Winifred Atwell and her 'other piano': 16 hit singles and a 'blanket of silence', sounding the limits of jazz

McKay, George (2014) Winifred Atwell and her 'other piano': 16 hit singles and a 'blanket of silence', sounding the limits of jazz. In: Black British Jazz: Routes, Ownership and Performance. Ashgate, Farnham, pp. 153-172. ISBN 9781472417565

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Abstract

From Tunapuna, Trinidad, Winifred Atwell (c. 1914-1983) was a classically trained ragtime and boogie-woogie style pianist who gained quite remarkable popularity in Britain, and later also Australia, in the 1950s, in live and recorded music, as well as in the developing television industry. In this chapter I outline her extraordinary international musical biography as a chart-topping pop and television star—innovative achievements for a black migrant female musician which are arguably thrown into more dramatic light by virtue of the fact that Atwell has been Wiinifred Atwell and her 'other piano' with rhythm accompaniment (no. 1, 1954)and remains a neglected figure in media and popular music (let alone jazz) history. I pay particular attention to her performative tactics and repertoire, developing material I introduced first in Circular Breathing: The Cultural Politics of Jazz in Britain. But our interest in Atwell should stem not only from her position as a significant figure neglected by history, for she speaks also to definitional issues of jazz. The chapter progresses into a discussion of the extent to which Atwell is a limit case of jazz in the developing pop world of the 1950s on…. Atwell topped the British singles charts twice, with 14 other top-30 singles during the 1950s, and she was also the first black million-selling singles artist in British pop history. Most of these achievements were the result of her playing jazz-derived instrumental music (solo or with a trio or quartet: piano-guitar-bass-drums). (Here you can read an interview I did with her drummer from the period, Colin Bailey.) Hers was a striking early example of a multiplatform media and music success: prestigious live performances and international tours, hit records, pop-jazz and classical repertoires, radio broadcasts, sheet music and piano instruction book sales, television presenter fronting her own series (on both main British channels and in Australia), and film appearances on screen and in the soundtrack…

Item Type: Book Section
Uncontrolled Keywords: women in jazz,trinidad
Faculty \ School: Faculty of Arts and Humanities > School of Art, Media and American Studies
University of East Anglia > Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Research Groups > Film, Television and Media
Depositing User: Pure Connector
Date Deposited: 26 Nov 2014 15:54
Last Modified: 01 Sep 2020 00:05
URI: https://ueaeprints.uea.ac.uk/id/eprint/50885
DOI:

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