Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Sir Howard Morrison (1935-2009) How Great was his Art

If you were listening to New Zealand Top Ten radio in 1981, you remember something strange happening.
In a year when the #1 song was Olivia Newton-John's "Physical," Sheena Easton's "Morning Train," Blondie's "The Tide Is High," or John Lennon's "Woman," for a few weeks, the top spot was something completely different.

It wasn't rock at all. It was...

Howard Morrison singing "How Great Thou Art."

It proved that Howard was not just a major influence on NZ music, he was a Maori influence.

While the New Zealand #1 spot back then could belong to some diverse music (the ethnic ballad "Bridge" by Deane Waretini or the odd Island rhythm-disco "Say I Love You" from Renee Geyer), the success of a traditional and religious song was remarkable...

....although the novelty twist was that Howard didn't sing all of it in English.

Morrison, part Maori, part Scots/Irish, first gained attention back in 1956 with the Howard Morrison Quartet, formed when he was just 21. That group continued in the 60's. Morrison continued to win fans through the 70's as a solo singer, peaking with his 1981 hit rendition of "How Great Thou Art."

Just how great was his art? In 1990 he was knighted. He grew frail but his legend grew strong. Asked what his legacy was, he simply replied, "Let the people decide."
Prime Minister John Key issued the following statement: "Sir Howard was a New Zealand success story. From humble beginnings he became an international success, first with the Howard Morrison Quartet, and then in an illustrious solo career. But more than that, Sir Howard was one of New Zealand's best loved entertainers, his appeal spanning every age group. I pay tribute to a real gentleman...Sir Howard Morrison will be greatly missed."

Sir Howard Morrison, O.B.E. died on September 24th. He's survived by his wife Rangiwhata, and three children.

HOW GREAT THOU ART, Sir Howard Morrison

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