The four singers who comprised the Zono Minstrels were all world-class performers in their own right. They only came together on two occasions to record songs from Alfred Scott Gatty’s Plantation Songs, but they were all active both in performance and in the recording studio on many other occasions.
The soprano, Annie Rees, was a regular performer at the Proms throughout the second decade of the twentieth century. It appears as though recordings are relatively rare, as I have seen very few. There are only two tracks listed on my tribute page, although I will certainly be trying to add to that over time. I also have no biographical data, which is extraordinary when you think that birth and death records were kept long before the twentieth century.
Violet Oppenshaw was also active at the Proms during the 1910-1920 period, often performing duets with Annie Rees. She was also a performer of Gilbert & Sullivan, often sharing a role with another excellent contralto, Edna Thornton. I also have very few Violet Oppenshaw recordings, although I am constantly looking for more. Oppenshaw is the one performer from the Zono Minstrels for which I have a date and place of birth – 3rd June 1888, Bayswater, London.
The tenor Ernest Pike is by far the most prolific of the Zono Minstrels singers. He was one of the most recorded artists of the first two decades of the twentieth century, which were really the first two decades in which recorded music was available to the general public. He also recorded prolifically under the name Herbert Payne, and there are over fifty of his recordings linked to from my tribute page. For Ernest Pike, we have a year and place of birth, 1871 in Pimlico, but no actual date. We also have a date of death, 4th March 1936, in Streatham.
I cannot understand why the baritone Stewart Gardner is so infrequently mentioned on musical websites, why his recordings are very difficult to obtain in digital form, and why there is so little known about him. I only have eighteen solo recordings of the great man on my tribute page, but the quality of what is there leaves me wondering why there has been no attempt to produce a professionally recorded compact disc set of his recordings. I have to say that if I was going to be stranded on a desert island for the rest of my life, and could only take the recordings of one singer with me, that singer would be Stewart Gardner.
If anyone has any recordings of these singers in digital format which they would be prepared to share, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. Also, if you have any 78rpm records in good playable condition, I would be prepared to make a transfer for free as long as I could retain a copy. Please contact me through the Contact page.