Johnny Pearson

b. 18 June 1925, Plaistow, London, England, d. 20 March 2011. A composer, arranger, conductor and pianist, Pearson was one of the most respected personalities on the U.K. music scene for more than 50 years. A prodigious talent on the piano from an early age, when he was nine he won a scholarship to the London Academy of Music, where he studied for four years under the renowned English concert pianist Solomon. This intensive training enabled him to give classical recitals while still in his early teens, but he subsequently became interested in jazz, and formed his own group, the Rhythm Makers. In June 1945, after serving as a pianist and drummer in the Royal Artillery Band during World War II, he received a special mention for his work at the Melody Maker South London Dance Band Championship. In October 1948, Pearson signed up to the newly formed Malcolm Mitchell Trio, with Mitchell on guitar and Teddy Broughton on bass. They toured Europe and the UK variety circuit, played at top West End clubs such as Ciro’s, and appeared on various radio programmes. They also joined Britain’s leading song-and-dance man, Jack Buchanan, in the London revue Castle In The Air.

When Mitchell disbanded the Trio in 1954, Pearson went on to establish himself as a brilliant instrumentalist and musical director. On radio, he was the regular featured pianist with the Peter York Orchestra, played with bandleader Eddie Carroll on two pianos in Music All The Way, and conducted the Romance In Rhythm Orchestra for the long-running Music For Sweethearts, as well as hosting his own shows. Pearson also directed the musical accompaniment for numerous popular vocalists, such as Lena Horne, Vanessa Lee and Connie Francis, and provided the musical setting for Cilla Black’s ‘Anyone Who Had A Heart’, which topped the UK chart in 1964. On New Year’s Day of that year, BBC Television launched Top Of The Pops, and Pearson appeared on the second edition, leading his Sounds Orchestral ensemble in ‘Cast Your Fate To The Wind’. The single made the Top 10 in the UK and USA, and was also the title track of a Top 20 album on both sides of the Atlantic. This was followed by a minor UK hit for Sounds Orchestral with ‘Moonglow’.

A more permanent liaison between Pearson and Top Of The Pops came in 1967, after the Musicians Union ruled that singers should prerecord their songs rather than mime to them. Pearson was given the job of forming a top-rate orchestra, made up of the cream of British musicians, to supplement the backing tracks in the studio on the night of the performance (this practice actually continued until the early 80s). Pearson returned to the chart with his own composition, ‘Sleepy Shores’ (1971), which went to number 8 in the UK, and was nominated for an Ivor Novello Award. The melody was regularly featured as the theme to the BBC’s top-rated television series Owen MD, starring Nigel Stock as a country doctor. Later in the 70s, Pearson created another memorable theme for the much-loved and enduring small-screen drama All Creatures Great And Small. Johnny Pearson continued to compose signature tunes and themes, as well as conduct and play for television, on radio, and in recording studios, for years to come. He died on 20 March 2011 at the age of 85.

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