickham trumpet, Cy Laurie clarinet, Ray Foxley piano and John Westwood drums.