Tenor Webster Booth (1957)

Today is the twenty-eighth anniversary of the death of famous British tenor Webster Booth. He died in Llandudno hospital on 21 June 1984 and is sadly missed, but always remembered.

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Webster Booth (tenor) 1902-1984
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21 June 2012 was the twenty-eighth anniversary of the death of Webster Booth in Llandudno Hospital, North Wales. The following day was the hundred and second anniversary of the birth of Anne Ziegler, born Irene Frances Eastwood in Liverpool in 1910, who died nearly nine years ago. I knew Webster for twenty-four years, so he has been dead for four years longer than I knew him. I remained friends with Anne for forty-three years until her death in October 2003. They certainly made a very strong impression on me as a young seventeen year-old just out of school. In the usual course of events I would never have met them except as one of the crowd waiting at the stage door to catch a glimpse of them as they left the theatre or a concert hall after yet another triumphant performance. In fact, I had met them briefly six months earlier in June 1960 when they had sung in the Methodist Church Hall in Roberts Avenue, Kensington, Johannesburg where they had been the star attraction at a variety concert, held to raise funds for the church. This time there were no eager crowds waiting to catch a glimpse of this glamorous couple as they left at the interval after they had sung. I was the only one waiting with my autograph book to ask for their autographs, which they graciously signed in the vestry of the church.

August 1955

Webster Booth was one of Britain’s finest tenors of his generation and only five years before I met him he was still singing at the Royal Albert Hall under the baton of Sir Malcolm Sargent, who had nurtured his more serious singing career since he had selected him to sing the tenor solos in the Good Friday performance of Messiah at the Royal Albert Hall in 1936.

An unfortunate incident related to the Inland Revenue in the UK had led to the Booths being obliged to leave England and settle in Johannesburg in 1956. Despite their hard work over the years and the fame they had achieved, their circumstances were much reduced by the time they arrived in South Africa. At that time there were not many professional theatrical companies and even if they commanded top South African fees, these must have been far less than they had received for their work in Britain. They did a fair amount of performing and broadcasting in South Africa, but found it necessary to start a school of singing and stagecraft on the eighth floor of Polliack’s Corner in Pritchard Street, Johannesburg to supplement their dwindling income. 

Anne gave me this card when I attended my audition with her.

At first they asked far higher fees for lessons than reputable local singing teachers, but few could afford to pay such high fees, so they eventually reduced their fees to an amount closer to the fees local teachers charged.  Because of this my parents could afford to send me to the Booths for singing lessons after I left school. Webster was away in Port Elizabeth singing at the Port Elizabeth Oratorio Festival under the baton of Robert Selley at the time of my audition, so I met Anne by herself on my first visit to their airy studio, which contained a beautiful Chappell grand piano,  a set of shelves against the wall which contained all their sheet music, and a full length mirror so that students could watch themselves as they sang. There was a glass pane behind the studio couch,  filled with photographs of Anne and Webster in various roles and in the company of famous and illustrious people who had been their friends and colleagues in Britain. 

The corner of Eloff and Pritchard Streets, Johannesburg. Anne and Webster’s studio was on the eighth floor of the building on the left.


 Little did I know that this first meeting with Anne would result in an association with the couple, first as a student, a few years later as Webster’s studio accompanist, and in a friendship which lasted until Webster’s death in 1984 and Anne’s in 2003. We had our ups and downs over the years, but I will never regret knowing them and having the course of my life changed because of my friendship with them. As long as I am alive they will never be forgotten.    

Jeannie C  June 2012.

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