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

Star's legacy lives on

HONKY tonk great Winifred Atwell may have been born in Jamaica but her body rests in a cemetery in South Gundurimba.

It's a surprising note in a life that saw her rub shoulders with some of the most glamorous celebrities of her era on the international music scene.

That life will be celebrated in riproaring style this Friday, at the Lismore Workers' Club, when acclaimed pianist and composer Jan Preston brings Ms Atwell's career to life in a colourful show comprising live music, narration and 150 photos from the National Library.

"Winifred Atwell greatly inspired me as a child," said Ms Preston, who spent 18 months researching the entertainer's life for the show.

"Hers was the one record my parents had and I loved her uplifting and energetic style."

She said Ms Atwell and her husband, Lew Levisohn, had lived on Sydney's Northern Beaches for many years after emigrating here and becoming Australian citizens.

"But on a drive (around the Northern Rivers) they spotted the tiny Lismore Memorial Garden Cemetery, South Gundurimba, and fell in love with its beauty and tranquillity.

"It is quite a thing for such an iconic entertainer to be buried at a little cemetery in the middle of nowhere."

The couple also had a longstanding friendship with a now deceased Catholic priest Father Jim Carney, who was serving at Coraki when Mr Levisohn died, said Ms Preston.

It was reported that Father Carney had been kind to the couple in Mr Levisohn's final days and it was Ms Atwell's wish that he be buried by Father Carney near to his parish and that she be buried beside her beloved husband when the time came.

In an article in The Northern Star, dated March 5, 1983, Father Carney said he had met the couple in Grafton after one of Ms Atwell's performances and the friendship had grown from there.

"Ms Atwell was an extremely devout and very private person," he said. "She never recovered from Lew's death -they were inseparable for 31 years."

Photographer Darcy McFadden, who met Ms Atwell when she performed at Lismore City Hall and covered her funeral for The Northern Star, said her funeral service was attended by a very modest number of people for such a famous person "and a lovely lady".

At this Friday's show, honky tonk fans can expect sparkling renditions of tunes such as The Black and White Rag, 5 Finger Boogie, Harry Lime Theme, Alley Cat and more from Ms Preston, who is known as Australia's queen of boogie piano.

The show starts at 10am and tickets are $5. More info: 6621 7401.

A star remembered

Born Una Winifred Atwell, on the island of Trinidad and Tobago, off the coast of Venezuela, on February 27, 1910.

Studied under Alexander Borovsky in the US and at London's Royal Academy of Music.

By 1950s, Atwell was world famous. She recorded the Winifred Atwell Show in the UK and in Australia while on tour.

She moved to Australia, settling in Sydney, in the 1970s. She continued performing until 1981 and passed away in 1983.

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