JUDITH DURHAM AO
Early in life Judith believed her future would be as a pianist. She went on to gain her Associate In Music, Australia (A.Mus.A.) in classical piano as a student of world-renowned concert pianist Professor Ronald Farren-Price at the Melbourne University Conservatorium, with her first professional engagement in the arts playing piano for a ballet school.
Still in her teens, although excelling on piano, little Judy Cock dreamed of fame singing opera or musical comedy and in 1961, aged 18, she was ready to begin classical vocal training. One night, just for fun, she ‘sat in’ with a trad jazz band at a local dance called “Memphis”, and found instant success performing blues, gospels, and jazz standards of the 1920s and 1930s, also developing as a serious ragtime pianist. She began using her mother’s maiden name, and at 19 she made her first record, an EP for W&G “Judy Durham” with Frank Traynor’s Jazz Preachers.
Meanwhile, by day since leaving school, Judy’s first job was as Secretary to the Pathologist at the Royal Victorian Eye & Ear Hospital, but on taking a new secretarial job at J Walter Thompson Advertising, on her first day she met account executive Athol Guy. Athol played acoustic bass and also sang bass in a trio called The Seekers and invited her that very night to come and join him and the two guitarists Keith Potger and Bruce Woodley, to sing acoustic four-part harmony folk and gospel at a Melbourne coffee lounge “Treble Clef”. Still singing regularly with various jazz bands nearly every other night, she then became a regular every Monday with The Seekers. Adopting her birth name Judith, she recorded an album with The Seekers for W&G, appeared on local TV, then set sail for London in 1964 on “SS Fairsky” for a 10-week stay, singing for their supper on board.
On the advice of Australian entertainer Horrie Dargie, the group sent the album and TV footage ahead to a big theatrical agency, The Grade Organisation, and on their arrival in ‘swinging London’, agent Eddie Jarrett booked them extensively in clubs, TV, and variety theatre. He asked Tom Springfield (Dusty’s brother) to write and produce a single, resulting in the surprise chart-topper “I’ll Never Find Another You” which made The Seekers the first Australian group ever to hit No.1 internationally, made Judith Australia’s very first international pop princess and pin-up girl, and unexpectedly cemented her in the group as a full-time Seeker.
The next few years brought The Seekers worldwide adulation, with tours, more albums, and a succession of huge and lasting hits including “A World Of Our Own”, “The Carnival Is Over” and “Morningtown Ride”, which rivalled all the top groups like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones for the No.1 spot. The Seekers’ biggest international seller was “Georgy Girl”, originally written (music by Tom Springfield, words by Jim Dale) and recorded as the title song for the movie starring Lynn Redgrave, James Mason, Charlotte Rampling and Alan Bates. The song was nominated for an Academy Award® and the single made history when the group became the first Australians ever to reach the No.1 spot in the USA.
In 1967, The Seekers set an official all-time record when more than 200,000 people (nearly one tenth of the city’s entire population at that time!) flocked to their performance at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl in Melbourne. Their TV special ‘The Seekers Down Under’ scored the biggest TV audience ever (with a 67 rating), and early in 1968 they were all awarded the nation’s top honour as “Australians Of The Year 1967”.
But Judith wanted to spread her wings, and without any notion of the lasting universal grief to be suffered by shocked Seekers fans worldwide, she plucked up courage to give ‘the boys’ six months’ notice. She was to leave the group in July 1968 to return to Australia … possibly to pursue a career as a solo singer in opera or musical theatre … and she hoped to find ‘Mr. Right’.
The surprise for Judith was to receive offers as a solo artist, so she asked a London-based freelance musician, Ron Edgeworth, to be her musical director, pianist and arranger. In big demand as a London-based freelance musician, Ron had worked with all the big names, and had earlier toured and recorded with the legendary Alexis Korner’s All Stars.
Judith recorded her first solo album “For Christmas With Love” in Hollywood, headlined her own concert tours in New Zealand and Australia, and was in big demand as a star in concert tours and nightclubs back in the UK. She signed with A&M Records and recorded two beautiful orchestral albums in L.A. and London – “Gift Of Song” and “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” – becoming Mrs. Ron Edgeworth in 1969.
