Music Articles


Pianist and composer Sir George Shearing was born blind and taught himself music. He worked his way from a childhood in working-class England to concert stations around the world, and eventually a knighthood.

Shearing was 91 when he died yesterday of congestive heart failure in New York.

Felix Contreras has this appreciation.

(Soundbite of music, "Lullaby of Birdland")

FELIX CONTRERAS: Sir George Shearing will always be associated first and foremost with his composition "Lullaby of Birdland," written in 1952 and very quickly picked up by jazz musicians of all styles from Count Basie to Tito Puente.

(Soundbite of music, Puente's "Lullaby of Birdland")

CONTRERAS: Shearing was far from a one-hit wonder. During a career that stretched from his native London during the blitz of the Second World War to his adopted home of New York, Shearing projected not only graceful song but an elegant style. His touch was instantly recognizable for its nuance and articulation.

(Soundbite of music "September in the Rain")

CONTRERAS: His first big hit, "September in the Rain," actually preceded "Lullaby of Birdland." It was recorded in 1949.

While Shearing loved bebop, he told NPR in 1995, he recognized there was a market for something less frenetic. He called "September in the Rain" an antidote to the music he heard when he first moved to Manhattan, after World War II.

Mr. GEORGE SHEARING (Pianist/Composer): And so, when you get to the end of this frantic era and somebody sits down with vibes and guitar and a well-written bass line and all in very good order, it's a lot easier on the ear.

(Soundbite of music)

CONTRERAS: Within the commercial conventions of the 1950s and early '60s, Shearing was an experimenter, embracing Latin dance rhythms with percussionist Armando Peraza, working with new instruments, including harmonica, and forging enduring collaborations with musicians, such as vocalist Mel Torme.

(Soundbite of song, "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square")

Mr. MEL TORME (Singer-Songwriter): (Singing) And a nightingale sang in Berkeley Square.

CONTRERAS: George Shearing's father used to deliver coal to Buckingham Palace when the youngster was studying music in a school for the blind. In 2007, Shearing entered the royal palace through the front door to be knighted by Queen Elizabeth for his contributions to music.

Felix Contreras, NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


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