Judith Durham OAM
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.
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”.
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.
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.
‘Judith Durham, like Karen Carpenter and Eva Cassidy, possesses the purest voice in popular music. When she recorded one of my songs I was so flattered and love her version. She made the song her own – a very enviable talent.’
Sir Elton John CBE
‘A lot of people sing well – very few have individuality – there’s only one Judith Durham!’
Sir Cliff Richard OBE
‘It should be remembered that Judith Durham was the first internationally famous Australian singer since Dame Nellie Melba, with a possible exception of (Dame) Joan Sutherland. Judith Durham and the Seekers gave musical expression to an era of charm and innocence we will never see again.’
Barry Humphries AO CBE
‘Ever since I first heard Judith Durham’s radiant voice, I knew that there was something very unique, individual and powerful about the way in which it affected me – and does so for many people around the world. How wonderful, then, that Judith has just been signed to Universal Music Australia. Once more, thousands, millions, will appreciate the power and beauty and honesty of her once-in-a-lifetime artistry.”
‘The voice that bonds The Seekers sound and their songs into the hearts and lives of our many friends takes off again on its own. Your “boys” will always be watching and applauding from the wings wherever you may be.
Much Love. Athol Guy, Keith Potger, Bruce Woodley (The Seekers)
‘Judith Durham, with that clear warm clarion call of a voice. There could not have been a better choice for the sound that would introduce Georgy to the film’s audience … (There she was) …my singing alter ego’.
‘Judith Durham has one of the purest sweetest voices that, as of today, no one else has been able to emulate.’
‘When Judith was my guest on Surprise, Surprise, I saw how much her warm personality and natural approach to her music mean to her fans. That ‘surprise’ meant a great deal to one man. Judith never forgets who put her where she is today. She is a woman after my own heart.’
Cilla Black OBE
‘For me, Judith has always been a great solo artist. That beautiful jewel of a voice cuts right through, and everything around it serves as a setting for its purity of purpose. I am and always have been a Judith Durham fan.
‘Judith has a unique voice full of power and clarity. I think she is a top-class talent.’
- Australia’s first international pop princess as lead singer with The Seekers
- ‘The Judith Durham Look’ was announced in 2011 by Rockabilly Modelling Agency in California: Click Here.
- Judith gets emails from men all over the world in love with her all their lives, even as a “sex symbol” in their eyes!
- ‘Australian Of The Year 1967’ – jointly with fellow Seekers Athol Guy, Keith Potger and Bruce Woodley. Judith is the 11th female recipient since the inauguration of the Award.
- www.judithdurham.com – 50% of Judith’s emails come from USA. and 30% from UK.
- Two musicals in the pipeline for Musicoast:
- ‘Gotta Be Rainbows : The Musical’ (19 of Judith’s compositions)
- ‘Australia Land Of Today : Oratorio’ (25 of Judith’s compositions)
- Judith composes both words and music, whereas many songwriters compose or write either the music or the lyrics but not both, for example Elton John, Burt Bacharach and Andrew Lloyd Webber compose music not lyrics.
- Judith recorded with Silverchair – “English Garden” was a bonus download with their ARIA award winning album ‘Straight Lines’ 2006
- Prior to superstardom:
- studied classical piano for 11 years (A.Mus.A.) under Professor Ronald Farren-Price
- avid ragtime pianist.
- performed and recorded with traditional jazz bands singing Dixieland, blues and gospel.
- with a soprano voice Judith aspired to musical comedy or studying opera.
- Judith has written a contemporary lyric for ‘Advance Australia Fair’ which does not exclude or alienate Aboriginal Australians.
- In 2011 ‘Colours Of My Life – A 50th Anniversary Retrospective’ was released to celebrate Judith’s 50 years in the music industry
- Musicoast joined forces with Universal Music, which plans to release Judith’s entire back catalogue on its prestigious Decca label, including ‘The Hottest Band In Town Collection’ and ‘Gift Of Song’. along with several stunning new recording projects, including Judith’s self-penned albums ‘Epiphany’ and ‘The Australian Cities Suite’, and ’An ‘A Cappella Experience’ – spiritual songs and poems on CD and DVD.
- Judith advocates an alcohol-free, caffeine-free, egg-free, cruelty-free, environmentally-friendly vegetarian lifestyle.
- “I’ll Never Find Another You” (Number One hit):
- first group ever to reach No 1 on the UK charts with their first three singles
- first Australian group ever to reach No 1 in UK with a debut record
- currently 6 million+ hits on youtube
- “The Carnival Is Over” (Number One hit):
- outsold The Beatles and The Rolling Stones 1965
- statistically No. 30 in ‘UK Top 100 Best Selling Singles Of All Time’ Judith was the only female
- singer with a 60s hit song to feature in the chart.
