Acker Bilk Biography

Bernard Stanley Bilk, 28 January 1929, Pensford, Somerset, England. A self-taught clarinettist, Bilk made his first public appearance in 1947 while on National Service in Egypt. On his return to the UK, he played as a semi-professional around the Bristol area, before gaining his big break with the Ken Colyer band in 1954. Four years later, under the name ‘Mr’ Acker Bilk, he enjoyed his first UK Top 10 hit with ‘Summer Set’. Backed by the Paramount Jazz Band, and promoted by his Bilk Marketing Board, he was at the forefront of the British traditional jazz boom of the early 60s. With their distinctive uniform of bowler hats and striped waistcoats, Bilk and company enjoyed a number of jazzy UK hits in the 60s, including ‘White Cliffs Of Dover’, ‘Buona Sera’, ‘That’s My Home’, ‘Stars And Stripes Forever’, ‘Frankie And Johnny’, ‘Gotta See Baby Tonight’, and ‘A Taste Of Honey’. However, it was with the Leon Young String Chorale that Bilk achieved his most remarkable hit. ‘Stranger On The Shore’ was a US number 1 in May 1962, and peaked at number 2 in the UK, staying for a record-breaking 55 weeks in the bestsellers. Although the beat boom all but ended the careers of many traditional jazzmen, Bilk has continued to enjoy a successful career in cabaret and concerts, and returned to the Top 10 in 1976, again with a string backing, with ‘Aria’. He continues to tour regularly alongside contemporaries such as Kenny Ball and Chris Barber. The trio had a number 1 album, The Best Of Ball, Barber And Bilk, in 1962. Bilk remains a major figure in traditional jazz, and more than 30 years after ‘Stranger On The Shore’ gained an Ivor Novello Award for ‘Most Performed Work’.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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