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Handbill from Hackney Empire 1936. Courtesy of Charlotte Breese

Remembering Hutch : Looking back at Europe’s highest paid performer for 20 years

What started out as an initial research project to appease a friend of her father, led to writer Charlotte Breese spending the following 10 years researching and writing a book about Grenadian singer and pianist Leslie Hutchinson or ‘Hutch’ as he was commonly known. In this podcast, recorded specially for MAG_BTM, she talks with Mykaell Riley, founder of the Black Music Research Unit, about Hutch’s extraordinary career as both a performer originating from the West Indies and as a celebrity in the first half of the 20th century. Listen below to the conversation...

Raised in Grenada in the West Indies, Hutch went to America aged 16, where he abandoned his medical studies to learn music in Harlem. He met Edwina Mountbatten and other socialites there, but having been threatened in Miami by the Ku Klux Klan, he departed for Spain, where he taught the Queen’s daughters to dance the Charleston. He was part of the international jet set, meeting the Prince of Wales and moving in ever rarefied circles. Leaving for Paris, he played in various famous nightclubs and became Cole Porter’s protégé before arriving in London in 1926 to play in several of the Cochran stage shows. His fame soared, eventually recording some 400 songs and singing in all the grandest cabaret venues in Europe.

Two years into her research, Charlotte inadvertently inherited Hutch’s archive which had been left at his girlfriend Joan Barclay’s house. Below she talks about her selection from the archive for MAG_BTM. All images courtesy of Charlotte Breese.

  1. New York

    “This is a portrait of a very young Hutch in New York in 1917 at the age of 16. It was taken by a famous NY photographer Strand and was the first of many such portraits taken by society photographers such as Tanqueray and Baron. Hutch sent copies of it home to all his relations in Grenada to show them how well he was doing – spurious, since he was penniless and sleeping on a park bench! I have no idea how he had the money to have that taken – maybe someone paid the photographer on his behalf. But he got picked up by society in New York, completely his own doing.”


  2. “I have some of his handkerchiefs in the archive. Hutch was never without one –  he would have put it up his sleeve and brought it out to mop his brow while performing. It was a dramatic effect rather than a necessary one but he became known for that hence the card above.”


  3. Joan Barclay’s diaries

    “Joan Barclay was Hutch’s girlfriend evident in this calendar from 1929 when their meetings are mentioned repeatedly attending social events with him including outings to Nancy’s and Kettners, popular nightclubs in London.  The calendar reveals the social aspect of their lives and how he was introduced to society through Joan Barclay.  She was from a big family outside Bristol and had enough money to wear the right clothes and be presented at court. She was a pushy thing and determined to get Hutch which of course she did!”

  4. Dapperly Dressed

    “Hutch, always dressed immaculately,  singing to a grand piano in the early 1930s.”

MAG have compiled a playlist of some of Hutch’s most popular songs. Listen below!

  1. Variety Bill from the early 50s.

    “I’ve got over fifty of these but many more versions too which are much larger. He is called ‘The Famous British Radio and Gramophone Star’, true as he released an inordinate amount of albums during his lifetime.”

  2. London Favourites

    “Hutch always played the number one pitches and had the number one dressing room naturally. Golder’s Green and Hackney Empire were his favorite venues, probably because they were big enough to hold his audience. He’d play to three to four thousand people at once and fill them each time. Apparetly you could hear a pin drop – literally – when he was on the stage.”

  3. Hutch at Hackney Empire, 1936

    “In his dressing room, this strangely contemporary portrait depicts a challengingly sexy and self aware young band leader in the late 1920s in London.”

  4. Hutch at Maxim’s New York

    This promotional leaflet is from Maxim’s in NYC from the 50s.

  5. Hutch’s favorite

    “This was one of Hutch’s favorite photographs of himself. I picked it up from a girlfriend of his in Kenya by chance who was married to a gypsy. He’s pictured here at the races – he did also like to gamble. He must be around 55 in the photo.”

  6. Entertaining the Prince of Wales

    “This would have been his cabaret card from when he was playing at Quaglino’s in London.  He had a long season there in the 1930s and played most nights to people like the Duke of Windsor when he came over from Paris.”

  1. Published by Bloomsbury, Charlotte’s book on Hutch can be purchased  here.

    ”A fascinating portrait not only of a great performer but also of his world.’

    Daily Telegraph

    ‘The bare facts are intriguing enough, but Charlotte Breese’s admirable researches have revealed an even more richly picturesque figure than the one invented by Hutch himself.’

    TLS (Times Literary Supplement)