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George Shearing Biography

Born August 13, 1919 in the Battersea area of London, George Shearing was the youngest of nine offspring in a blue-collar home. His father delivered coal and his mother cleaned trains by night and cared for her children by day. Blind at birth, Shearing was encouraged by his family to sit at the piano when he was only three years old. He is told that he used to listen to the radio, then go to the piano and hammer out the notes until each song was fully decoded. Eventually, he received formal training in music at the Linden Lodge School for the Blind. He attended for four years, which was enough training to win university scholarships. But these awards were not enough incentive to take him from the lucrative opportunity to play piano at the neighborhood pub, Mason’s Arms, in Lambeth, for a whopping, weekly salary of one pound and five schillings.

In the 1930’s he played with an all-blind band, which led him to meet jazz critic Leonard Feather, who booked a spot for him on BBC radio. In 1940, Shearing joined Harry Parry’s band. He crossed the critical threshold of his career in 1946, when he visited the United States for three months. He concluded America was the place to be. The following year he immigrated to the U.S. and was naturalized in 1956.
 
He first received national attention in 1949, when he assembled a quintet who recorded and released the hit, "September in the Rain," for MGM. The record proved to be a huge success, selling 900,000 copies. This record opened doors everywhere, including the legendary New York jazz club, Birdland.

Throughout his career of more than 50 years, Shearing has played with many of the best, including Ella Fitzgerald, Peggy Lee, Joe Williams, and numerous others. Being one of America’s most popular musicians, he played for Presidents Ford, Carter, and Reagan, as well as Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip. He has written more than 300 compositions including the standard, Lullaby of Birdland. In 1982 and 1983, he won Grammy Awards for his recordings with Mel Tormé. In 1993, he was presented the Ivor Novello Award for Lifetime Achievement.