Creating musical magic with Ron through the years, she entertained audiences all over the world with a wonderful mix of music – her one-woman show “An Evening with Judith” stunned audiences and critics with her unique gift for singing in all styles – from folk to country, jazz to pop, blues to gospel, original songs, ragtime piano and even classical. An indelible mark was made with Judith’s transition into her now classic mid-70s trad jazz recordings with bands she formed with Ron in San Francisco and London. “The Hottest Band In Town Collection” is now available though Universal. They also released a legendary album of their piano and voice performance at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1978 (“The Hot Jazz Duo”).
Through the 80s Judith Durham and Ron Edgeworth based themselves on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia, and for the first time Judith concentrated totally on writing and performing her own compositions, even completing a full scale musical “Gotta Be Rainbows” with book written by eminent playwright Ian Austin. Having experienced her very first songwriting success in 1967 with co-writer David Reilly on The Seekers classic “Colours Of My Life”, by the 80s Judith had developed through the decades as a remarkably talented and prolific composer of both lyrics and music, writing more than 300 works to date.
But since 1968, although maturing musically and personally, and receiving countless standing ovations as an international solo concert artist, there was continuing pressure, from fans and media alike, for Judith to reunite with The Seekers ‘just one more time’. Finally in response, Judith rejoined Athol, Keith and Bruce for their 25 year reunion, with some new recordings late in 1992, and in 1993, “The Silver Jubilee Tour” began, expertly guided by manager John Kovac. Now truly icons in the music industry, The Seekers made big news internationally, touring and recording intermittently through the 90s with continuing demand from not only life-long Seekers fans, but another three new generations of fans.
Meanwhile, the Edgeworths celebrated 25 years of marriage just prior to Ron’s sad and untimely death in 1994 from Motor Neurone Disease (MND) and Judith became National Patron of MNDA. Their life together is documented by journalist and music historian Graham Simpson in the authorised biography “The Judith Durham Story : Colours Of My Life“.
In 1996 Judith again toured the UK as a solo artist with the release of “Mona Lisas” (later repackaged as “Always There” in Australia), her Abbey Road album of legendary 60s and 70s covers produced by the late Gus Dudgeon.
To welcome in the new millennium with delighted Seekers fans around the world, she embarked on The Seekers ‘Carnival Of Hits Tour 2000’, and in 2001 Judith celebrated her own remarkable life-long musical journey in her “40th Anniversary” Australian concert tour.
In the same year, as an unexpected treat for loyal Seekers fans, Judith recorded with ‘the boys’ the album “Morningtown Ride To Christmas”, and late in 2002 a double album “Night Of Nights … Live!” was released after The Seekers’ Australian tour, in conjunction with The Seekers’ Australia Post Souvenir Stamp Sheet commemorating 40 years of musical magic from Australia’s first-ever international pop icons.
Other big news in 2002 was that “The Carnival Is Over” now officially ranks at No.30 in the “UK Top 100 Best-Selling Singles Of All Time”. Judith is the only female singer with a 60s hit song to feature in the chart.
2003 was one of Judith`s busiest and most artistically satisfying years to date. In March she toured Australia with ‘the boys’ on The Seekers` `Never Say Never Again! Tour` which was received joyfully by fans all over the country – and with barely a month to get ready, she flew to the UK for her massive solo tour.
The ‘Diamond Tour` – which ran to 35 dates – was a fantastic triumph, playing to ecstatic houses and huge standing ovations at every venue. After an absence of seven years, UK fans just couldn’t get enough of Judith and long queues formed to meet her after every concert. On July 3rd – her 60th birthday – Judith performed at London’s Royal Festival Hall.
It was a magical night. At the end, the audience surged forward, reaching up to the stage to touch Judith, and to present her with flowers, cards, and gifts. The stage filled up with tributes and still the audience cheered, clapped and called for more.
Through the decades, along with Judith’s immense popularity and success as one of the all-time great lead singers of one of the world’s most popular groups, she has always enjoyed the musical freedom of solo work. The release of her powerful and varied first self-penned album ‘Hold On To Your Dream’ was a milestone collection showcasing for the first time her exceptional talent as a composer and lyricist of inspirational and philosophical songs. It featured her glorious anthem for the nation “Australia Land of Today”; her popular 50s doo-wop song “Coulda Woulda Shoulda”; ‘It’s Hard To Leave’ which brings solace in palliative care and comfort to bereaved families and was internationally recognised in a paper at the World Congress of Music Therapy in the UK; the album’s title track ‘Hold On To Your Dream’ has been invoked by fans in achieving previously unattainable goals.
