Happy birthday Elsie

06Dec12

Elsie_GriffinToday, December 6, is Elsie Griffin’s birthday. Not much remembered anymore, she was a huge star in her day and was the first to record and perform two of the most famous songs of the First World War.

Born in Bristol on December 6 1895, she was performing in various amateur choirs from an early age, often as a soloist. Leaving school at 14 she got a job at the Frys chocolate factory, then in Union Street (where the Odeon cinema is today) but took singing lessons in her spare time.

At the age of 19 she won a scholarship to train as a singer, and on the outbreak of the First World War she was touring hospitals to give concerts for casualties, as well as entertaining troops at the front. The Bristol barrister and songwriter Fred Weatherley presented her with two of his most famous songs, ‘Roses of Picardy’ (here’s the great McCormack doing it) and ‘Danny Boy’.

(Yes, yes, the words to that great Irish (and especially Irish-American) anthem were written by an English Protestant from Bristol.)

By the war’s end, Elsie Griffin was a major star. From 1919 to 1926 she was principal soprano with the D’Oyly Carte. Here she is doing a bit of HMS Pinafore.

In 1923 she married fellow D’Oyly Carte singer, the baritone Ivan Menzies. They had a daughter, who was born in Bristol. Leaving his wife and daughter in England, he toured extensively and cheated equally extensively until he got religion. Menzies and Griffin would later become very active members of Moral Re-Armament, a sort of spiritual movement to get people to behave better and promote peace and understanding.

She died in 1989, and a blue plaque was unveiled at her old school, St Michael on the Mount Without, earlier this year.

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