Obituary - Avril Dankworth, 1922-2013

22nd March 2013 at 00:00

Avril Dankworth made it her mission in life to "make music fun". Her personal motto became the title of a bestselling book and guided her work in founding the innovative Avril Dankworth Children's Music Camps, an annual event that continues today as the National Youth Music Camps.

Born in Southend-on-Sea, Essex, in 1922, Ms Dankworth was educated at Walthamstow High School, Hockerill Teacher Training College, the Royal College of Music and Trinity College of Music. She had a passion for teaching and a desire to make music accessible to all.

She worked as a singer and accompanist to acts including Hungarian singer Matyas Seiber and the George Mitchell Choir, before going on to teach in various London schools and colleges. She also travelled the world, lecturing, training teachers and adjudicating.

Jazz was a particular musical passion of the Dankworth family: Ms Dankworth's younger brother was the legendary jazz composer and saxophonist John Dankworth; she herself wrote a history of the form and was instrumental in introducing it into the school music curriculum. In 1971, Ms Dankworth married Leslie Carew, a famous trombonist during the big band era.

But it was in the mid-1960s, when she co-founded the Sing for Pleasure movement, that she came up with the idea that was to define her life: a music camp for children.

Her dream was realised in 1970 when her brother and his wife, jazz singer Cleo Laine, bought the Old Rectory in Wavendon, Milton Keynes, with the idea of turning the stable block into a theatre. Ms Dankworth saw the field at the back of the stables as the ideal venue for her camp.

The music camps were for any child aged 7-17 who wanted to spend a week under canvas making music. There was no minimum entry grade, and all instruments and styles of music were welcome. The only necessary qualification was a love of music.

The camps continue today at the same venue and remain unique. Many former campers have gone on to have successful careers in the music industry, including songwriter and record producer Guy Chambers, Radiohead lead singer Thom Yorke and Sting's guitarist Dominic Miller.

In 1990, Ms Dankworth was awarded an honorary doctorate for services to music education. Sarah Watts, director of the National Youth Music Camps, said: "Avril enthused generations of teachers and students with her fun approach to music education. The music camps she established have inspired thousands and often changed lives. She was an inspirational woman who had a great idea and made it happen."

Dr Dankworth developed a chest infection and died earlier this month at the age of 90.

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