29th April 1931

Skiffle singer Lonnie Donegan is born

In terms of pop chart performance, Glasgow-born Lonnie Donegan is one of the most successful British artists of all time, racking up 31 top 30 hits, three number one singles and a pair of entries in the American top-ten. He died in Lincolnshire, while performing a UK-wide tour, in 2002. Reporting his death on 5 November – the day after it had been announced – the Guardian called him the “sultan of skiffle”.

Playing from an early age

He learned to play the guitar at an early age, but his first professional experience as a musician was playing banjo in a trad jazz band, on either side of the Second World War. By the mid-1950s, his talent had been recognised by record industry bosses, and he was invited to record both albums and singles that were distributed in the United Kingdom and United States. In 1957, he got to number one in the UK charts.

The previous year, his Rock Island Line sold more than a million copies, which would usually qualify it for gold disc status, “but Lonnie is no longer with the Decca group, who put out Rock Island Line,” reported the Daily Mirror on 13 December 1956, “and when I asked one of the group’s officials about it he told me that no award was planned… as only five other British artists in history have sold a million I would like to see Lonnie become a member of the select band who have gold records.”

Long-lasting success

Although he might not have received a disc for his wall, many of Donegan’s recordings remained popular for years, including Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavour On The Bedpost Overnight, and My Old Man’s a Dustman. In reality, his father had been a violinist in the Scottish National Orchestra.

His mainstream commercial success continued into the early 1960s when a significant change in musical tastes drew audiences – particularly younger audiences – in alternative directions. However, he continued to record singles and albums, and to tour, which he was still doing in his 70s.



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