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Winifred Atwell

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Winifred Atwell (February 27, 1914 - February 28, 1983) was a pianist who enjoyed great popularity in Britain in the 1950s with a series of boogie woogie and ragtime hits.

Atwell was born in Tunapuna in Trinidad and Tobago. Her family owned a pharmacy, and she trained as a druggist, and was expected to join the family business, Winifred, however played the piano since a young age, and achieved considerable popularity locally.

She left Trinidad in the early 40’s, she travelled to the United States to study with Alexander Borovsky and in 1946 moved to London, where she had gained a place at the Royal Academy of Music. To support her studies, she played rags at London clubs and theatres particularly the London Palladium and Prince of Wales Theatre.

She gained huge popularity in the UK with her Honky Tonk style of playing that people closest to her disliked, but this became her ticket to unrivalled success. She earned only a few pounds a week initially, but suddenly it shot up to over $50,000. By 1950 her popularity had spread nationally and internationally, she signed a record contract with Decca in 1951, millions of copies of her sheet music were sold she also went on to record her best-known “hits”, such as Let’s Have a Ding-Dong, Poor People of Paris (which reached number one in the charts), Britannia Rag and Black and White Rag.

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  • Retro_Saiyan

    I find her music pleasant to listen to occasionally.

    24 Nov 2013 Reply
  • moonshado

    Had to get our mum to clarify for me that Winifred Attwell didn't have a second career as a children's book illustrasionist, that of course was Lucie Attwell.

    1 Oct 2013 Reply
  • JustAKayee

    v *resists the urge to say 'cool story, bro'*...J/K, lol.

    9 Apr 2012 Reply
  • LondonLouis

    Elton John nominated her as one his icons in the current "Gay Icon" exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in London. This has nothing to do with her sexuality (whatever that might have been). Elton was instead referring to the impact that her playing had on him in his formative years. Like Alma Cogan, she is one of those half-forgotten British stars from the pre-Rock 1950s. All credit to Elton for giving her reputation a boost. She shouldn't be forgotten.

    9 Aug 2009 Reply
  • LondonLouis

    Black and White Rag gives a better idea of why she was such a big star. She was a decent ragtime pianist, with a distinctive, tinkly sound. There's some variety in the composition to suggest that, as a trained classical pianist, she knew what she was doing. She must have been one of the first Afro-Caribbean musicians to make it big in the UK, so all power to her. (There had been Hutch, who was very big in upper crust circles in the 1930s. I can't immediately think of anyone else before Winifred, though the likes of Louis Armstrong drew big crowds.)

    8 Feb 2009 Reply
  • LondonLouis

    She was a big star as Iwas growing up in the UK. On the basis of "Body and Soul" she wasn't massively talented as a jazz pianist, but her Boogie Woogies cheered us up in early Fifties Blighty.

    8 Feb 2009 Reply