Comber Plaque Marks Birthplace Of Renowned Jazz Singer
A plaque has been unveiled at the house in Comber where the renowned jazz and blues singer, Ottilie Patterson, was born. Often described as one of the greatest jazz singers of the 20th Century, Ottilie Patterson shot to fame in the 50s after joining the Chris Barber Jazz Band and at the same time overturned the idea that a white woman couldn't effectively sing Black American music.
The story goes that the classically trained pianist who was an art teacher, got hooked on jazz and blues as a student and travelled to London one summer to seek out 'the' band of the moment - the Chris Barber Jazz Band. She found them, impressed them, joined them and made her first public appearance in the Royal Festival Hall in January 1959. She went on to tour and perform extensively with Chris Barber, the man who was also to become her husband in 1959, recording hundreds of songs and, during her time with the band, singing on most, if not all, of its LPs, EPs and singles.
Her 'wow' factor came not just from the fact that such a petite woman had a voice which could belt out the blues, but that she was white and yet interpreted Black American music brilliantly. Indeed, she was widely respected by the many Black performers whom the pioneering Chris Barber introduced to the UK and whom Ottilie went out of her way to welcome into their home - in an era when segregation was still a part of daily life for many of the singers themselves who hailed from the deep South. None other than Louis Armstrong likened her to the 'Empress of the Blues', Bessie Smith, who was herself one of the greatest jazz singers of the 1920s and 1930s.
While she made her last public performances in the early 1980s, coming out of retirement to do so, Ottilie Patterson' contribution to music deserves to be recognised, according to the Mayor of Ards, Councillor Mervyn Oswald:
"Ottilie Patterson was a very private person, stayed out of the limelight after her retirement and lived quietly but happily with what she described as good friends and neighbours in Ayr until her death in June last year. And while she didn't seek out publicity, she nonetheless deserves to be remembered for the amazing talent that she was. I hope a discrete plaque acknowledging her and her achievements would meet with her approval".
Erected by Ards Borough Council, the plaque marking Ottilie Patterson's birth place is at 26 Carnesure Terrace, Comber.
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