There is increasing global awareness of the unique healing quality of Judith’s singing voice and the uplifting power of many of her compositions, and fans travel halfway around the world especially to hear that legendary ‘one in a million golden voice’ in concert.
In 2006 Judith accepted the invitation of Melbourne’s Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation (LMCF) to record her magnum opus ‘The Australian Cities Suite’ with Orchestra Victoria and all royalties would benefit 400 charities. Judith’s close association with LMCF began following the ‘Key To The City’ presentation to The Seekers late that year when Judith sang her song “Seldom Melbourne Leaves My Mind” from the ‘Suite’ as part of her speech in tribute to her home town. The ‘Suite’ features songs for all the capital cities and includes “Judith Durham’s Advance Australia Fair”, her lyric for contemporary Australia.
In 2011 came the highly publicized signing by Musicoast of Judith’s catalogue to Decca Records/Universal Music Australia. Creatively speaking, Judith had co-produced and recorded her second self-penned album, ‘Epiphany’, which embraced in-depth compositions on a scale not attempted by Judith before – and this album became the first on Decca.
It was followed soon after by Universal’s compilation CD/DVD ‘Colours Of My Life : A 50th Anniversary Retrospective” featuring standout recordings from Judith’s albums through five decades. Subsequently, Judith’s ‘Gift Of Song’ vintage vinyl album was released for the first time on CD, and the 2CD set ‘The Hottest Band In Town Collection’.
The Top 5 chart success of the ‘Colours Of My Life’ CD/DVD was a foretaste of the success of Judith’s first Australian tour in more than a decade. Judith, with her band of five musicians, brought to life many of the songs she had recorded through the decades, combined for the first time with visual memories and images from biographer Graham Simpson’s wonderful archive to share with her audience from around the world.
But the magic date of December 3 2012 loomed large and the tempting joy of celebrating The Seekers’ 50th Birthday with Athol, Keith and Bruce was impossible to resist. Judith was thrilled to embark on a whole year of celebration – marking half a century of Seekers music.
Of one thing Judith is certain, “The Seekers” is a phenomenon – legendary and timeless, spanning all ages and nationalities – and she is grateful to have been given the role of lead singer in the group as well as to have a fulfilling, creative life as a performing artist in her own right, composer, lyricist, writer, poet, actor, company director and senior citizen, turning 70 on July 3 2013.
Judith found herself back in the studio with the group recording and filming two standout tracks for ‘The Golden Jubilee Album: 50 Tracks For 50 Years’. “Silver Threads and Golden Needles” and the visual feast of “In My Life” were destined to be standout moments in ‘The Golden Jubilee Tour’, when The Seekers hit the road in May/June 2013.
Following the media frenzy of their 50th Birthday Party in Melbourne came yet another accolade for The Seekers – the presentation of a 24-carat gold ‘stamp’ by Australia Post as part of their ‘Legends of Australian Music’ series – and the official handover of the portrait of the group to the National Portrait Gallery, painted by Helen Edwards, “The Seekers Reunite 50 Years On”.
The group announced and then sold-out a ‘Golden Jubilee Tour’ of Australia, which was abruptly halted when Judith suffered a brain hemorrhage after the first of four sold-out nights in Melbourne. Six months of hospitalisation and rehabilitation followed – during which time Judith’s commemorative ‘Platinum Album’ was released to mark her 70th birthday – before she was given the green light for the Australian tour to resume.
Another sold-out tour of New Zealand followed, before The Seekers toured the United Kingdom, performing 18 sold-out show culminating in two packed houses at London’s Royal Albert Hall.
Just prior to the return to Australia, The Seekers were advised that they had individually been awarded the Order of Australia (AO) – one of the highest honours that can be bestowed on Australian citizens. Judith would add yet another honour to her tally by being named Victorian of the Year 2015 the following year.
Also, in 2015, Georgy Girl: The Seekers Musical opened to packed house in Melbourne, before moving on to successful seasons in Sydney and Perth. Among the production’s many musical numbers were Judith’s “Mama’s Got the Blues” and “I Remember”, and “Colours of my Life”, which she co-wrote with David Reilly.
