Jordie Kilby and David Kilby feature some pioneering Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island singers.
In the 90’s Yothu Yindi’s hit albums and singles greatly assisted in attracting national and international interest in Indigenous Australian music and performers. Yet, in some ways, the path that the group trod had been walked before. But by whom? Here are a few of the pioneers.
Harold Blair - Jabbin Jabbin - Score Records 1956.
Harold Blair was blessed with a beautiful tenor voice and it took him from Murgon mission in Queensland to the concert halls of New York. His first release appeared in 1956 on Melbourne’s Score record label and was the first commercial recording by an aboriginal Australian singer. What makes the record really interesting is that even though Blair made his name performing in productions like The Messiah, his first official recordings were of songs that the discs’ liner notes call traditional aboriginal Australian songs.
Georgia Lee - Downunder Blues - Crest Records - 1962.
When her album "Sings The Blues Downunder" was released it created a place for Georgia Lee in the history books. It was the first blues album ever recorded in Australia and only the second album, of any kind, recorded by an Australian female artist. Alongside covers of blues standards sit two original compositions, Yarra River Blues and Downunder Blues, both penned by Crest producer King Crawford and very early examples of what you might call Australian blues.
Vicki Simms - Yo Yo Heart - Festival Records - 1961 & Stanger in My Country - RCA Records - 1973.
Vicki Simms career began before he was a teenager singing Little Richard covers at Sydney dances in the late 1950’s. His first single Yo Yo Heart was released in 1961 when he was thirteen. Even though his records and TV appearances were geared toward the pop market he was a rock and roller at heart and one of the first aboriginal singers to make his name in that field. After struggling with alcohol he was sent to gaol where he began writing verse and learning guitar. "Stranger in My Country" comes from his 1973 landmark album The Loner which documented the feelings of many indigenous Australians at that time.
George Bracken - Turn Me Loose - W&G Records - 1959.
Before Cassius Clay or Lionel Rose combined boxing with a pop recording career there was George Bracken. George got his start with Jimmy Sharman’s boxing troupe in Queensland and soon moved to Victoria to begin training. He’d always been a social singer and was approached by W&G records to cut a couple of singles in the early 60’s. In the end George had more hits in the ring that on the charts but he was there before anyone else. He later went back to school and dedicated his life to liaising between police and the indigenous community in Redfern, Sydney.
Warumpi Band - Jalanguru Pakarnu - 1983.
Probably most famous these days for songs like My Island Home and Blackfella/Whitefella the Warumpi band hold the distinction of being the first band to record a rock song in an indigenous Australian language (Luritja) . Neil Murray was working as a teacher in Papunya in the central desert region of the Northern Territory when he formed the band with brothers Sammy and Gordon Butcher and George Burarrwanga. Initially covering the likes of Chuck Berry they soon began developing their own unique style of outback rock. The song was named after a phrase common with locals on the street and means "out from jail".
Little Davey Page - Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen - Atlantic Records - 1975.
The Page brothers Stephen and David are best known for their groundbreaking stage and theatre work over the last 20 years. However long before finding lasting national fame David was spotted performing in a talent quest and signed with the iconic American label Atlantic Records - the first Australian to do so. He was groomed as Australia’s answer to the young Michael Jackson and released a couple of singles under the name Little Davey Page. Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen made the top 10 on the Brisbane charts in July 1975 and the follow up We Like Music Together went top 15 early the following year. There were no more after that and Australia had to wait a little before being exposed to David’s talent once again.