Harry Stoneham (1930-2018)

by Alan Ashton

From time to time the organ world throws up a mystery of some sort or another and this became evident some weeks ago when I began to get e-mails asking me why I had not included any tribute or mention of the passing of Harry Stoneham. It seems there was a posting somewhere on Facebook but as I have no time for that social page, I accepted the news with a pinch of salt. Something told me that I should at least try and find if this was true because there had been no news in organ world magazines or obituaries in national dailies, Musicians Union announcement, Wikipedia etc.

Harry Stoneham at the Yamaha FX-1 in 1987. Photograph Copyright Alan Ashton
Harry Stoneham at the Yamaha FX-1 in 1987. Photograph Copyright Alan Ashton

For someone as famous as Harry Stoneham not to be honoured in some way seemed odd, to say the least. I decided to contact several organist friends, one of whom is Dave Smith, and it was he who revealed that Yvonne, Harry’s wife, had sent an email to Dennis Houlihan who was Harry’s boss at Lowrey on Wednesday, January 9th indicating that Harry was admitted to hospital on 2nd November 2018 as an injury to his leg was not healing to the Doctor’s satisfaction. The required treatment was administered and recovery appeared positive. However, although the injury improved and Harry could move his leg without pain, complications related to his heart condition led to problems from which his body could not recover. He was not alone when he passed away in December. Yvonne did not want to cast sadness at Christmastime and delayed sending such sad news.

At the NAMM’s Annual Tribute to Harry (which takes place on the opening day of the 4-day NAMM exhibition) and is now staged outside – on the large plaza between the Anaheim Hilton and Anaheim Marriott Hotels, it starts with a group of bagpipers in full regalia marching through the crowd. Once assembled at the front of the stage, a sole pipe plays “Amazing Grace” joined by a very skilled acoustic guitar player. The piper finished and the guitar player continues as a slide show commences with the images and names of the people from the industry who have passed away in the preceding year.

Here is a link to the slideshow portion of the Tribute, which was presented during the NAMM Trade Show in Anaheim California in January 2019.  Harry’s image is shown around 10 minutes and 35 seconds of the slide show portion of the program: https://www.namm.org/library/oral-history/namm-memoriam-industry-tribute-2019

This was important for Dennis – for Harry to get the kind of recognition which he deserved, although, only a handful of people in the US knew who he was. That’s the cold reality check about differences between the US and UK audiences. Until today there has been no formal announcement although Dennis and friends have stayed in touch with Yvonne to ensure she knows she is not forgotten. Although this is the first time we’ve ever dealt with anyone who has died and whose passing is kept a secret, I quickly put together a tribute section with contributions from Dave Smith, Mike Hall, Keith Beckingham and pianist Laurie Holloway for the September edition of ORGAN1st Radio.