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Jacobs, Henry Osborne (Harry) (1888–1988)

by Mimi Colligan

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

Henry Osborne (Harry) Jacobs (1888-1988), musician, was born on 13 July 1888 at Edgbaston, Birmingham, England, son of Welsh-born Solomon Jacobs, musician, and his wife Louisa Jane, née Stockham. Educated at Catholic schools at Blackpool, Harry showed an early musical talent. In 1908, already an experienced performer—singing, playing the piano and leading a small band—he was engaged by the music hall star Ada Reeve as her accompanist. Skilled at orchestration, he became her musical director and conductor on tours to South Africa and North America, and of Australia, where he gave patriotic concerts in 1914, 1917 and 1918. On 7 February 1921 at St Paul’s Church of England, Marton, near Blackpool, Lancaster, he married Violet Lucie Maud Bishop, a solo dancer with Reeve’s company. After a long season of Spangles, a variety show, at Melbourne’s Palace theatre in 1922, Jacobs, his wife and his mother-in-law settled in Australia.

For the next six years Jacobs was based in Sydney as conductor and arranger for (J. C. Williamson’s Ltd, touring Australia and New Zealand with musicals such as No No Nanette and Gilbert and Sullivan operas. For a time involved with the Tivoli vaudeville circuit, in 1927 he was appointed conductor at the new Palais Theatre at St Kilda, Melbourne, where, until 1949, immaculately dressed in bow-tie and tails, he led an orchestra that supported variety acts and played light classics before film screenings. Amid manpower shortages in the 1940s he also formed and conducted the highly regarded Palais ladies’ orchestra. As Madame Saronova, his wife became a noted ballet teacher of the Cecchetti method.

During the 1930s Jacobs conducted and orchestrated scores for Eftee Films, composed music for Charles Chauvel’s film Heritage (1935) and was musical arranger for Frank Thring’s première production of Varney Monk’s musical Collits’ Inn, with Gladys Moncrieff and George Wallace at the Princess Theatre, Melbourne, in 1933. From 1941 his ensemble played for the popular 3UZ radio programs `Fifty and Over’, a nostalgic show for `old-timers’, and `Are You an Artist?’, an amateur talent quest. Encouraging stars such as the mouth organist Horrie Dargie in their early careers, Jacobs also directed variety at the Plaza, Northcote, and appeared in Tivoli shows featuring Tommy Trinder and Winifred Atwell. In later years he worked as music librarian for the Tivoli and for Crawford Television Productions, and directed, arranged and conducted Melbourne’s Carols by Candlelight concerts. At eighty years of age he still accompanied his wife’s Australian National Theatre ballet school classes.

In the chancy world of show business, Jacobs was never unemployed. He won respect from orchestra members for his sound musicianship. Theatre and radio managers could rely on him. He was always sober, cheerful and polite; he led a quiet life in suburban Brighton, where he served as a vestryman at St Andrew’s Church of England. Survived by his wife and daughter, Harry Jacobs died on 17 January 1988 at East Brighton and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • K. Dreyfus, Sweethearts of Rhythm (1989)
  • Herald (Melbourne), 15 July 1968, p 9, 13 July 1987, p 16
  • private information.

Citation details

Mimi Colligan, 'Jacobs, Henry Osborne (Harry) (1888–1988)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/jacobs-henry-osborne-harry-12690/text22567, published in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 16 September 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

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