Webster Booth

British tenor, (Leslie) Webster Booth was born in Handsworth in 1902, the son of hairdresser, Edwin Booth. He had an exceptional voice as a child and was accepted as a chorister at Lincoln Cathedral from the age of nine until his voice broke at the age of thirteen. After three years of enforced silence, he studied singing with Dr Richard Wassall at the Midland Institute in Birmingham and made his professional stage debut with D’Oyly Carte in 1923 and remained with the company until 1927, when he dropped the “Leslie” from his name and adopted the stage name of Webster Booth.
In his early years as a freelance singer he sang at various Lyon’s establishments, Masonic dinners, appeared in two pantomimes for Fred Melville at the Brixton Theatre and toured with Tom Howell’s Opiero concert party.
He made his West End debut as the Duke of Buckingham in “The Three Musketeers” (Friml) at Drury Lane in 1930, and starred as Juan in Kurt Weill’s “A Kingdom for a Cow” at the Savoy Theatre in 1935. He began recording for HMV and remained with the company until his contract was cancelled in 1951.

Apart from his stage, radio and concert appearances he was making a name as a tenor soloist in oratorio and was one of Sir Malcolm Sargent’s favourite tenors. He was a notable “Gerontius” in “The Dream of Gerontius” and often sang in “Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast”. The latter work was presented in full Native Indian dress at the Albert Hall before WW2.

In 1938, after his divorce from second wife, Paddy Prior, a comedienne, soubrette and dancer, he married soprano Anne Ziegler and they formed a duettist variety act in 1940. They soon achieved great popularity with the British public as duettists, making many records, broadcasts, singing on the variety stage, making several films and starring in “The Vagabond King” (Friml) at the Winter Garden Theatre (1943) and “Sweet Yesterday” by Kenneth Leslie Smith at the Adelphi Theatre (1945). Despite this lighter career as a romantic duettist, Webster managed to continue his oratorio work and was considered to be one of the finest British tenors of his generation.

The Booths did a long concert tour of New Zealand, Australia and more briefly in South Africa in 1948. They did a tour of “And So To Bed” after it had been revised by Vivian Ellis after its original London run from 1953–54. They returned to South Africa for a tour of the Cape in 1955 and decided to settle in the country in 1956, where they remained until 1978, singing and producing shows, acting in plays, broadcasting and teaching.

They returned to the UK in 1978 and although they had officially given their farewell concert in 1975, they were in great demand by their old fans once again, although Webster was 76 and Anne 68. Webster Booth died in Penrhyn Bay, Llandudno on 21 June 1984. Anne lived on in the bungalow in Wales until her death in October 2003.

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