Stanley Black was a successful British pianist, composer, arranger and conductor in the fields of both classical and popular music. His diverse musical activities saturated the airwaves during an era dominated by the radio.
Stanley Black was born in London where he began private piano lessons at the age of seven before his studies with Rae Robertson at the Mathay School of Music. Black’s career began at a young age after one of his compositions was performed on the new BBC radio service when he was just twelve years old. Just a few years later, the BBC Symphony Orchestra performed his work after he won the Melody Maker arranging contest, which launched his composing and performing career forward in a period dominated by jazz music and orchestral dances.
Black’s talent for arranging for band and transcribing arrangements by ear earned him the title ‘the man with the photographic mind’ among his colleagues. During his early years he often played piano accompaniments for silent films.
Black had begun touring with bandleader Maurice Burman by the age of 18 and collaborated with many British jazz greats including Howard Jacobs, Joe Orlando, Lew Stone and Teddy Joyce. He received opportunities to play with touring American artists such as Benny Carter, Louis Armstrong and Coleman Hawkins, with whom he recorded a version ofHoneysuckle Rose. Black joined Harry Roy’s group in 1936 and played with them for four years, during which time they toured South America. While on tour, Black was introduced to Latin American music, which greatly influenced him, becoming one of his trademark styles.
An interest in film music led Black to contribute to the score for the film Rhythm Racketeer, marking his first foray into the genre. Black served in the RAF for ten months during World War II before being discharged for health reasons. Upon his return from the service, Black continued to freelance. He worked as the conductor, pianist and arranger inIntroducing Anne, a radio series by Anne Shelton in 1942. A couple of years later, in 1944, Black was appointed house arranger and conductor at Decca Records, where he worked together with Vera Lynn and later with Caterina Valente and Dickie Henderson.
From 1944, Black was also the conductor of the BBC Dance Orchestra, with which he made more than 4,000 broadcasts, six a week for more than nine years. In addition he contributed to many hit productions that aired on theBBC Light Programme including Hi Gang (with Ben Lyon and Bebe Daniels), Ray’s A Laugh (with comedian Ted Ray),Much Binding in the Marsh and The Goon Show. Black was a regular onMelody Maker’s list of radio’s most-heard musicians.
In addition to providing sound for other people’s shows, Black also had his own shows, in which he primarily performed in the Latin-American styles he had grown to love after a 1938 tour of South America with Harry Roy.
With the growing popularity of the television, Black also pursued a new genre as music director for TV programmes and composing jingles for advertisements. Around this time he also married Edna Kaye, a dance band singer with whom he had two children.
Black entered the field of film music in 1948 with his uncredited contribution as composer toIt Always Rains on Sunday. He also acted as musical director on Monkey’s Paw. Over the course of his career, Stanley Black contributed to more than 200 films including hits of the time such asLaughter In Paradise (1951), The Naked Truth (1957), Too Many Crooks (1958), Sparrows Can't Sing (1963) and Valentino(1978). His final film soundtrack was for The Razor’s Edge (1984).
In 1952, Black left the BBC to work full-time as a conductor and arranger for Decca. He was appointed music director, six years later at Elstree Studios. While there, he scored the two most popular of Cliff Richard’s musicals:The Young Onesand Summer Holiday.
During the 1960s and 70s, Black returned to his Classical beginnings as associate conductor of the Royal Philharmonic (1967) and principal conductor of the BBC Northern Ireland Orchestra (1968-9). He recorded the works of major composers such as Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Wagner, Khachaturian and Dvorak and worked with most of the major British orchestras including the London Philharmonic, the Royal Philharmonic and the London Symphony. Black’s recording of Rimsky-Korsakov’sCapriccio Espagnol earned him a Gramophone Award in 1965. He also served as associate conductor of the Osaka Symphony Orchestra in 1971.
Black toured in Japan, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Australasia and North America. In 1977, Black was invited to Boston as the first non-American citizen to conduct the Boston Pops Orchestra.
In Black’s later years he began to lose his hearing, though he continued to direct broadcasts at the BBCs Maida Vale studios. He also appeared alongside Edmundo Ros at the Royal Festival (1994) and with Stéphane Grappelli at the Barbican (1994). He was featured as a guest performer the next year in celebration of the 50th anniversary of VE (Victory in Europe) Day at Royal Albert Hall.
Many honours and awards were presented to Black during his long career including an Ivor Novello Award forSummer Holiday (1962). Black contributed greatly to the history of jazz and the dance orchestra section for the New Musical Educator and served on the advisory board of Who’s Who in Music. Stanley was made an OBE in 1986. Black was also awarded a Life Fellowship of the International Institute of Arts and Letters in addition to being Life President of the Celebrities Guild of Great Britain.
Stanley Black died at the age of 89 in London on November 27, 2002.