Denis Wright


"Hail to Master Denis Wright, who in my opinion, has made the best boy soprano record since the spacious days of Master Ernest Lough. The newcomer's voice has not the absolutely even drawn thread quality of Lough 's. It is more of a true soprano, with the slightest tremolo, which is very attractive." ...Gramophone, November 1941

"The voice is so exquisitely pure and has two attributes rarely found in boy sopranos - warmth and tenderness. Master Denis has been so musically taught that he phrases with grace and sensitiveness that many a woman soprano might envy and emulate." ...H.M.V. Record Review, December 1941

photo1~6-sm.jpg (12283 bytes)Denis Wright was horn in Mansfield on July 15th 1926. It was at High Oakham Boys' Selective Central School that he came under the influence of Mr. Harry Smith, the school's choirmaster. The choir was already a force to be reckoned with, inning every music festival they entered - including the Welsh National Eistedfford in 1938.

Shortly afterwards, Denis was asked to sing from the Leeds Station of the B.B.C. during a World Broadcast. Denis described the event:

"There we were, standing in the studio with the massive microphone hanging from the ceiling in the middle of the room. The choir all took their places and we sang our little hearts out. I had sung the Faery Song from The Immortal Hour every morning for a week at assembly to make sure I knew the piece well; the school must have been pleased when it was all over! This was the song I was to sing at the world broadcast. Full of confidence I stood underneath the microphone; then my teacher, Harry Smith, called me to him and told me he had forgotten the music to The Faery Song, and I would have to sing Market Square by Fraser Simpson. Can you imagine my panic? I nearly died. I asked Mr. Smith if I could stand near him, so that I could look at the words on the piano, hut he said 'No! you will have to stand in the middle of the room under the micro phone'. Fortunately I managed to get through it without faltering."

Denis described the dedication he brought to his singing: "I would leave school at 4:15 pm and then go to Mr. Smith's home every day for my tea. We would then start my singing lessons - scales, breathing, forming words to his satisfaction. I often didn't finish until 9 o'clock p.m. After that he drove me home in his car and I went to bed. This was my regular routine, getting ready for concerts every weekend."

Denis won every music festival he entered. In fact he was asked by the local Festival Committee if he would stop entering, to give other boys a chance!

Denis left school at fourteen and worked in a local factory, but continued to devote every spare minute to his singing. It was the dark days of the early war years, and he sang at over one hundred concerts for the troops in Mansfield. He appeared with many famous artistes, including Alfredo Campoli (violinist), Eileen Joyce, Harriet Cohen (concert pianists), and singers Owen Brannigan, Florence Austral, Anne Zeigler and Webster Booth to name hut a few, and his regular accompanist at H.M.V. was Gerald Moore. He also appeared with celebrated organists Reginald Dixon, Robinson Cleaver and Reginald Forte.

Denis recorded for H.M.V. and became a member of the famous Kentucky Minstrels (the B.B.C. Men's Chorus). It was with this choir that he recorded two wonderful pieces, The Better Land (Hemans-Cowen) and the charming Christopher Robin is Saying his Prayers (A.A. Milne - Fraser Simpson), both included on this CD. The venue for the monthly radio programmes of the Kentucky Minstrels was the Grand Theatre, Llandudno. The show featured Ike Hatch, Scott & Whaley, and John Duncan. It was conducted by Leslie Woodgate, composed by Fred Yule and produced by Harry S. Pepper and Doris Arnold.

As he was no longer at school, Denis was able to fulfil an incredible number of engagements until he went into the Air Force at the age of sixteen-and-a-half in 1942.

"I appeared with Wee Georgie Wood, Marius Goring, Gillie Potter and Lilian Braithwaite and appeared on many half-hour shows on the air. I was the singing voice of Charles Hawtrey in Julius Caesar, which went out on the 28th September, 1942. Denis was paid ten guineas per minute for actual time on the air - rehearsal time was unpaid.

"It was at the Abbey Road Studios that I recorded The Last Rose of Summer (included here), and Brahms Cradle Song, accompanied by Gerald Moore. About eighteen songs were recorded on test-records. During the war years, the release of new recordings was strictly limited which resulted in many of my test-records not being put on the market."

One of Denis's last appearances before he entered the forces he described as 'a dream come true'.

"I was asked by Harry Farjeon if I would be willing to sing at a Promenade Concert at the Royal Albert Hall on July 10th 1942, under the direction of Sir Henry Wood with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, and Solomon playing the piano. I was just sixteen.

"A week before the performance, we hadn't received any music for the concert. In fact, it arrived in Mansfield by post after we had left home to go to Nottingham to catch the train to London. An announcement came over the railway announcing system asking for Mr. Harry Smith to report to the station reception to collect a package which had been delivered by Councillors Frank Hardy, who had rushed from Mansfield by car. This was the music for which we had been waiting - for the rehearsal on Monday, 6th July. I had to learn this music on the train journey to London. We had a week of rehearsals in London, staying at the Regent's Palace Hotel, which cost thirty eight pounds for the two of us"

On Friday, 10th July 1942, during Henry Wood's 48th season, Denis Wright sang the first performance of the Symphonic poem Pannychis, a tone poem, words by Eleanor Farjeon. It was a tremendous success, and proved almost to be his Swan-Song. His beautiful soprano voice, so carefully preserved, was soon to fade. It had been a great career. He was then advised by Sir Hugh Roberton of the Glasgow Orpheous Choir to rest his voice completely until he was twenty-two.

He heeded this advice carefully, but, like so many boy sopranos, his adult voice proved not to be of the same quality which he had possessed as a boy. But he has sung in both church and male voice choirs for most of his adult life.

It used to be said that boy sopranos sacrificed their adult voice in order to possess the 'Golden Voice' of a boy. A highly trained boy will often be capable of singing much longer than is normally possible. When I asked Denis if it had all been worth it, he made the simple heart-felt reply: "Singing has been my life, I have had a wonderful time, both as a boy and as a baritone. God gave me this gift, and with the help of a good singing teacher, I was able to enjoy my singing and give pleasure to the listening public. I would never have changed a single moment."

Denis Wright still lives in Skegby, Sutton-in-Ashfield, Nottinghamshire, with his wife. He is a member of St. Andrew's Church Choir and Bestwood Male Voice Choir. He has sponsored the Denis Wright Award, presented annually to the best boy chorister of the East Midlands.

Additional notes from Volume Three

Another boy to feature prominently on the first two volumes is Denis Wright, the former Mansfield Boy Soprano who was so well known to early wartime wireless listeners. He was a member of Harry Smith's famous High Oakham Boys’ Choir and he first broadcast solo to the world from the Manchester station in 1938. This was the beginning of his success which lasted until he joined the army at the age of sixteen-and-a-half, in 1942.

His career included weekly concerts, broadcasts for Uncle Mac on Children’s Hour and several records for HMV. During 1941 and 1942, Denis joined the famous Kentucky Minstrels as their boy soprano soloist and he broadcast many times from Llandudno and Bangor. A special arrangement of The Better Land, a favourite item in those programmes during the dark days of the war, is our title track on volume one and has, indeed, inspired the whole series of recordings. Denis has also recently been much in demand for interviews following the reissue of his records.

The Boys


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