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  • Chrissy Hamlin

Marie Lloyd & Winifred Atwell - Kate Garner's Inspiring Musical Women

Singer, Songwriter and Musician Kate Garner, is the daughter of the late Chas Hodges from the legendary Cockney sing-a-long duo, Chas & Dave. When Kate appeared on our podcast in December 2021, she chose three very interesting #InspiringWomen to talk to me about: Musical Hall Singer, Marie Lloyd, Trinidadian Pianist Winifred Atwell, and her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II. In the blog post below you can discover more about the two musical

women who have inspired Kate's songs and her love of vintage music.

First, here's a short video tribute to Marie Lloyd by Kate Garner


Marie Lloyd was one of the most popular Music Hall performers of the late 19th and early 20th Century, but offstage her personal life was far from happy, she had two abusive marriages, and despite her high earnings, she ended her life in financial difficulty.

Marie Lloyd was born on 12 February 1870 in Hoxton, London. Her real name was Matilda Alice Victoria Wood and she was the eldest of nine children. Her mother, also called Matilda, was a dressmaker and costume designer, and her father, John, was an artificial flower arranger and a waiter. Lloyd often played truant from school as a child, and looked after her younger siblings whilst her parent's were working.

She and her sister, Alice, would often produce "shows" at home which they would perform for the entire family. In 1879 Matilda and her siblings formed a theatrical act called the "Fairy Bell Troupe". Aged just 10, Matilda and the troupe, with their mother providing the costumes, conducted their first performance at a mission in Nile Street, Hoxton, in 1880. They followed this up with an appearance the Blue Ribbon Gospel Temperance Mission later the same year, where they performed temperance songs, teaching people about the dangers of alcohol abuse.

Her father got Matilda an unpaid job as a table singer at the Eagle Tavern in Hoxton, where he worked as a waiter. She also earned money by making babies' boots, and, later, curled feathers for hat making. However she was sacked from that job when she was caught

dancing on the tables by the foreman.

It was clear that young Matilda really wanted a proper career on the stage. Her parents were initially opposed to the idea but they eventually relented when they saw just how determined she was.

On 9 May 1885, at the age of 15, Matilda made her professional solo stage début at the Grecian Music Hall in the Eagle Tavern, under the name "Matilda Wood". She performed "In the Good Old Days" and "My Soldier Laddie". Matilda then got a booking at the Sir John Falstaff music hall in Old Street where she sang a series of romantic ballads and appeared on stage in costumes designed by her mother.

Her very first stage name was "Bella Delmere" and lthough her performances were a success, she often sung other artists' songs without their permission. One performer even threatened her with an legal injunction! When the Collins Music Hall in Islington wanted to celebrate their refurbishment, they booked "Bella Delamere" to appear. She then performed at the Hammersmith Temple of Varieties and the Middlesex Music Hall in Drury Lane. On 3 February 1886, she appeared at the prestigious Sebright Music Hall in Bethnal Green, where she met George Ware, who was a prolific composer of music hall songs. Ware became her agent, and gave her original songs to sing. He also told her to change her stage name to "Marie Lloyd" because it sounded better.

Marie Lloyd first performed under her new name on 22 June 1886 at the Falstaff Music Hall, where she sung the song "The Boy I Love Is Up in the Gallery". This song by George Ware, had originally been written for another Music Hall performer, Nelly Power. By 1887, Lloyd's performance of the song had become so popular that she was in demand in London's West End. She performed at the Oxford Music Hall, where she entertained the audience with her expert" skirt dancing" - cheekily revealing glimpses of her ankles and legs whilst singing. Although many of Marie Lloyd's songs could be considered quite "risque" and rude, she always carried it off in a highly comedic way, by winking cheekily and smiling at the audience. She also began making all her own stage costumes, a skill she had learned from her mother, and she continued to do for the rest of her career.

After playing the Star Palace of Varieties in Bermondsey, at the start of 1886, she then went on a month-long tour of Ireland, earning £10 per week. When the tour ended, she returned to East London to perform at the Sebright Music Hall, Bethnal Green again, where she was now in high demand. By the end of 1886, Lloyd was playing in several halls each night and was earning around £100 per week.

