Vale Judith Durham, the cuddly Australian ‘girl next door’ whose soaring voice has gained international acclaim

Judith Durham, one of Australia’s best-known voices, has died aged 79.

An icon of the Australian music industry as the lead singer of The Seekers and a solo artist, she was an enduring female voice in an industry still dominated by men. Georgie Girl, A World of Our Own and The Carnival Is Over are just a few of the songs that will always sound best with her vocals.

His artistry and approach was an alternative to 60s swing in popular music. There were no gimmicks in his art – just a soaring voice delivered with precision.

Born Judith Mavis Cock in the Melbourne suburb of Essendon in 1943, she studied classical piano at the University of Melbourne Conservatory. Through connections at the university and on the local scene, she continued as a gifted musician and developed a following in the jazz community.

Under her mother’s maiden name, she released her first EP, Judy Durham, with Frank Traynor’s Jazz Preachers. The liner notes billed her as “the most promising and talented female singer today”. She was 19 years old.

Around this time Durham also started a desk job where she met Athol Guy. After a quick introduction, Durham was invited to play with Guy, Keith Potger and Bruce Woodley at a local cafe.

From there, the Seekers were born.

For a short time Durham recorded with both Frank Traynor and The Seekers for W&G Records, providing, as jazz historian Bruce Johnson described in The Oxford Companion to Australian Jazz, an important link between jazz, folk and what was to become mainstream pop.

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Originally considered a folk and gospel group, the Seekers’ sound quickly stood out – in A World of Our Own, as their 1965 song declared.

Their debut album, Introducing the Seekers, was released in 1963. In 1964 the band traveled to the UK.

Shortly after their arrival, The Seekers recorded the single I Know I’ll Never Find Another You at Abbey Road Studios. When it was released in 1965, it made them the first Australian act to earn number one in the UK.

When the impact of The Seekers was reviewed by the National Film and Sound Archive, curator Jenny Gall quoted another Australian popular music legend, Lillian Roxon, who described the band as “a cuddly type of girl from to the side”. […] and three sober cats that looked like bank tellers”.

Like journalist Roxon, Durham was a pioneering woman in and for Australian music in the epic centers of pop culture in the US and UK in the burgeoning 1960s.

Although seemingly unassuming, she was not just “the girl next door”, but a foundational talent who worked hard for her accomplishments.

International fame

Durham said the band originally only planned to go overseas for “an adventure […] with no idea that we would stay in England and become popstars”.

Intentionally or not, they became among the greatest artists in the world in the 1960s. When they won the 1965 NME award for best new group, they beat the Rolling Stones and the Beatles.

In the United States, they have attracted similar attention. Georgie Girl became the number one single in the United States in 1967, beating out Tom Jones, The Supremes and The Monkees.

The band were named Australians of the Year in 1967. In 1968, Durham respectfully named it.

A farewell concert, Farewell the Seekers, was broadcast live on the BBC. It has been watched by over 10 million people. Their inevitable “best of” album appeared on the UK charts for 125 weeks.

In the 1970s Durham continued as a solo artist, often recording standards and covers.

She returned to jazz as part of the Hot Jazz Duo in 1978 with her husband Ron Edgeworth.

The couple continued to work together for years to come on a variety of projects until his death from motor neurone disease in 1994.

Since then Durham has been a patron of the Motor Neurone Disease Association of Australia and has continued to fundraise for the organization. It was one of many charities she supported.

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musical tale

She periodically returned to The Seekers for anniversary tours, while continuing to record her own work and with others.

From jazz to folk to classic and even contemporary pop as a cameo on silverchair’s B-side English Garden, even after a stroke in 2013 she continued to work.

His latest release, the 2020 single All in a day’s work with Lance Lawrence, was another demonstration of his love for musical storytelling.

In an industry that often demands specific types of brilliance from women in particular, she was physically small with a heavy voice.

A constant in so many middle-aged homes, there was nothing quite like hearing Turn Turn Turn, Morningtown Ride or The Carnival is Over on an old radio or beloved turntable.

When I got the chance to finally see her in concert a few years ago, it was like we were all little kids singing for pure joy. His enthusiasm and skill, even in his later years, radiated off stage and from loudspeakers.

May she rest well at the endless carnival in the sky.

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