Russ Conway

Russ Conway was born Trevor Herbert Stanford on September 2, 1925, in Bristol, the youngest of three brothers. His father was a commercial salesman and his mother a pianist, and despite having no formal piano training, he inherited her musical ability and went on to dominate the charts in 1959 with piano medleys, totally contrary to the genres of music prevalent at the time. As a teenager during World War II he joined the Royal Navy, winning a Distinguished Service Medal for work as a personnel signalman to the commander of minesweepers. After the war he rejoined the Merchant Navy, and while on duty he had an accident with a bread slicer that took off the tip of one of his fingers. Conway later claimed this added to his style of playing piano rather than hindering him. He remained in the Navy until 1955, and after leaving he found work playing the piano at various London nightclubs, where one night he was approached by Irving Davies, who booked him to work as backing pianist for Gracie Fields, Dennis Lotis, Joan Regan, and Rosemary Squires. This brought him to the attention of Norman Newell, an A&R man with EMI Records, who signed him to their Columbia label. In 1956, he co-wrote the music for a new TV production of Beauty and the Beast and by 1957, under his new name of Russ Conway, he released a medley of songs called "Party Pops." Conway was seen as the successor and the label's answer to Decca's Winifred Atwell, who had enjoyed several piano medley hits throughout the 1950s but had, since 1954, mainly settled into releasing just one each Christmas. "Party Pops" included honky tonk versions of several songs from yesteryear: "When You're Smiling," "I'm Looking Over a Four Leaf Clover," "For Me and My Girl," "Shine on Harvest Moon," and "By the Light of the Silvery Moon." In the fledgling adult-oriented album market, his singalong party medleys were ideal for older listeners who were not buying into the main genre of rock & roll, and by 1958 he had released the album Pack Up Your Troubles, which peaked at number six the following year in a recently expanded LP chart. He also secured a regular guest star appearance on the TV variety program The Billy Cotton Band Show, one of the most popular shows of the 1950s. Back on the singles chart, he placed another medley in the Top Ten, "More Party Pops," which included the songs "Music Music Music," "If You Were the Only Girl in the World," "Nobody's Sweetheart," "Yes Sir That's My Baby," and "Some of These Days," but 1959 was the year he virtually took over the charts with two number one singles, his own compositions "Side Saddle" and "Roulette"; two other Top Ten hits, "China Tea" and "Snow Coach"; and yet another medley, predictably titled "More and More Party Pops," with even more music hall songs -- "Sheik of Araby," "Who Were You with Last Night," "Any Old Iron," "Tiptoe Through the Tulips," and "If You Were the Only Girl in the World." An extended version of More Party Pops hit number one on the new EP charts and he hit the Top Ten LP charts with a further three albums, Songs to Sing in Your Bath, Family Favourites, and Time to Celebrate. Being the biggest-selling artist of 1959 led to his own TV series and appearances at the London Palladium, but he would never attain such heights again -- his list of hit singles in 1960 was just as long but none of them broke into the Top Ten, although he did achieve a further two Top Ten albums, the Liberace-influenced classical My Concerto for You and another pop medley LP, Party Time. Ill health dominated his life throughout the rest of the 1960s, as Conway suffered a nervous breakdown and a mild stroke that stopped him performing for a while. In the 1980s he developed stomach cancer, but this led to a renewed vigor during which he set up the Russ Conway Cancer Fund with the broadcaster Richard Hope-Hawkins, which raised money for research with charity gala shows featuring Conway and many of his show business friends. Russ Conway died at his home in Eastbourne, Sussex, on November 16, 2000, at the age of 75. ~ Sharon Mawer

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