While appearing at the Foresters music hall in Mile End, Marie Lloyd met Percy Charles Courtenay, a racecourse ticket tout from south London. When she became pregnant by Courtenay, they quickly got married on 12 November 1887 in Hoxton. In May 1888, Lloyd gave birth to her daughter, Marie Courtenay. Percy Courtenay was a gambler and a heavy drinker and Lloyd's friends and family all disliked him. The marriage was not a happy one. When Lloyd rented a room in her home, to a 13 year old Music Hall performer called Bella Burge, Courtenay became jealous of their friendship. He also hated his wife throwing parties for all her theatrical friends.

In October 1888, Lloyd returned to the stage in a Pantomime in Hoxton. It would run until February 1889, giving her the security of a few months regular work, near to her home and baby daughter. The following year, she appeared at Empire, the Alhambra theatres, the Trocadero Palace of Varieties, and the Royal Standard playhouse. She also gave birth to a stillborn child in 1889.

By 1891 Marie Lloyd had a catalogue of hit songs and was considered a major name in the music halls and in pantomime. When she appeared at the Oxford music hall in June, the audience cheered so loudly for her return that the following act could not be heard. During the summer months, she went on tour to Liverpool, Birmingham and Manchester, where she was so popular, she had to cancel a trip to Paris just so she could appear on stage in England for 6 extra nights. Between 1891 - 1893, Lloyd was recruited by the impresario Augustus Harris to appear alongside Dan Leno in the spectacular Theatre Royal, Drury Lane Christmas pantomimes. In her professional life things could not be better.

In her private life, things were not going well however. On 12 January 1892, Lloyd and Courtenay had a drunken fight in her Drury Lane dressing room after her evening pantomime performance. Courtenay pulled a sword off the wall and threatened to cut her throat; Lloyd managed to escape from the abuse with cuts bruises and reported the incident to the police.

Lloyd made her American stage début in 1893, appearing at Koster and Bial's Music Hall in New York. She came back to play in London, and then went on to perform in France, where she was also very popular.

In May 1894, Courtenay followed Lloyd to the Empire, Leicester Square, where she was performing, and attempted to batter her with a stick, shouting: "I will gouge your eyes out and ruin you!" He missed Lloyd, but struck her young friend and lodger, Bella Burge, in the face instead.

After this incident Lloyd was sacked by the Empire Theatre, who were fearful of the bad publicity. After leaving Courtenay and moving to 73 Carleton Road, Tuffnell Park, Lloyd applied for a restraining warrant, preventing Courtenay from contacting her. When Lloyd begun a relationship with music hall singer Alec Hurley, Courtenay initiated divorce proceedings in 1894 on the grounds of her adultery.

Lloyd's risqué songs were often criticized by theatre reviewers and influential feminists alike. Laura Ormiston Chant, who was a member of the Social Purity Alliance, disliked the bawdiness of music hall performances, and thought that the venues were attractive to prostitutes. She campaigned for large screens to be placed around the promenade at the Empire Theatre in Leicester Square, as part of the licensing conditions. The screens were unpopular and protesters later pulled them down.

That November at the Tivoli theatre, Lloyd performed "Johnny Jones", a ditty about a girl who is taught the facts of life by her best male friend. The song, although not lyrically obscene, was considered to be offensive largely because of the manner in which Lloyd sang it, adding winks and gestures, and creating a conspiratorial relationship with her audience. Social reformers cited "Johnny Jones" as being offensive, but less so compared to some other songs of the day.

Upon the expiry of a music hall's entertainments licence, the Licensing Committee tried to use the lyrical content of music hall songs as evidence against a renewal. As a result, Lloyd was summoned to perform some of her songs in front of a council committee. She sang "Oh! Mr Porter" ; "A Little of What You Fancy"; and, "She Sits Among the Cabbages and Peas", which she retitled "I Sits Amongst the Cabbages and Leeks". The numbers were sung in such a way that the committee had no reason to find anything amiss. Feeling disgruntled at the council's interference, she then sung Alfred Tennyson's drawing-room ballad "Come into the Garden, Maud" with leers and nudges to illustrate each innuendo. The committee were left stunned at the performance, but Lloyd argued afterwards that the rudeness was "all in the mind".

