1978 Horatio Alger Award Winner
"It takes a strong person to say I'm not going to conform."
Sir George Shearing was born in 1919 in Battersea, South London, England. He was the youngest of nine children. Shearing was born blind to working class parents—his father delivered coal and his mother cleaned trains in the evening. He started to learn piano at the age of three and began formal training at the Linden Lodge School for the Blind, where he lived from the ages 12 to 16. He often performed at a local pub, earning '25 bob for a week.' Later, he joined a 16-member government-sponsored all-blind band, whose theme song was 'I'll See You in My Dreams.'
In 1947, Shearing came to the United States with his wife and daughter. After a few years of playing as a cocktail pianist and intermission player for jazz legends like Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan, a friend suggested he combine his own rhythm section of bass and drums with a guitar and a vibraphone. This became the foundation for the George Shearing Quintet, which met in a recording studio and tried out the sound with 'September in the Rain.' The recording sold 900,000 copies almost overnight.
For nearly 30 years, the quintet enjoyed an international reputation that included concerts, hotel and club dates, radio and television appearances, benefit concerts for the blind, foreign travel, and White House visits. In 1978, Shearing broke up the quintet to go on and try new things. In 1979, he collaborated with Mel Tormé. That duo won him two Grammys, one in 1982 and then another in the following year. Over the years, Shearing also collaborated with Nat King Cole, Peggy Lee, and Nancy Wilson.
Shearing's interest in classical music resulted in performances with concert orchestras in the 1950s and 1960s. He became known for a piano technique known as Shearing voicing, a type of double melody block chord, with an additional fifth part that doubles the melody an octave lower.
Shearing wrote more than 300 compositions, including the classic 'Lullaby of Birdland,' which has become a jazz standard. In 1993, he was presented with the British equivalent of the Grammy, the Ivor Novello Award for Lifetime Achievement. In 1996, he was included in the Queen's Birthday Honors List and was invested by Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace as an Officer of the Order of the British Empire for his 'service to music and Anglo-U.S. relations.' He was presented the first American Music Award by the National Arts Club in New York in 1998. In 1999, he celebrated his 80th birthday by playing sold-out concerts at both the Birmingham Symphony Hall in England and Carnegie Hall in New York.
George Shearing's biography, Lullaby of Birdland, was released in 2005. In conjunction with the autobiography release, Concord Records released a composite of Shearing recordings in a 2-CD set entitled 'Lullabies of Birdland: A Musical Autobiography'.
On June 13, 2007, he was given a Knighthood at Buckingham Palace by Queen Elizabeth II 'for his services to music.'
A U.S. citizen since 1956, Sir George Shearing and Lady Shearing divided their time between their apartment in New York and a house in the Berkshires. He said he defined success as those who are fortunate enough to work at what they like to do. 'I am one of those people,' he said.* Deceased