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Tony Osborne

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  • Born: Cambridge, England
  • Years Active: 1950s, 1960s, 1970s


Biography All Music Guide

All Music Guide:

Tony Osborne reigned as one of the most in-demand arrangers in postwar British pop, enjoying his greatest success in tandem with a series of divas that spanned from Shirley Bassey to Eartha Kitt to Judy Garland. Born Edward Benjamin Osborne outside of Cambridge on June 29, 1922, as a teen he won several local honors for his prowess on the accordion, and made his professional debut at age 14, later proving a formidable presence on the piano as well. First called "Little Teddy" in honor of his father and grandfather, with whom he shared the same name, Osborne requested that people address him as "Tony" by the time he entered the Royal Air Force in 1942. During World War II he served in Cairo and the Middle East, playing the trumpet on social occasions and emerging as a gifted horn player by the time the war ended. Osborne returned to civilian life to pursue a career as a professional musician, signing on as a trumpeter and relief pianist with bandleader Cyril Stapleton -- stints behind Frank Weir, Carroll Gibbons, and Ambrose followed, and he also played with the BBC Orchestra on the hit comedy series The Goon Show and Take It from Here. As Osborne's profile as a musician grew, so did his renown as an arranger, and in due time he landed staff positions with Pye, EMI, and Decca, populating his sessions with a who's-who of British virtuosos including Kenny Baker, Ray Davies, Stan Roderick, Kenny Clare, and Ronnie Verrell.

Osborne's session credits span such legendary singers as Mel Tormé, Johnny Mathis, Vera Lynn, Johnnie Ray, and Dakota Staton. In 1957, he arranged Gracie Fields' final hit "Around the World," and in 1960 he collaborated with American pop star Connie Francis on the million-selling "Mama." Other notable hits arranged by Osborne include the Beverley Sisters' "Sisters," Max Bygraves' "Out of Town," Alma Cogan's "Love Is," Nina & Frederik's "Little Donkey," Jimmy Young's "Miss You" and the Dorothy Squires/Russ Conway duet "Say It with Flowers." Osborne also formed his own band, the Brass Hats, for weekly appearances on the BBC teen showcase Six-Five Special, Britain's first-ever pop music television show, which premiered in 1957; when the series was superseded two years later by the long-running Juke Box Jury, Osborne also wrote and recorded its original theme song "Juke Box Fury," credited to Ozzie Warlock & the Wizards. In addition, his ties to the program directly resulted in studio pairings with up-and-coming British Invasion acts like Freddie & the Dreamers and Peter & Gordon. Osborne is nevertheless best remembered for his efforts with notoriously prickly divas like Eartha Kitt and Shirley Bassey. For the latter, he wrote the songs "Gone" and "You," and arranged the 1963 blockbuster "I (Who Have Nothing)." A year later, he served as conductor during Bassey's stint at New York City's Carnegie Hall, doubling as the opening act -- a flashy, over the top solo piano set à la Liberace. In 1969, Osborne also conducted Judy Garland's three final concert appearances.

Osborne recorded sporadically as a solo act throughout his career, issuing a series of instrumental light music efforts including "The Lights of Lisbon," "The Man of Lisbon, "The Windows of Paris," and "The Man from Madrid." ("There was a simple reason for all those place names," he later explained. "I thought somebody might be making a documentary about Spain or somewhere and the music would get recycled.") In 1973 Osborne charted with "The Shepherd's Song," and during the mid-'70s he signed to Decca for a string of Mantovani-inspired orchestral recordings credited to the alias Lazlo Tabor, most notable among them Gypsy Romance. As the decade drew to a close Osborne began working for several months each year on the cruise ship circuit -- during one such stint at sea he met costume designer Faye Morgan, who later became his second wife, and together they settled in her native Australia. After more than a decade in retirement Osborne returned to music in the mid-'90s to lead the surviving members of the original Glenn Miller Orchestra -- trumpeters John Best, Steve Lipkins, and Zeke Zarchy, saxophonists Hank Freeman and Freddie Guerra, and singer Beryl Davis -- on an Australian tour. Following his wife's sudden death in 1997, Osborne signed on as the resident pianist at the Sydney Yacht Club, a weekend gig he maintained until just prior to his death on March 1, 2009.

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