In 1896, Lloyd sailed to South Africa with her daughter, who appeared as Little Maudie Courtenay on the same bill as her mother. The following year, Lloyd travelled to New York where she re-appeared at Koster and Bial's Music Hall. After the tour, Lloyd returned to London, and at Christmas, she appeared in pantomime, at the Crown Theatre in Peckham, in a production of Dick Whittington.

In February 1900, Lloyd was the subject of a benefit performance at the Crown Theatre in Peckham. Kate Carney, Vesta Tilley and Joe Elvin were among the star turns who performed before the main piece, Cinderella, which starred Lloyd, her sister Alice, Kittee Rayburn and Jennie Rubie.

Before her divorce from Courtenay had been granted, Lloyd went to live with her lover Alec Hurley in Southampton Row, London. Hurley regularly appeared on the same bill as Lloyd and his calm nature seemed to be a complete contrast to the abusive personality of Courtenay.

Lloyd and Hurley did a 2 month tour of Australia in 1901, opening at Harry Rickards Opera House in Melbourne on 18 May with their own version of "The Lambeth Walk". They returned to London where Lloyd appeared in The Revue, written by Charles Raymond and Phillip Yorke with lyrics by Roland Carse and music by Maurice Jacobi. It was staged at the Tivoli theatre, in celebration of the Coronation of King Edward VII.

Lloyd was divorced from Percy Courtenay in May 1905, and then married Alec Hurley on 27 October 1906. Although he was a successful artist himself, after they married Hurley began feeling a little sidelined by his wife's continued popularity. There was also much disgruntlement in the world of Music Hall Artists in general at this time, which led to later industrial action.

In 1906, the first strike was initiated by the Variety Artistes' Federation. The following year, the Music Hall War commenced, which saw the Federation fight for more freedom and better working conditions on behalf of all regular music-hall performers. Although as a big name "Star" Lloyd commanded and negotiated her own individual booking fees, she nevertheless supported the strike, stood on picket lines, and gave generously to the strike fund. To raise spirits, she often performed for the other strikers, whilst standing on picket lines and she also took part in a fundraising performance at the Scala Theatre. During one demonstration, she recognized a female singer she knew, trying to enter the theatre by the back door and shouted, "Let her through, girls, she'll close the music hall faster than we can." That singer was Belle Elmore, who was later murdered by her husband, Dr. Crippen.

Lloyd went on another American tour with Alec Hurley in 1908 but by 1910 their marriage was effectively over. Hurley just could not tolerate Lloyd's frequent parties and her lifestyle. Lloyd then openly began an affair with jockey, Bernard Dillon, who had won the 1910 Derby. However, like Courtenay and Hurely before him, Dillon also found it hard to adapt to Lloyd's sociable life, especially once she left her marital home in Hampstead and moved to Golders Green with him. His success and fame on the racecourse was short lived, and in 1911, he was expelled from the Jockey Club for borrowing £660 to bet on his own horses to win. Dillon's horses lost, and he ended up in debt to trainers. He then became jealous of Lloyd's success and of her constantly being in the spotlight. Dillon became depressed, began drinking heavily, and put on weight. He also started to abuse Lloyd physically. Alec Hurley, meanwhile, had initiated divorce proceedings against Marie, and was also drinking heavily, which effectively finished his theatrical career forever.

When the Australian Theatre impresario Oswald Stoll, organized The Royal Command Performance at the Palace Theatre in London in 1912, he left Marie Lloyd off the Bill, due to her "coarseness and vulgarity". In retaliation, Lloyd staged her own show at the London Pavilion, advertising that "every one of her performances was a command performance by order of the British public".

