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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Lumsdaine, John Sinclair (Jack) (1895–1948)

by Murray Goot

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

John Sinclair (Jack) Lumsdaine (1895-1948), songwriter, vaudeville artist and entertainer, was born on 18 November 1895 at Casino, New South Wales, son of Herbert Sinclair Lumsdaine, native-born bank manager, and his English wife Edith, née Bentley, a music teacher who taught her son to sing and play the piano. In 1905, after his parents moved to Hunters Hill, Sydney, Jack attended St Andrew's Cathedral Choir School (also studying music and playing the organ), and in 1909-10 Sydney Grammar School. He was briefly a bank clerk but in 1911 he joined a vaudeville company, the All Blacks; for two years he toured Australia, singing and playing mostly impromptu numbers.

In September 1915 Lumsdaine enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force. He served briefly in the Middle East and for a year in France where he was reputedly gassed; hence the sobriquet 'Whispering Baritone'. In 1917 he was evacuated to England where he served as a pay sergeant and, unofficially, as an entertainer. Shortly before his return to Australia he was promoted temporary warrant officer class II and married Dorothy Rosina Staley on 7 June 1919 at Pimlico, London.

Demobilized, Lumsdaine worked for music publishers, Allan & Co. Pty Ltd of Melbourne and later J. Albert & Son of Sydney, advising them on what overseas sheet music to publish. Tours of Australian and New Zealand theatres, with Lumsdaine performing before the main film, were one way of promoting this music as well as his own. He composed hundreds of songs, some of which he recorded; one of the most popular was 'Every Day is a Rainbow for Me' with (Sir) Donald Bradman at the piano. Many recorded by Peter Dawson were sung all over the world. Lumsdaine also conducted orchestras and was a theatre organist. On the vaudeville circuit he began as an accompanist to imported acts; he had a record run of eleven weeks at Sydney's Tivoli Theatre.

In 1923 Lumsdaine began working in radio. 'Music While You Wait' was an instant success in 1926; listeners would phone 2FC with the title for a song and within half an hour Lumsdaine would compose the words and the music. In 1932 he joined 2GB, undertaking announcing and other duties and appearing every Friday night as the 'Radio Rascal'. Later he teamed with Jack Davey in a song and gag show, 'Daffy and Dilly', and from 1936 as 'Two Jacks and a Piano'. Lumsdaine was also a commentator on the Fox Movietone newsreels, directed a weekly variety show, 'Radio Pie', and did musical work for the Colgate-Palmolive radio unit. While mostly associated with 2GB, he also worked during World War II for 2UE.

Generous and tolerant, Lumsdaine was 'ready with laughter and rude jests'. He liked to drink but never let it affect his work, followed the horses, played golf and sailed. He died of cancer at Rushcutters Bay on 28 August 1948 and was cremated with Anglican rites. 'Policemen and tramguards saluted', Kenneth Slessor wrote, 'and the traffic was stopped by the crowds in George Street' when his funeral set out from St Andrew's Cathedral. He was survived by his wife and their only child Thora, whose work in radio included plays and the 'Radio Pie' show with her father.

Select Bibliography

  • Wireless Weekly, 23 July 1926, 18 Oct 1935, 3 Sept 1937
  • Listener In, 26 June 1937
  • private information.

Citation details

Murray Goot, 'Lumsdaine, John Sinclair (Jack) (1895–1948)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 24 November 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

View the front pages for Volume 10

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