We were sad to announce the death
of Lonnie Donegan in the early hours of Sunday November 3rd 2002.
The Glasgow-born singer was midway through his UK tour after recovering
from a heart operation earlier this year and was due to play a concert
in Stoke, Staffordshire, on Monday.
The star was with his wife Sharon and son Peter when he died in Peterborough,
Cambridgeshire, on Sunday at about 0230 GMT. He had been complaining of
back trouble shortly before he fell ill. Lonnie was staying with friends
during his tour. His last performance was in Nottingham last Wednesday.
Best known for novelty songs like My Old Man's a Dustman, Lonnie Donegan
enjoyed a worldwide reputation among musicians as exalted as the Beatles,
the Rolling Stones and Van Morrison.
Donegan's enthusiastic espousal of skiffle, blues, gospel and American
folk music was instrumental in igniting the 1960s British blues revival.
He was born in Glasgow in 1931, the son of a classical violinist. Although
he moved to London's East End aged just two, and always considered himself
Christened Anthony James Donegan, he became known as Lonnie in the early
1950s when an over-excited master of ceremonies confused him with the
American guitarist Lonnie Johnson.
"When I was nine, I told my parents I wanted a guitar," he said.
Five years later, Lonnie Donegan got his hands on his dream instrument,
a battered 30-shilling version.
Through a jazz club, Donegan met Chris Barber, the singer, trombonist
and doyen of British trad jazz. To fill a much-needed role in the band,
Barber taught him the banjo.
After two years of National Service, Donegan and a group of other musicians,
including Chris Barber, set out to improve their playing, eventually re-forming
as the Barber Sunshine Hot Six.
Personnel changes marked the band's evolution into the Lonnie Donegan
Skiffle Group. A new, transatlantic, musical form had been born.
During the early 1950s skiffle, with its guitar-driven rhythm, tea-chest
basses and washboard percussion, was hugely popular and Lonnie Donegan
was its biggest star, notching-up 28 top-30 hits.
The accessible nature of skiffle led to an explosion in guitar sales,
from a mere 5000 in 1950 to 250,000 in 1957.
Among those who formed their own groups were Liverpudian schoolboys, the
Quarrymen, who would be reincarnated as the Beatles. Other young fans
included the Kinks and the Who.
But Donegan himself denied that skiffle ever existed as a musical genre.
"Skiffle is a mixture of music, it's a mongrel music," he once
"It came via me singing American folk and blues songs with jazz
improvisation and overtones. You can call it anything you like. It's neither
fish nor fowl."
But the hits kept coming, among them Cumberland Gap, Puttin' on the Style
and Battle of New Orleans.
And his success was transatlantic, though he was initially banned from
playing guitar in the United States when the American Federation of Musicians
classified him as a variety act.Even so, he became the first British male
artist to have two American Top 10 hits.
Lonnie Donegan appeared on the Perry Como Show on American television,
in an intriguing comedy double act with Ronald Reagan, and sharing the
bill with a debuting comedian, Woody Allen.
As the skiffle craze waned at the end of the 1950s, Lonnie Donegan recorded
new material, fun songs like Does Your Chewing Gum Lose its Flavour? and
My Old Man's a Dustman.
The Beatles began their transformation of popular music in the early 1960s
but, as some of his fans became stars in their own right, Lonnie Donegan's
reputation as a musical innovator soared.
Elvis recorded one of his songs, I'm Never Gonna Fall in Love Again
and Paul McCartney was the moving force behind Putting on The Style, a
1978 tribute album featuring cameos by, among others, Elton John, Rory
Gallagher and Brian May.
Lonnie Donegan also developed a close musical friendship with Belfast's
finest, Van Morrison. The two collaborated on Donegan's well-received
comeback album, 1998's Muleskinner Blues.
Morrison later recorded another homage to Donegan, The Skiffle Sessions,
featuring another fan, the legendary New Orleans blues pianist Dr John.
Though Harold Macmillan was Prime Minister when Lonnie
Donegan's last hit single graced the charts, the slightly-built performer
with the strange Cockney-American singing voice enjoyed a musical reputation
which will live on through thousands of skiffle fans around the world.