Not only is this performance a rare snapshot into popular music culture of 1960s Australia but it highlights the success story of one the first black music superstars in the Commonwealth. At the height of Winifred’s career, the ragtime icon was the highest paid star in Australia and the United Kingdom, and had insured hands worth 40,000 pounds that prohibited her from washing dishes.
Born and raised in Trinidad, Atwell was a qualified pharmacist before quitting to pursue her passion for music. She travelled to the United States to study under Russian-American pianist Alexander Borovsky before studying at London’s Royal Academy of Music. While studying she played at clubs and even opened one of the first black hair salons in Brixton.
Her big break came with ‘Black and White Rag’, a song recorded on a 70 year old honky-tonk piano bought by her husband after Atwell declared the first recording didn’t sound right on a grand piano. This upright, slightly out of tune piano with non functioning keys and exposed strings was known as her ‘other piano’ and became Atwell’s signature instrument. It travelled with her on international tours in Italy, Austria and Las Vegas.