International Jazz Day

Ottilie Patterson

To celebrate International Jazz Day, we take a look at a collection that has caused much excitement with researchers and for one professional archivist (Penny Hutchins) who explored the world of jazz and blues for the first time.

The collection consists of scrapbooks and photographs documenting Ottilie Patterson’s early life as a young Irish art teacher and her rise to stardom, following her discovery by the Chris Barber Band. Newspaper cuttings reflect the wonder in which her hometown watched her meteoric ascent, as well as the praise that was showered on her by the media and jazz critics:

‘Belfast police had to be called out last night to control the crowds who flocked to Fiesta Ballroom to hear Ottilie Patterson, the 22 year old jazz singer from Newtownards, who was recently acclaimed by the national Press as “the greatest blues singer on this side of the Atlantic”.’
Northern Whig, January 1955

Professional and personal photographs show Ottilie with Chris and the band – on stage, with guests, and backstage. There are photographs of Ottilie and Chris as husband and wife, and later photographs taken to promote her new solo album during the 1980s. Further in the collection are found more emotive notebooks and manuscript poems and writings by Ottilie that uncover the person she was behind the scenes. A notebook journal notes the stress of a tour of Germany and Berlin and the physical exhaustion of travelling, poor eating and concert schedules. Poems reflect a darker side to Ottilie’s personality, where she struggled with her emotions and a depth of loneliness which takes the reader by surprise. And of course, there are drawings – sketches of her husband asleep in a hotel room at 4am, of passers-by in the street in Ireland in the days before she became famous, self-portraits poking fun at herself.

An interview given by Ottilie in 1989 seems to explain the very extent of the commitment to which she turned over her life to singing the blues:

‘I have worked with other groups but I feel that a lot of people who aren’t professional don’t know the intensity with which we work. Chris says: “You can’t make jazz sound as if your life depended on it unless your life depends on it.” And that’s it.’

See more about Ottilie Patterson on our website here.
Download the collection listing here.
Make an appointment at the Archive to view the Ottilie Patterson collection. Email or telephone our research archivist David Nathan.
Tel: +44 (0) 20 8502 4701

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