Jenny Lawson obituary

Other lives: Award-winning musician and pioneer of women’s barbershop singing

My mother, Jenny Lawson, who has died of cancer aged 76, was an award-winning musician and pioneer of women’s barbershop singing.

In 1990, she founded the barbershop chorus Surrey Harmony, in Coulsdon, with just 14 singers, and under her musical directorship the membership grew to 80. In 1992 Surrey Harmony became affiliated to Sweet Adelines International, one of the world’s largest singing organisations for women. Jenny threw herself into arranging all sorts of scores into four-part harmony, as well as composing new pieces for the group.

She led Surrey Harmony to much success, including five gold medals and seven silver medals from Sweet Adelines International and seven international appearances. At the organisation’s 2009 competition the group reached the highest place achieved by a UK chorus to that date – 15th in the world, a record unbroken until 2018.

She also sang with her quartet, Zig-Zag, winning bronze at regional competition level and a gold medal at the Sligo International Choral festival in 2004. Many close and lasting friendships formed among the singers as the years went by.

Jenny was born in Dundee, to Cuthbert Allan, a GP, and his wife, Catherine (nee Wild), a nurse, and grew up with her older sister, Elisabeth, and brother, Alastair. She went to school at Harris academy in Dundee. From childhood she had a natural ear for music and went on to sing and play several instruments including the piano, violin, guitar, cello and ukulele.

In 1962 she married Tim Lawson, a Londoner studying medicine at St Andrews University, and my brother, Sandy, and I were born during his student years. Leaving Scotland, Jenny became a military doctor’s wife, travelling around Britain and Germany from posting to posting. After Tim left the Army we moved to London, then to Cheam in Surrey.

Jenny championed women’s barbershop for mainstream media through Surrey Harmony’s involvement in Sainsbury’s Choir of the Year and a televised concert at St James’s Palace. In 2017 she received the Sweet Adelines Ann Gooch award for promoting excellence in barbershop singing.

As well as barbershop, she was a principal musician for the Wild Hunt Bedlam Morris group, singing mystical songs and playing the violin at folk festivals. She was passionate about wildlife and, at home, could often be found tending the garden, strumming her guitar at the kitchen table, or perfecting her Satie on the piano. Jenny will be remembered for her wit, compassion and irreverence.

She is survived by Tim, Sandy and me, and by Elisabeth.


Debbie Lawson

The GuardianTramp

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