Betty Roe - Musician
Composer, Performer, Teacher, Adjudicator
Betty was born in 1930 in North Kensington, London, England, next-door but one to the house in which she now lives. Her father was a fishmonger in Shepherd's Bush Market, and her mother a butcher's bookkeeper. After finding her playing the piano at a very early age, her parents encouraged her piano lessons, from the age of six, with the local teacher, Madam Dorina. She made rapid progress, despite being firmly discouraged from playing by ear.
Betty was not a good academic scholar, but at the age of twelve she auditioned for a place as a Junior Exhibitioner at the Royal Academy of Music (RAM) where her choice of pieces, by Albert Ketelby (In a Monastery Garden, In a Persian Market), was not accepted by the Course Director. However she was offered a place on the strength of very successful aural tests, and this earned her a "Special Place" at Grammar School. Whilst a Junior Exhibitioner she studied the piano with Fiona Addie, Muriel Dale, and Sadie MacCormack, and cello with Alison Dalrymple. She left school in 1947 (having failed her School Leaving Certificate exams) and took a job as a filing clerk at the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music and continued piano lessons with Mrs Read at Mary Datchelor School in Camberwell.
In 1949 she went to the Royal Academy as a senior student. Her professors were York Bowen (piano), Alison Dalrymple (cello), Jean McKenzie-Grieve (singing). After leaving she continued singing lessons, with Clive Carey, Roy Hickman, Peter van der Stolk and Margaret Field-Hyde. She studied composition with Lennox Berkeley for a short time.
In the 1940s and 50s she gained considerable practical experience with local churches - both singing and playing the organ.
After leaving the RAM, as well as holding a number of church music posts as organist and choirmaster, she was (1968-78) Director of Music at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA), and worked extensively as a session singer with leading London groups and ensembles. On the lighter side she worked with celebrities including Cliff Richard, Harry Secombe, Cilla Black, The Two Ronnies and on Top of the Pops. She has conducted choirs and groups variously, and the NorthKen Chorale (as Musical Director of NorthKen Concerts) since 1980.
As a composer Betty is best known for her solo songs, church and choral music, revue songs, musicals, and music for schools. She spends most of her time now composing, adjudicating, conducting, staffing summer-schools, music weekends and workshops with groups of all ages and abilities, as well as presenting her one-woman shows.
In 1970 Betty founded Thames Publishing with her late husband, John Bishop. As well as her own extensive list of works, Thames has published many English composers, of both contemporary and historical interest.
Following the death of John Bishop in 2000 Thames Publishing became a division of William Elkin Music Services and distribution of Thames items has now been transferred to Music Sales. She has two daughters, both musicians, a son who is a sound recordist, five grandchildren, a great-grandson and three cats.
Betty was appointed MBE for services to Classical Music and to Composition in the New Years Honours list 2011.
This page updated 3rd January 2011