Stanley Black has made a major contribution to our musical life. It seems as though he has always been around, not only with his distinctive piano style (especially in Latin American music), but also conducting large orchestras playing impressive film music and popular melodies that appealed to millions around the world.
Few figures in British musical life made such a broad contribution to almost all genres as Stanley Black. A pioneer of jazz, who recorded in the 1930s with such American luminaries as Coleman Hawkins and Benny Carter, he also won awards for his classical conducting.
He was still aged only 12 when his compositions were first broadcast by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, and he went on to write numerous radio, television and cinema scores, including the theme-tune for The Goon Show and his Ivor Novello Award-winning backing for Cliff Richard in the 1962 film Summer Holiday. In addition, he arranged and conducted dozens of commercially successful albums from the dawn of the LP era until well into the 1990s, when his new CDs competed with reissues of his back catalogue into the new medium.
Stanley Black was born in London on 14 June 1913, and began piano lessons at the age of seven, studying with Rae Robinson and going on to the Mathay School of Music. He followed his early success with the BBC Symphony Orchestra by winning a Melody Maker arranging competition at the age of 18, but by then he was already an established professional, playing at the Empress Kinema in Islington, and working with Maurice Burman’s dance band in Margate on the Kent coast.
In the early 1930s, the list of his employers reads like a Who’s Who of British jazz and dance music, and by the time he joined Harry Roy in 1936 he had also worked with Howard Jacobs, Joe Orlando, Lew Stone, Maurice Winnick and Teddy Joyce.
More importantly, he had broadcast and recorded with some of the more distinguished American visitors to Britain, including Hawkins, who had first heard Black on late night radio shows with Stone’s band. When the two eventually met in London, the reviewer Edgar Jackson suggested they record together, and the highlight of their work is a duet version of Honeysuckle Rose, in which Black’s subtle evocation of Teddy Wilson’s style admirably matches Hawkins’s blustery lyricism.
Black remained involved with jazz during his four years with Harry Roy (including a trip to South America in 1938). The pianists Ivor Moreton and Dave Kaye had been a popular feature with the Roy band, and when they left in 1936 to pursue their own careers in variety Roy was anxious to replace them with equally good musicians. He chose Stanley Black and Norman Yarlett who became known as ‘Black and White’, but Stanley’s aspirations were elsewhere. Around the same time he took his first tentative steps as a film composer (he contributed to the film "Rhythm Racketeers") and he then briefly worked with Ambrose, before the Second World War intervened. He joined the RAF, and became involved in managing the entertainment of servicemen in and around Wolverhampton. In 1944 he was appointed conductor of the BBC Dance Orchestra, and remained in the job for almost nine years, broadcasting as many as six nights a week, taking on an ever-broader stylistic range of music.
By this time he had also begun recording under his own name for Decca. Now well involved with the film industry, he went on to compose, arrange and direct music for about 200 more movies, notably after being appointed music director at Elstree Studios in 1958, by which time his successes already included It Always Rains on Sunday (1948), Laughter in Paradise (1951), and The Naked Truth (1957). Others were to follow, such as Too Many Crooks (1958), The Long and the Short and the Tall (1961), and the Cliff Richard Musicals The Young Ones (1961) and Summer Holiday (1962). His work also became anonymously familiar to millions of filmgoers, as a consequence of his theme tune for Pathé News, written in 1960.
Stanley Black’s radio work kept him in contact with a large listening audience through his incidental music for shows such as Much Binding in the Marsh, Hi Gang, Ray’s a Laugh and The Goon Show, but he went on to front his own programmes on radio and television, including Black Magic and The Marvellous World of Stanley Black. This undoubtedly contributed to the success of his commercial recordings and concerts with his own orchestra.
Thanks to his frequent radio appearances and regular new recordings, he had become a household name in Britain. In the early 1950s he regularly topped the Melody Maker lists of the most-heard musicians on radio. Hewas among the select few chosen for Decca’s first release of long-playing records in the UK in June 1950, and the arrival of the LP allowed him to develop his conducting, arranging and performing talents to the full, resulting in a steady stream of albums which made him one of the most prolific recording artists in the world. He was especially popular in the USA, as evidenced by his inclusion in the "Billboard" best-sellers lists.
Tucked in among the albums of film themes and popular Latin hits were concerts of the light classics, including collections of Tchaikovsky and Gershwin, and in 1965 he won a Gramophone Award for his version of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio Espagnol. He went on to conduct most of Britain’s major orchestras, and until the 1990s he was still directing regular broadcast sessions at the BBC’s Maida Vale studios, where, despite the gradual onset of deafness, he retained the effortless control of his musicians, who always held him in high regard for his consummate professionalism.
Stanley was present at the CODA Club Celebrity Dinner on 7 April 1997, when Robert Farnon was presented with their annual award in memory of Alan Dell. A colour photograph of Stanley with Robert Farnon appeared on the front cover of our June 2001 magazine – issue No. 147.
Black received numerous awards, including the OBE. He was a Life Fellow of the Institute of Arts and Letters, and Life President of the Celebrities Guild of Great Britain. He died in London on 27 November 2002, aged 89.
Recently several of Stanley Black’s Decca LPs have been reissued on CD by Vocalion, and the following are currently available:
CDLK4101 Cuban Moonlight / Tropical Moonlight
CDLK4107 Symphonic Suites of Irving Berlin and Jerome Kern
CDLK4127 Red Velvet / Music for Romance
CDLK4142 Gershwin Goes Latin / Friml / Romberg
CDLK4159 Big Instrumental Hits / Hollywood Love Themes