The Cinema Museum, London

Soft Lights and Sweet Music: Elisabeth Welch on Screen, with Stephen Bourne

Sat 29 Oct 2011 @ 14:30 · Events

Elisabeth Welch’s biographer, Stephen Bourne, will share his personal memories of the stage and screen legend, illustrating his talk with some rare and wonderful film extracts from his private collection. In the course of her 70-year career, both Cole Porter and Ivor Novello wrote songs for her, and when she appeared as ‘A Goddess’ in Derek Jarman’s 1979 screen version of Shakespeare’s The Tempest – dressed in gold from head to foot, walking through a rain of confetti in a room garlanded with flowers, and singing ‘Stormy Weather’ to a group of handsome young sailors – George Melly described it as “arguably the campest, most sparkling moment in the history of cinema”.

Born in New York, Elisabeth Welch had originally planned to become a social worker on leaving school, but she found herself drawn to the stage, and throughout the 1920s she appeared in a succession of black Broadway shows at the height of the Jazz Age. Her career took her to Paris, in the footsteps of Josephine Baker, and then to London, where she settled in 1933.

During the late 1930s, Elisabeth Welch began to appear in films, usually as a singer, including two with American singer and actor Paul Robeson. She was one of the first artists to perform on television, as she was asked by the BBC to appear on their new service from a studio in Alexandra Palace. During the Second World War she stayed in London in spite of the Blitz, and entertained the armed forces along with many other artists.

Elisabeth Welch in 1957

After the war she was in many West End shows, including a number of revues. She continued on both television and radio and had a series of one-woman shows that lasted until 1990. In her final performance, for a television documentary at the age of 93, she sang again what had long been her signature tune, ‘Stormy Weather’.

During the afternoon Stephen will sign copies of some of his books including Elisabeth Welch: Soft Lights and Sweet Music (2005); Sophisticated Lady: A Celebration of Adelaide Hall (2001) and Butterfly McQueen Remembered (2008).

This event will end around 17.00.

Tickets & Pricing

Visit our Autumn Season 2011 overview page for ticketing arrangements and prices for this individual event.

Alternatively, combined tickets for both today’s Black History Month events can be reserved by phoning or emailing the Museum @£12 (£10 advance, £8 concessions)