As 1954 drew to a close, the charts were finally livening up. Rosemary Clooney’s This Ole House had shown the way forward, and a certain song called Rock Around the Clock by Bill Haley & His Comets had been getting attention. Unlike the previous December, when record buyers had chosen the solemn Answer Me by Frankie Laine as their Christmas number 1, everyone decided they wanted to spend the festive season having a bloody good knees up. And so on 3 December, Winifred Atwell’s instrumental Let’s Have Another Party went to the top and stayed there until the new year. She had become the first black person to have a number 1.
Winifred Atwell was born in Trinidad & Tobago. She was expected to join the family business and become a pharmacist, but she had loved playing the piano since childhood, and left her home to study music in the US, before moving to London and becoming the first female pianist to achieve the highest grading at the Royal Academy of Music. Substituting for an ill star at the Capitol Theatre, she caught the interest of famous impresario Bernard Delfont with her frenetic honky tonk style of playing. Before long, her version of Black and White Rag made her famous (it was later used as the theme tune to the BBC’s snooker show Pot Black)
Let’s Have Another Party was a follow-up to her hit Let’s Have a Party (see what she did there?). Atwell showcased her skills once more with a medley of ten songs. Easily the longest chart-topper so far, she ran through Somebody Stole My Gal, I Wonder Where My Baby Is Tonight, When the Red Red Robin, Bye Bye Blackbird, The Sheik of Araby, Another Little Drink, Lily of Laguna, Honeysuckle and the Bee, Broken Doll and Nellie Dean. She did this without pause, at a relentless pace, and as old-fashioned as it sounds now, it’s very refreshing to hear something so different to what came before. Atwell had mad skills, you could say. You can imagine people gathering round the gramophone on Christmas Day and actually smiling along to this, or perhaps even going so far as to have a little dance, and it’s a lovely image.
Sadly, Christmas Day 1954 would have been ruined for many once news got out of a terrible air crash. The Prestwick air disaster had occurred at 3.30 that morning, when the RMA Cathay struggled with intense rain and landed short of the runway at Prestwick Airport in Scotland. The aircraft overturned and burst into flames, killing 28 of the 36 on board, including two children and cricket star Kenneth Davidson.
Although the charts in 1954 had often offered up more of the same, the number ones were of more interesting fare than 1953, with a little less crooning and more (dreadful) comedy, jazz and pop. 1954 showed early signs of how unpredictable the UK charts could and would be in years to come.
Written by: Leo Wood/Walter Donaldson & Russ Kahn/Harry Woods/Ray Henderson & Mort Dixon/Harry B Smith, Francis Wheeler & Ted Snyder/Clifford Grey & Nat Dyer/Leslie Stuart/William Penn & Albert Fitz/Douglas & Guy C Rawson/Henry W Armstrong
Weeks at number 1: 5 (3 December-6 January)
Author Hanif Kureishi – 5 December
Author Louis de Bernières – 8 December
Singer Annie Lennox – 25 December
Politician Alex Salmond – 31 December
Classicist Mary Beard – 1 January
Comedian Jimmy Mulville – 5 January
Author James Hilton – 20 December