Remembering the dazzling career of Norwich's very own 'Queen of the Blues'

Beryl Bryden at the Jacquard Club on Magdalen Street, Norwich in 1973

Beryl Bryden at the Jacquard Club on Magdalen Street, Norwich in 1973. - Credit: Archant Library

Born just over a century ago in Norwich she was the girl who grew up to become famous across the world as the “Queen of the Blues.”

And the rest…

Beryl Bryden at the Cellar Club under the Orford Arms in Norwich 1958

Beryl Bryden at the Cellar Club under the Orford Arms in Norwich. Date: 1958. - Credit: Archant Library

Over the years the memory of the amazing and charming Beryl Bryden may have faded so it is more important than ever that we should remember her.

Known as the “Washboard gal” at the start of the skiffle boom she became one of our greatest jazz singers working alongside her friends who included Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Billy Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald. It was Ella who described her as our queen of the blues.

But Beryl never forgot her roots and loved coming back to Norwich and Norfolk to delight her audiences in the way only she could.

Beryl Bryden at a Blackfriars Hall concert in Norwich on 26 June 1978

Beryl Bryden performance at a concert in Blackfriars Hall on St Andrews Hall Plain, Norwich. Date: June 26, 1978. - Credit: Archant Library


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Beryl Audrey Bryden was born in Rowington Road, Norwich, in 1920 and went to Norwich High School.

“I was always being teased about my weight at school and had an awful complex about my size for a long time,” she said.

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She grew up listening to and loving jazz. She was friendly with another Norwich singing legend, Black Anna, from the Jolly Butchers in Ber Street. What a double act!

The family had a holiday home at Scratby and her favourite musician was Nat Gonella. She was a regular at his Sunday shows at Great Yarmouth and formed a fan club for him.

Beryl Bryden at the Grosvenor Rooms in Norwich in 1957

Beryl Bryden at the Grosvenor Rooms in Norwich. Date: December 10, 1957. - Credit: Archant Library

Beryl later went on to sing with him. In fact her last recording with Nat was in Holland during 1997. They both died within a few weeks of each other the following year.

After attending art school she got a job as a shorthand typist and secretary with the Norwich Rhythm Club and then went to work at Cambridge.

Following the Second World War she headed off to London – to hit the big time.

She worked with the big names of the day such as Chris Barber and Humphrey Lyttelton before making her recording debut in 1948.

Beryl Bryden promotional handout. 

Beryl Bryden promotional handout. - Credit: Archant Library

The audience would love it when she brought out her washboard and sang her heart out. Forming her own group, Beryl’s Backroom Boys, she toured Europe making a name for herself.

She appeared on radio and television before heading to Britain where the kids were going crazy for skiffle.

The king of skiffle was the great Lonnie Donegan and Beryl played the washboard on his smash hit Rock Island Line – a true classic which sold millions of copies.

Beryl went on to release her own Young Woman Blues recorded at a concert in the Royal Festival Hall.

During the 1960s and 1970s she toured the world. At the New Orleans Jazz Festival of 1973 she was made an Honorary Citizen and given the freedom of the city.

A couple of years later she was voted Musician of the Year by the BBC Jazz Society and in Holland during 1978 Beryl was crowned the Queen of Jazz.

Beryl Bryden with her stepmother Mary in December 1981.

Beryl Bryden with her stepmother Mary. Date: December 1981. - Credit: Archant Library

She carried on touring far and wide, delighting her fans and new ones with her fabulous stage presence and voice and she would always love coming back to her roots. One of her last performances was at the dear old Norfolk Dumpling in Norwich during May of 1998. She died in July.

Beryl, who never married and lived in London, recorded more than 100 songs with 40 different bands in 12 countries.

We must never forget our Beryl.

Beryl Bryden 70th birthday cake 1990

Beryl Bryden with her 70th birthday cake in 1990. - Credit: Archant Library

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