Judith undertook a solo ‘farewell’ tour of New Zealand, playing 18 sold-out concerts as her Colours of my Life compilation CD soared to No. 2 on the charts there.
And in 2018, Ambition Entertainment packaged The Seekers’ three record-breaking 60s TV spectacular into one magnificent collector’s edition set, The Seekers: The Legendary Television Specials. Proving again that the music of The Seekers is timeless and much loved, the DVD set reached No. 1 on the ARIA chart!
Another highlight of 2018 is the release of Judith’s first solo studio album in six years. Timed to mark Judith’s 75th birthday, So Much More is a collection of beautiful songs that Judith Durham has composed with some immensely talented writers and musicians from around the world - all lovingly crafted, and superbly sung.
These never-before-released tracks tell of hope and courage, pain and loss, all-consuming devotion, uplifting spirituality, friendship, and a profound love of Australia and its indigenous heritage.
In a career that spans five decades, internationally-acclaimed Judith Durham has fronted Australia’s most celebrated musical export, as well as enjoying her fulfilling, creative life as a performing artist in her own right, composer, lyricist, writer, poet, actor, company director and senior citizen!
BEHIND THE SCENES
Behind the scenes, Judith has been an egg-free vegetarian since 1968, advocating a lifestyle that is non-smoking, environmentally friendly, decaffeinated, teetotal, drug free and cruelty free. Through her website and her production company Musicoast® she enjoys a passionate involvement in recording, composing, music publishing and the entertainment industry.
Judith has been National Patron of the Motor Neurone Disease Association of Australia (MNDAA) since the death of her beloved husband, brilliant pianist Ron Edgeworth, from MND in 1994. She is also Patron of the Injured Nurses Support Group (INSG), the Small Miracles Foundation (formerly Bonnie Babes Foundation), ‘The Georgina Josephine Foundation’ (advocating driveway safety), and The Australian Children’s Choir. Judith supports Yooralla’s disability services, and supports women through her association with the International Women’s Federation of Commerce & Industry (IWFCI), and The Aboriginal Literacy Foundation.
In her appearances with The Seekers, Judith supports The Alfred Hospital in Melbourne, young people through Kids Under Cover and Variety Clubs, and The Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation.
In 1995, The Seekers were inducted into the Australian Record Industry Association’s (ARIA) Hall of Fame, and in that same year Judith was honoured with the Medal of the Order Of Australia (OAM) for services to music, particular as an entertainer and composer.
More recently Judith was awarded the Centenary Medal by the Governor General in 2003 for service to Australian society through music, and was honoured by Rotary International when she was invested as a Paul Harris Fellow in recognition of her work on behalf of charities.
2011/12 brought celebrations of Judith’s 50th anniversary year in the music industry when Musicoast joined forces with Universal Music Australia for a bonanza of album releases and events:
- In October 2011 the release of Judith’s self-penned album ‘Epiphany’ embracing in-depth compositions on a scale not attempted by Judith before and epitomises her God-given gifts which have resulted in her unparalleled success as an Australian musician globally;
- For Christmas 2011, ‘Colours Of My Life : A 50th Anniversary Retrospective’ was released, with 22 specially handpicked tracks from her albums through five decades;
- The release in March 2012 of ‘The Australian Cities Suite’, a major work composed and sung by Judith, with the magnificent Orchestra Victoria under the baton of conductor and arranger Kevin Hocking. Royalties from the album will aid The Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation and the 400 charities they support, including the Motor Neurone Disease Association and Orchestra Victoria;
- Also released in 2012 for the first time on CD and download was Judith’s legendary 1969 album ‘Gift Of Song’, a precious gift for all her fans who have waited so long for the opportunity to hear these rare tracks at their pristine best, newly remastered;
- Judith has also celebrated her 50th anniversary in June/July 2012 with her one-woman show ‘Colours Of My Life’, which toured Australia, drawing on much-loved material recorded over five decades. The tour answered the pleas from fans around the globe to see Judith live on stage.
- In August 2012, a 2CD box set ‘The Hottest Band In Town Collection’ was released featuring Judith’s two acclaimed trad jazz albums from the 1970s, recorded in San Francisco and London with her own trad jazz bands.