In 1913, Lloyd was booked to appear at the Palace Theatre in New York. She and Dillon travelled to America on the RMS Olympic as "Mr. & Mrs. Dillon". When they were met at the American port by her sister Alice, who had lived in the country for many years, Lloyd and Dillon were refused entry by the authorities, who discovered they were not married, as they had claimed when applying for entry visas. Dillon and Lloyd were detained and threatened with deportation on the grounds of moral turpitude and were sent to Ellis Island while an enquiry took place. Dillon was charged under the White Slave Act with attempting to take into the country a woman who was not his wife, and Lloyd was charged with being a passive agent. After a lengthy enquiry, a surety of $300 each, and an imposed condition that they were to live apart while in America, the couple were allowed to stay until March 1914. Alice later stated that "the indignity of the subsequent experience while in custody went to Marie's heart in a way she never survived. She could not bear to talk of that awful twenty-four hours."

The American tour was a success, with Lloyd performing to packed theatres, however, the domestic abuse and frequent assaults that she received from Dillon, caused her to miss several important performances. This angered the theatre manager, Edward Albee, who threatened her with a breach of contract action. Lloyd claimed that illness made it difficult for her to perform but the theatrical press speculated "In vaudeville circles her domestic relations are thought to be at the bottom of her attacks of disposition."

Alec Hurley died of pleurisy and pneumonia on 6 December 1913. Lloyd heard the news while appearing in Chicago and sent a wreath with a note saying "until we meet again". She was reported in The Morning Telegraph as saying: "With all due respect to the dead, I can cheerfully say that's the best piece of news I've heard in many years, for it means that Bernard Dillon and I will marry as soon as this unlucky year ends." Despite the fact that he was regularly being abusive to her, Lloyd went ahead and married Dillon on 21 February 1914, the ceremony taking place at the British Consulate in Portland, Oregon. When the tour finished, Lloyd commented, "I will never forget the humiliation to which I have been subjected and I shall never sing in America again, no matter how high the salary offered."

Lloyd and Dillon returned to England in June 1914 and she began touring the UK. Then the Great War began which threw the music-hall world into disarray. The atmosphere in London's music halls turned patriotic, and theatre proprietors held charity events and benefits to help the war effort. Lloyd played her part and frequently visited hospitals, including the Ulster Volunteer Force Hospital in Belfast, where she interacted with wounded servicemen. She also toured munitions factories to help boost public morale, but received no official recognition for her war work.

In January 1915, Lloyd appeared at the Crystal Palace, where she entertained over ten thousand troops. At the end of that year, she performed her only war song, "Now You've Got your Khaki On", composed for her by Charles Collins and Fred W. Leigh. Lloyd's brother John appeared with her on stage dressed as a soldier. She seldom toured during the war, but briefly performed a few shows in 1916. By the end of that year, she had suffered a nervous breakdown which she blamed on her hectic workload and a delayed reaction to Alec Hurley's death. During the war years, Lloyd's public image had also been tarnished due to her violent relationship with Dillon.

In July 1916, Dillon was conscripted into the army, He applied for exemption on the grounds he had to look after his parents and four brothers, but his claim was rejected. He later tried to convince army officials that he was far too obese to carry out military duties. When Dillon was allowed home on leave, he would indulge in heavy drinking sessions. One evening, Lloyd's good friend Bella Burge answered a knock at her front door to find a hysterical Lloyd covered in blood and badly bruised. Lloyd said that she had caught Dillon in bed with another woman, and they had fought.

By 1917, Dillon's drinking had become even worse. In June, two constables were called to Lloyd and Dillon's house in Golders Green after Dillon drunkenly assaulted his wife. Police entered the house and found Lloyd and her maid cowering beneath a table. Dillon confronted the constables and assaulted one of them, which resulted in him being taken to court, fined and sentenced to a month's hard labour. Then Lloyd herself began drinking to escape the trauma of her domestic abuse.

In 1917, she was earning £470 per week performing in music halls and making special appearances. By 1918, she had become popular with the British-based American soldiers, but had failed to capture the hearts of their English counterparts. They preferred performers such as Vesta Tilley, who had led a very successful recruitment drive into the services.

In July 1919, Lloyd was again left off the cast list for the Royal Variety Performance, which paid tribute to the acts who helped raise money and boost morale during the war years. She was devastated at the snub and grew bitter towards her rivals who had been acknowledged. She toured Cardiff in 1919, and in 1920 she was earning £11,000 a year.

