AddThis Smart Layers

Louis 'Dri' Drysdale (1883-1933): Famous Jamaican tenor buried in Brockley & Ladywell cemeteries

Finding out recently from records that the famous Jamaican tenor and singing professor, Louis 'Dri' Drysdale, was buried in Ladywell cemetery was a particularly welcome if serendipitous discovery.   Dri as he was popularly called died aged 49 years at his home on Westbourne Road, Forest Hill in March 1933.  Although the whereabouts of his grave are known it seems that any headstone has been lost due to WW2 bomb damage . However his long forgotten story is wonderfully captured on the Jamaica.History website

Dri arrived in the UK as a part of the  Kingston Choral Union which became famous as the 'Jamaica Choir' during its two tours extending from 1906 to 1908. Several members, including Dri decided to stay on to make use of the opportunities to improve their musical skills.

The Kingston Choral Union of Jamaica, renamed the Native Choir from Jamaica, left the island on 4 January 1906 for Bristol and then to Liverpool where they were to appear at the colonial products exhibition for entrepreneur Alfred Lewis Jones. Led by T. Ellis Jackson, with pianist Harry Nation, the males were Louis George Drysdale, Carlton Bryan, J. T. Loncke

( photograph courtesy of Historian Jeffrey Green -whose excellent website has as its main focus the activities of black people in Britain ca 1830-ca 1940-

With the backing of Sir Alfred Jones, Dri was able to study at the Royal College of Music with outstanding operatic performers of the day. He then made a very successful career training singers, using the finest Italian methods. Although it does not seem that he ever returned to Jamaica, and he and his first wife were divorced around 1911, he maintained strong links with the island.

From the Daily Gleaner, October 31, 1924
Lovers of music in Jamaica will be interested to learn that Mr. Louis Drysdale, the tenor singer who was a member of the Jamaica Choir which left here under Mr. T. Ellis Jackson to sing at the Liverpool Exhibition in 1906, is a teacher of singing in the Italian method and a specialist in breath control, diction, phrasing and style in London. He studied at the Royal College of Music with Gustave Garcia, and under such other distinguished masters as Prof. Giovanni Clerici (Hon R.A.M., Florence), Signor Lenghi Cellini and Signor Joaquin Bayo. Mr Drysdale has had exceptional experience in training voices, his pupils being most successful. He trains pupils for opera, oratorio and the concert platform.

Testimonials to his musical influence are numerous and include some from world famous artists of the day. He was  acknowledged as one of the best teachers in singing in Europe. His palatial studio in Forest Hill, London, S.E. 23, was regarded as a Mecca of Music.:

From the Daily Gleaner, February 5, 1930
In 1930 the great Jamaican comedian, Ernest Cupidon, wrote of his recent visit to Britain 'While I was in England it was my good fortune not only to meet Mr Drysdale and his charming English wife, but to stay in their home at Forest Hill for several weeks. That Mr. Drysdale is a distinguished teacher of voice production and singing has been demonstrated by the results he has achieved.  His wife, an accomplished accompanist, is of invaluable service to his art. He has a large clientele of men and women of all nationalities, and people travel from distant parts of England to take lessons from  Mr. Drysdale.'   

In addition to his 'palatial' house at 11 Westbourne Road, Forest Hill, Dri had studios in the centre of London, one being at the Grotrian Hall on Wigmore Street. Among those mentioned as benefitting from Dri's coaching were the enormously popular American singer, Florence Mills, and the young Marian Anderson, at the start of her remarkable career. Dri offered a generous scholarship to Jamaican singers in 1930, and fellow Jamaicans were always welcome at his home.

One source noted that after Louis Drysdale died in London in 1933, he was for several years remembered by Jamaicans for his achievements, but, as has happened to so many, his name soon faded from the Jamaican memory. Lets hope that with his final resting place now known, his enduring musical legacy will once again be remembered in guided walks and other cemetery events.

Chicago Defender July 15, 1933
One of many glowing obituaries from contemporary newspapers