- “Georgy Girl” (Number One hit):
- first Australian group to reach No 1 on UK charts
- first Australian group to reach No. 1 on USA charts.
- nominated for an Academy Award ‘Best Song In A Movie’
- Biggest concert crowd in southern hemisphere – more than 200,000 people!
- Highest Australian television 67 rating ‘The Seekers Down Under’ (1967)
- ARIA Hall Of Fame (1995) and ‘Key To The City’ of Melbourne (2006)
- To bring 2012 to a very fulfilling close, Judith, along with Athol, Keith and Bruce, are looking forward to their 50th Anniversary celebrations, with a cup of tea on December 3rd.
Graham Simpson’s best-selling biography ‘The Judith Durham Story : Colours Of My Life’ (including personal tributes for Judith from many of her contemporaries such as Sir Elton John, Sir Cliff Richard, Barry Humphries AO CBE, Lynn Redgrave OBE, and Sarah Duchess Of York).
“Durham’s uncannily pure delivery was a revelation” – LONDON EVENING STANDARD, 1994
“ … the passion and emotive power of Durham’s powerful stirring voice” – THE DAILY MAIL, LONDON, 1994
“Durham’s bell-like tones were gloriously sure and stirring” – THE TIMES, LONDON, 1994
“I would walk over hot coals to hear her again” – SOUTH WALES ECHO, WALES
“Fantastique!” – LE CANARD ENCHAINE, PARIS
“audience … rapturous in their response, rising to their feet …so that her return was inevitable” – COURIER-MAIL, BRISBANE 2008
“Though diminutive, her stage presence remains enormous. And then there’s that voice …” – QUEENSLAND TIMES, 2008
“Durham’s vocal power is still wondrous …” – QUEENSLAND TIMES, 2008
“… an evening with true musical royalty …” – QUEENSLAND TIMES, 2008
“Judith Durham returned to her jazz roots with this extraordinary album of big-band blues and jazz standards, augmented by three excellent originals by the singer herself … Durham belts these numbers out like a latter-day Ethel Merman, only bigger voiced and with an excellent feel for the genre and the sound in which she’s working … “Body and Soul,” “Gimme a Pigfoot and a Bottle of Beer,” “Am I Blue,” “Sister Kate (I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My),” “The World’s Jazz Crazy,” and “Cakewalkin’ Babies from Home” are overpowering evocations of a sound that was just about current when Durham was born, and that she’s taken to heart as her own, even more natural than her folk-based stylings with the Seekers. Her originals, “I Wanna Dance to Your Music” and “Mama’s Got the Blues” are a match for any of those standards, at least in Durham’s hands as a singer, and lead one to believe that she could’ve had a career scoring musicals, had she been born 40 years earlier (and she still could on TV — “I Wanna Dance to Your Music” sounds like a television series scenario set stunningly to music). One of the two new bonus tracks on the CD, “Gloryland,” is a doubly interesting cut as well as a killer performance, for it is the kind of song that the Seekers might’ve done, and would’ve done as four big voices with acoustic 6- and 12-string guitars — here, it’s got a jazz band accompaniment and give Durham a chance to soar as a solo vocal in ways that her Seekers fans could drop their jaws over … The album is also a dazzling showcase for the Hottest Band in Town (especially pianist/arranger Ron Edgeworth), who display a love and familiarity with this repertory the equal of Durham’s. There’s not a weak moment on the album, which is a must-own for fans of big-band jazz or blues vocals” – ALL MUSIC GUIDE
“ … hot-momma Judith belts out a touch of the blues …” – RECORD MIRROR, UK
“ … this album really swings …” – DONCASTER GAZETTE, YORKSHIRE UK
“ … a band that lives up to its name … this album really swings …” – NOTTINGHAM EVENING POST UK
“It’s amazing how such a big sound comes from such a petite frame …” – SOUTH WALES ECHO, UK
“Judith Durham was, and is, one of the classier singers to crack the hit parade …” – MELODY MAKER, UK
“ … Judith Durham’s lusty singing rates her a high place among non-American jazz singers … with top gear larynx going to work for her she is able to holler out some of the Bessie pieces like Gimme A Pigfoot, Alexander’s Ragtime Band and Cakewalking Babies From Home with an estimable relish …” – RECORDS & RECORDING, UK
“ This is razzamatazz at its best …” – THURROCK GAZETTE, ESSEX UK
“Judith’s voice is big and clear, and she uses it with complete understanding of these demanding songs, and how to project them … a great disc …” – THE SUN, MELBOURNE AUSTRALIA
“The Hottest Band In Town aren’t given that label for nothing … they swing along…” – THE AGE, MELBOURNE AUSTRALIA
“Miss Durham, doing what she likes best, singing trad jazz standards in what could be, if only more people realised it, one of the great voices of our time …” – THE STAGE, UK