Judith Durham, Australian pop star who sang with the Seekers, dies at 79

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A classically trained singer and pianist, Judith Durham has always been more interested in jazz than folk music. But at 19, while working as a secretary at an advertising agency in Melbourne, Australia, and trying to launch a recording career on the side, she was invited by a colleague to sing with her folk-pop trio. , the Seekers. She soon found herself on stage at the Treble Clef bar and cafe, harmonizing with the band on folk songs like “Down by the Riverside” and “Banks of the Ohio.”

As Ms Durham said, she was never officially invited to join the group. But in 1964, just over a year after she started sitting down with the musicians, they asked her if she “wanted to go overseas”. The group had been hired to sing on an ocean liner bound for England. It sounded like a great adventure, she thought, so she put her jazz ambitions on hold and joined her three singing friends.

The trip propelled Ms Durham and the band to the top of the pop charts and, much to her dismay, the center of London swing. Shortly after the Seekers arrived in England, they were discovered by a promoter and introduced to a recording studio, where Mrs. Durham’s luminous soprano elevated songs like “I’ll Never Find Another You”, “The Carnival Is Over” and “Georgy Girl”. .” “I was shy,” she told a reporter decades later, “but when I was singing, I felt really empowered.”

Her death on August 5 at age 79 silenced what Elton John described as ‘the purest voice in popular music’, which Ms Durham unleashed in Seekers songs and later in her own career several decades as a solo artist. . The cause was complications from a chronic lung disease, according to A declaration of Universal Music Australia and record label Musicoast, who said she died in hospice care after being hospitalized in Melbourne.

For a few years in the mid-1960s, the Seekers were an international phenomenon, rivaling the Beatles in popularity and selling over 50 million records. With their powerful harmonies and soulful lyrics about love and romance, the group was a sweet alternative to rock bands like the Rolling Stones and the Who. More folksy than most pop artists, more pop than most folk bands, they cultivated a pared-down image that stood out in London swing, where Ms Durham shunned the club scene and rejected psychedelic prints in favor of more traditional A-line skirts.

Although she was overshadowed by her bandmates (she was 5ft 2in tall), she became the focal point of the band, winning over audiences with “her vulnerability and unassumingness”, wrote cultural critic Clive. Davis, reviewing one of the band’s 1996 reunion gigs for The Times of London. “Shy and even sometimes awkward, Durham shares Barbara Dickson’s reserve, as well as her purity of diction,” he added. “She wants us to know that it’s the song that counts, not the star.”

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese called Ms Durham a ‘national treasure and an Australian icon’, saying in a tweet after her death that she “gave voice to a new strand of our identity and helped pave the way for a new generation of Australian artists”.

In England, the Seekers teamed up with songwriter and producer Tom Springfield, the brother of English singer Dusty Springfield, soaring to the top of the British and Australian pop charts with their 1964 single. “I’ll never find another you” which reached No. 4 in the United States. In 1966 they had their biggest American hit with “Georgy Girl”, the catchy title track from a British film starring Lynn Redgrave, Alan Bates and James Mason. The song reached number two on the Billboard Hot 100, behind only The Monkees’ “I’m a Believer”, and was nominated for an Academy Award.

The group’s other hits included “A World of Our Own”, “Someday, One Day”, “Morningtown Ride” and “Carnival is over” which topped the pop charts in Britain and Australia and was based on a 19th century Russian folk tune. When the Seekers returned to Australia in 1967, their performance at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl in Melbourne drew 200,000 people, setting a new attendance record for a concert in the Southern Hemisphere.

“When I saw that sea of ​​people,” Ms Durham recalled, according to the Melbourne Herald Sun, “I was almost scared to death.”

Although she generally seemed calm during performances, Ms Durham said she had struggled with anxiety and doubt since her teenage years. “I was a very complex, worried, self-conscious and tense person,” she told the Daily Mail in 1996. “I found my world with the Seekers superficial and one-way. I felt like a bird in a cage. She left the band in 1968 to focus on her own music, releasing solo albums and embarking on a spiritual journey that led her to meditate for two hours a day. She often spoke of his belief in reincarnation and “the law of karma”.

“I don’t impose my beliefs on people,” she said in a 1994 interview with The Age, a Melbourne daily. “This aspect of things can be over-commercialized and undervalued if it becomes too transparent. [But] I can’t imagine what it must be like to go on in life not believing what I believe. It gives me purpose and direction in life, and it is my life’s purpose.

Judith Mavis Cock was born in Essendon, a Melbourne suburb, on July 3, 1943. His father was a military airman during World War II who later worked as a sales manager for an electrical company. Her mother suffered from asthma – Mrs Durham was also sickly as a child, diagnosed with pulmonary bronchiectasis – but often attended family gatherings around the piano, where Mrs Durham and her older sister sang songs by Bing Crosby and other pop standards.

Ms Durham started taking piano lessons aged 6 and later studied at Ruyton, an all-girls day school near Melbourne. She was working at the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency when she met Athol Guy, an account executive who played double bass, and invited her to sit down with the Seekers. The group also included former high school classmates Keith Potger and Bruce Woodley, who sang and played guitar. By then Ms Durham had started performing using her mother’s maiden name.

In 1969, she married Ron Edgeworth, a British pianist and music manager. They performed together in small theaters and cabarets before moving to Queensland in northeastern Australia. In 1990, they were in a car that collided head-on with another vehicle near Melbourne. The driver of the other car was killed and Ms Durham was hospitalized for several months with broken legs, arms and collarbones.

Ms Durham said the car crash had spurred consideration for her own mortality and inspired her to reunite with her former bandmates from The Seekers, who had previously performed in her absence with singers such as Julie Anthony and Karen Knowles.

While preparing for a concert tour in Australia, her husband was diagnosed with motor neurone disease, a degenerative disease. He died in 1994.

“I consider everything that happens to me to be part of my destiny,” Ms Durham told the Daily Mail. “I always try to look for the best in things. It’s something that Ron and I have based our lives on, and when difficult events have occurred, our belief in reincarnation has made it easier for us. The Survivors include her sister, Beverley Sheehan, another singer.

Ms. Durham continued to perform with the Seekers over the next two decades, touring across Australia and Europe. She and her bandmates were made Officers of the Order of Australia in 2014, the year after she suffered a stroke which affected her ability to read and write but not sing. She felt responsible, she said, to “bring people joy” through music.

“As time passed, the music seemed to be very precious,” she told the age in 1997, reflecting on her previous successes with the Seekers. “Music today seems to lead to a lot of depression. … There’s something about the harmonies of the Seekers. It seems to be contagious.

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