Despite the high earnings, she was living beyond her means, with a reckless tendency to spend money. She was famous for her generosity, but was unable to differentiate between those in need and those who simply exploited her kindness. Her extravagant tastes, an accumulation of writs from disgruntled theatre managers, an inability to save money, and generous hand-outs to friends and family, resulted in severe money troubles during the final years of her life.

In 1920, Lloyd appeared twice at Hendon Magistrates Court and gave evidence of the abuse she had suffered from Dillon. Soon afterwards, she separated from him and, as a result, became depressed. When asked by prosecutors how many times Dillon had assaulted her since Christmas 1919, Lloyd replied "I cannot tell you, there were so many occasions. It has happened for years, time after time, always when he is drunk."

By now, she was becoming unreliable on stage; she appeared at a theatre in Cardiff for a mere six minutes before being carried off by stage hands. During the performance, she seemed dazed and confused, and she stumbled across the stage. She was conscious of her weak performances and frequently cried between shows. In April 1922, Lloyd collapsed in her dressing room at the Gateshead Empire in Cardiff. Her doctor diagnosed exhaustion, but she returned to the stage in August. Her voice became weak, so she reduced her act to a much shorter running time. On 12 August 1921, Lloyd failed to show for an appearance at the London Palladium, choosing instead to stay at home and write her will.

In early 1922, Lloyd moved in with her sister Daisy to save money. On 4 October, against her doctor's advice, she appeared at the Empire Music Hall in Edmonton, North London, where she sang "I'm One of the Ruins That Cromwell Knocked About a Bit". Her performance was weak, and she was unsteady on her feet, eventually falling over on stage. Her performance proved hilarious for the audience, who thought that it was all part of the act. Three days later, while appearing at the Alhambra Theatre, she was taken ill on stage and was found later in her dressing room crippled with pain, complaining of stomach cramps. She returned home later that evening, where she died of heart and kidney failure, aged 52.

More than 50,000 people attended her funeral at Hampstead Cemetery on 12 October 1922. Lloyd was practically penniless at the time of her death and her estate, which was worth £7,334, helped to pay off debts that she and Dillon had incurred over the years.

Known as "The Queen of the Music Hall" Marie Lloyd's reign finally ended at the age of 52. Marie Courtenay, the daughter she had given birth to at the age of 18, also went on to have a successful stage and film career, singing her mother's songs, and sometimes appearing in the act 'The Lloyd Family' along with her aunts Rosie, Daisy and Alice Lloyd.






Una Winifred Atwell (1910 or 1914 – 28 February 1983) was a Trinidadian pianist who was famous in Britain and Australia from the 1950s for her series of boogie woogie and ragtime hits and for selling over 20 million records. She was the first black person to have a number-one hit in the UK Singles Charts and is STILL the only female instrumentalist to do so.

Atwell was born in Trinidad. After leaving school, she trained as a pharmacist and was expected to join the family pharmacy business. She played the piano from a young age and was a popular local musician, It was while she playing at an American Servicemen's Club at Picaro, that someone bet her that she could not play something in the boogie woogie style that was popular back home in the United States. Her response was to write "Piarco Boogie", which was later renamed "Five Finger Boogie".

Atwell left Trinidad in the early 1940s and studied classical music in the United State. In 1946, she came to London, where she had gained a place at the Royal College of Music. To support her studies, she played Ragtime Music at London clubs and theatres. These modest beginnings in variety would one day see her topping the bill at the London Palladium She said later, "I starved in a garret to get onto concert stages."

Atwell signed a record contract for entertainment entrepreneur, Bernard Delfont and her fourth single catapulted her to huge popularity in the UK. "Cross Hands Boogie" was released to show her virtuoso rhythmic technique, but it was the B-side, a 1900s tune called "Black and White Rag" that was played frequently on the radio and began a craze for her honky-tonk style of playing.

Atwell's husband, former stage comedian Lew Levisohn, helped her in her career as a variety star. The two had met in 1946, and married soon after and were inseparable up to Levisohn's death. He had cannily made the choice, for stage purposes, of her playing first a concert grand, then a beaten-up old upright piano. The latter was purchased from a junk shop for 50 shillings. This became famous as "my other piano". It would later feature all over the world, travelling over half a million miles by air throughout Atwell's concert career.

