The grave of Winifred Atwell  at the Memorial gardens at South Gundurimba.

Photo Jacklyn Wagner / The Northern Star
The grave of Winifred Atwell at the Memorial gardens at South Gundurimba. Photo Jacklyn Wagner / The Northern Star Jacklyn Wagner

Boogie woogie beauty took the world by storm

SHE holds the title of being the first black person to have a number-one hit in the UK Singles Chart and is still the only female instrumentalist to do so.

Winifred Atwell may have been born in Trinidad Tobago but the Northern Rivers can claim to be her last resting place.

The boogie-woogie and ragtime musician is buried at South Gundurimba cemetery next to her husband Lew Levisohn.

She packed an amazing musical career into her 73 years.

RAGTIME: British piano player Winifred Atwell in her prime.
RAGTIME: British piano player Winifred Atwell in her prime.

Born Una Winifred Atwell in 1910, she trained as a pharmacist as her parents owned a chemist in Trinidad and she was expected to join the family business.

She had always played the piano from a young age and was very popular on a local level thanks to her musical talents.

It was while she playing at the Servicemen's Club at Piarco in northern Trinidad that someone bet her she could not play something in the boogie woogie style that was popular back home in the United States.

She went and wrote "Piarco Boogie", which was later renamed "Five Finger Boogie".

Her talent took her to the United States in the early 1940s where she studied under Russian-American pianist Alexander Borovsky.

In 1946 she moved to London to study at the Royal Academy of Music and became the first female pianist to be awarded the academy's highest grading for musicianship.

Atwell's career would see her to go on and top the bill at the London Palladium, create standing room only crowds throughout Europe and Australasia, play three Royal Variety Performances and appear in every capital city in Europe, playing for more than 20 million people.

At one point at a private party for Queen Elizabeth II she was called back for an encore by the monarch herself, who requested Roll Out the Barrel.

She also had her own series in Britain called Bernard Delfont Presents The Winifred Atwell Show.

In Australia she was greeted as an international celebrity and her tour broke box-office records on the Tivoli circuit, bringing in A£600,000 in box office receipts.

She was paid AUS$5,000 a week (the equivalent of around $50,000 today), making her the highest paid star from a Commonwealth country to visit Australia up to that time.

On a visit to the Northern Rivers, Atwell and her husband Levisohn loved the tranquility and beauty of the South Gundurimba cemetery.

 

Historic: Musicians: Pianists
The Funeral of Una Winifred Atwell, Trinidad-born British pianist, at Lismore memorial Garden Cemetry at South Gundurimba in March 1983.
Photo Warren Croser / The Northern Star
Historic: Musicians: Pianists The Funeral of Una Winifred Atwell, Trinidad-born British pianist, at Lismore memorial Garden Cemetry at South Gundurimba in March 1983. Photo Warren Croser / The Northern Star Northern Star Archives

Their friendship with Coraki priest Father Jim Carney explained why it was Atwell's wish that when they time came, they be buried near his parish.

In 1980 she suffered a stroke and eventually died of a heart attack in 1983.

Reference

  • 'Winifred Atwell' Wikipedia, accessed November 29, 2016.
  • 'Winifred Atwell flair revisited', Northern Star, March, 7, 2016, Page 4.

Addition

In our last Tales from the Grave 'Mystery surrounds lonely grave on Bruxner Highway', the picture was supplied by historian James Speeding



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