Biography

Sheila Tracy hails from Mullion, Cornwall and studied piano, violin and trombone at the Royal Academy of Music before joining the Ivy Benson All Girls Band. With her in the trombone section was Phyl Brown, who doubled on vocals and they decided to form a double act calling themselves the Tracy Sisters. Their first big break came when they replaced the Kay Sisters on a Moss Empire Variety tour with Mike and Bernie Winters. Regular broadcasts on Workers Playtime followed and TV appearances included the Black and White Minstrel Show. They played in cabaret all over the world with three months at the Great Eastern Hotel, Calcutta but when an offer to play Las Vegas for six months followed, they turned it down as Phyl was married to trombonist Gary Brown and thought she might end up being divorced!

It was at this stage in her career that Sheila’s mother suggested she write to BBC Television and apply for a job as an announcer. She did and was accepted which resulted in her doubling on screen with the final Tracy Sister date, a two week variety tour with Frankie Vaughan and Harry Worth. While working at Television Centre, she joined George Chisholm in a trombone duet on the Easter edition of the Black & White Minstrel Show.

When BBC Television replaced the ‘In Vision’ announcers with the revolving globe, Sheila worked for Spotlight South West in Plymouth, Points West in Bristol and South Today in Southampton along with such network series as A Spoonful of Sugar, co-presenting with Michael Aspel, which ran for three years.

She joined BBC Radio 4 in 1974, In August of the following year became the first woman to read the news on that network and was also chosen as one of the four newsreaders for the start of Broadcasting from Parliament. She transferred to Radio 2 in 1977 and in 1979 introduced the first Big Band Special, which took to the road in 1987, with as many as 50 to 60 concerts a year. On non-broadcast concerts Sheila joined the trombone section if five trombones were needed. Either that, or took over the conducting when Barry Forgie played the 5th trombone part! In 1992 she introduced the band on a three-week tour of America with star guest George Shearing.

On holiday in the States in 1982 Sheila read an article in the Washington Post about Big John Trimble, the truckers favourite DJ. As she was then presenting a weekly three hour show for Radio 2 throughout the night, she decided to make the middle hour the Truckers Hour. So successful was it that within a year she was given her own nightly show from 1am to 2am. The mail poured in from the HGV drivers pounding through the night but CB was not yet legal and some of the CB language, innocently repeated by Sheila on air, caused consternation amidst the BBC hierarchy and after 12 months the Truckers Hour was axed.

In 2001, Sheila joined Primetime Radio, a newly formed digital station, presenting a weekly show ‘Swingtime with Sheila Tracy’ which attracted emails from all over the world until the station folded in 2006.

Having made several documentaries on the swing era for Radio 2 over the years, Sheila decided to transcribe her many interviews with famous musicians such as Artie Shaw and Billy May into book form resulting in the publication in 1995 of ‘Bands, Booze and Broads’. She then followed it up with ’Talking Swing’, interviewing the members of the top British Bands over the past half century. This in turn led to her incorporating her priceless recording in her Swingtime lectures on P&O Cruises as well as on dry land.

Her introduction to the world of brass bands came in the late 1970s when she compèred a series of concerts at the Colston Hall, Bristol. In 1994, along with Betty Anderson, she became part of the first female adjudicating panel for the 4th Division of the National Championships and in 1997 was on stage at the Royal Albert Hall to announce the results and compère the Gala concert for the finals for 12 years.

In 1997, she was made a Freeman of the City of London and an A.R.A.M. In 2002 she was awarded the Alan Dell Trophy for Services to Music and in 2003 was one of two overseas broadcasters honoured by the Big Band Academy of America in Los Angeles.

Sheila Tracy 1934 – 3oth September 2014

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