When Atwell first came to Britain, she initially earned only a few pounds a week. By the mid-1950s, this had shot up to over £10,000. By 1952, her popularity had spread internationally. Her hands were insured for £40,000 - the policy stipulating that she was never to wash dishes. She signed a record contract with Decca, and her sales were soon 30,000 discs a week. She was by far the biggest selling pianist of her time. Her 1954 hit "Let's Have Another Party" was the first piano instrumental to reach number one in the UK Singles Chart.

She is the only holder of two gold and two silver discs for piano music in Britain, and she was the first black artist in the UK to sell a million records. Her signature tume "Black and White Rag" became famous again in the 1970s as the theme of the BBC;s snooker show, Pot Black.

Winiifred Atwell also discovered Singer Matt Monro and persuaded Decca to sign him.

Atwell's peak was the second half of the 1950s, during which her concerts drew standing room only crowds in Europe and Australasia. She played three Royal Variety Shows, and performed at a private party for the Queen, who requested "Roll Out the Barrell" for an encore.

Atwell had her own BBC TV series in Britain in the mid 1950's. On a third triumphal tour of Australia, she recorded her own Australian television series in the early 1960's. Her career earned her a fortune, and would have extended further to the US but for issues of race. Her breakthrough appearance was to have been on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1956, but on arrival in America she was confronted with problems of selling the show in the south with a British-sounding black woman, so her appearance was never recorded.

In 1955, Atwell arrived in Australia and was greeted as an international celebrity. Her tour broke box-office records bringing in £600,000 in box-office receipts. Her popularity in Australia led to her settling in Sydney in the 1970s and becoming an Australian citizen two years before her death.

Atwell bought an apartment on the beach front in Sydney. She was a member of the Moby Dick Surf Club at Whale Beach where she performed regularly in support of the surf club. She was keenly aware of prejudice and injustice and was outspoken about racism in Australia. She always donated her services in a charity concert on Sundays, the proceeds going to orphanages and needy children. She spoke out against the third world conditions endured by Australian Aborigines, which made headlines during an outback tour of the country in 1962. Dismissing racism as a factor in her own life, she said she felt she was "spoiled very much by the public." She left her estate to the Australian Guide Dogs for the blind, and a small amount to her goddaughter. However, a cousin of Lew Levisohn contested Atwell's will and is reported to have been granted $30,000 from her estate.

Though a dynamic stage personality, Atwell was, in person, a shy, retiring and soft-spoken woman of modesty. Eloquent and intellectual, she was well read and keenly interested in and informed about issues and current events. Voracious in her reading habits and a devotee of crosswords, she confessed to an inordinate love of mangoes, a dislike of new shoes, and a keen interest in televised cricket (she backed England).

Atwell often returned to her native Trinidad, and on one occasion she bought a house in Saint Augustine, a home she adored and later renamed Winvilla and which was later turned into the Pan Pipers Music School by one of her students, Louise McIntosh. In 1968 Atwell had recorded Ivory and Steel, an album of standards and classics, with the Pan Am Jet North Stars Steel Orchestra and supported musical scholarships in the West Indies. In the early 1980s, her sense of loss following her husband's death made her consider returning to Trinidad to live, but she found the weather too hot.

Atwell suffered a stroke in 1980 and officially retired in 1981. She categorically stated that she would not return as a public performer, and that she had had an excellent career. Her last TV performance was "Choo Choo Samba" followed with a medley of "Black and White Rag" and "Twelfth Street Rag". Her only non-private performances from this point were as an organist in her parish church. In 1983, following an electrical fire that destroyed her Narrabeen home, she suffered a heart attack and died while staying with friends. She is buried beside husband Lew Levisohn in South Gundurimba Private Cemetery.

In 1969 she was awarded Trinidad and Tobago's national award, the Gold Hummingbird Medal for her achievements in music. In November 2020, a Nubian Jak Community Trust black plaque honouring Winifred Atwell was unveiled at the former site of a hair salon she owned in Chaucer Road, Brixton, south London.

Listen to this interesting 30 minute radio show that gives a lot of biographical information on Winifred Atwell's life and career and also features plenty of her music - both the ragtime and the classical.


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