There were also some commercial boy choirs in Britain. We do not have a great deal of information on these choirs. One of the best known was Steffani's 21 Silver Songsters that were active in the 1930s before World War II. They were organized by Arturo Stefani, a stage name selected by Frederick William Wisker. He was a pianist/singer perfoirming in a Tom Moss revue when he came into contact with the Eton Boys Choir. That got him interested in organizing boy choirs. The 21 Silver Soingesters were his most favorite choir, but he organized several others. The Silver Songsters were renowned for its complex vocal and visual arrangements of popular songs. The boys mostly went into other trades afer performing with the choir. The boys were about 12-16 years old. There were various specialties besides singers, including clog dancers. They made some records. The boys received valuaable voice training under Stefani's tutelage. most of the boys left show business when their voices broke and they finished with Stefani's various choirs. Some remained with Stefani and a few vecame well known.
We do not know much about the Eton Boys Choir. They of course had nothing to do with the famed public school. The namec was chosen presumably to give the group an indstantly recognizable and prestigous name. They appeared on the vsriety circuit in the early 1930s. I'm not sure who organized them. It was The Eton Boys choir that gave Steffani the idea of forming his own boys choir. He was working as singer/pianist Fred Northcote in the Tom Moss revue "Hello Beautiful" in 1933-34. Also on the bill were The Eton Boys, and when their leader became ill, Fred stepped in to look after them. He enjoyed the experience and decided to form his own choir. [Adams]
Wales is of course noted for a tradition of male choral singing. Colal miners throughout Wakles formed choirs. Thus many boys were interested in singing. There was at the time far fewer recreational activities for boys. Working-class boys at the time the time finished schools about age 13. Few persued secondary education. Thus there were quite a number of boys out of school or just about to finish school with little to do. Boys voices broke later at the time than is the case today.
Frederick William Wisker/Freddie Northcoat organized several different boy choirs. He decide to call himself Arturo Steffani. This had a more artistic sound. Steffani was a great Italian compser from the 18th century and apparently thought that it gave his boy choirs a classy sound, but neither he or the boys were Italian.
Stefani's first choir was the The Sixteen Singing Scholars. The group originally included boys between 12-14 years of age and it is thought that most originated from the Tiger Bay area of Cardiff. Steffani formed the Sixteen Singing Scholars in Cardiff in 1934. He recruited prize winners from Welsh singing competitions, tap dancers and a pianist. He took them to London where they were based for the next nine months. They auditioned for Moss Empires in London and were given work on the variety circuit. [Adams]
Steffani finally chose the best singers from The Scholars and caled them Steffani and his Silver Songsters. In July 1935 Steffani presented his Silver Songsters, using most of the Singing Scholars and adding a few new faces. They performed throughout Britain as well as America and the Continent. They toured music halls across the country, often supporting leading variety artistes. The Choir was renowned for its complex vocal and visual arrangements of popular songs. They featured some wonderful boy soloists. One source reports, "My father was a featured soloist with Steffani's Silver Songsters. He performed 'Londerry Aire' better known as 'Danny Boy'. The boys mostly went into other trades afer performing with the choir. The boys were about 12-16 years old as some of the original boys stayed with him for several years. There were various specialties besides singers, including clog dancers. They made several recordings. One postcard shows the Choir in 1936 while they were filming 'Dodging The Dole' for the Mancunian Film Company.
The boys also sang in BBC broadcasts. There was 5-week tour of Denmark, Norway and Sweden early in 1939. The boys reported a grueling schedule, performing at least twice daily six days a week in the various towns that they visited. They had various costumes. In the postcard image here they wear Russian blouses (figure 1). This appears to have been their movie costume.
Steffani organized another choir, "The Harlem Pages" although I am not sure just when. This was a group of twelve black boys, also from Cardiff. They sometimes appeared on the same bill as the Silver Songsters.
Stefani formed The Abbey Singers in 1937. They toured with Florrie Forde in her 1937 revue "Swing is King".
Stefani, by the time he formed The Abbey Singers in 1937 was recruiting from all over the U.K. and had several groups, including The Harlem Pages, The Melody Makers and the Harmonichords. [Adams]
We do not have information about what Stefani and his choirs did during World War II. We believe that he probably continued performing.
After the War the Silver Songsters continued a few more years, finally disbanding in 1947. , Steffani gave up on the Silver Songsters anf focused on managaing one of his most illustrious boys.
The boys received valuaable voice training under Stefani's tutelage. most of the boys left show business when their voices broke and they finished with Stefani's various choirs. Some remained with Stefani and a few vecame well known. Some of the most famous were Norman Vaughan, The Cox Twins and the whistler Ronnie Ronalde. Several Stefani veterans recorded as soloists. Some appeared on "The Better Land", including Dai Thomas, Morris Stevens and Cyril Lewis.
Adams. Lynda. E-mail message, June 30, 2008. Lynda is Steffani's great niece.
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