Anna Ottilie Patterson was born in Comber, County Down, Northern Ireland on 31 Jan 1932, the youngest of a family of four. Her father was Irish, her mother Latvian, and both were musical, and Ottilie trained as a classical pianist, something she was to keep up as a hobby for her whole life.
Ottilie showed talent as an artist, and in 1949 began studies in that subject at Belfast College of Technology. It was while a student that she was exposed to 78 rpm records of jazz and blues for the first time and in 1951 she began singing with several local bands, including Jimmy Compton's Jazz Band and The Muskrat Ramblers.
Ottilie kept singing in her spare time after graduation alongside her work as an art teacher and was captivated by the sound of the Chris Barber Jazz Band whose records were coming to prominence at that time. I remember her telling me that that was "the band" and she vowed to spend her summer holiday in 1954 travelling to London to find them. This she did and after hearing them she went to the stage as they were packing-up and began singing with pianist Johnny Parker, who had been appearing on the same programme as the band. One by one they unpacked their instruments once again and joined in. Although she was asked to join immediately, Ottilie had to return home to work out her notice. She joined the Chris Barber Band full-time on 1 January 1955 and her first public appearance was at the Royal Festival Hall on 9 January 1955, this concert also being her first appearance on record with the band.
Between 1955 and 1965 Ottilie appeared and recorded prolifically all over Europe as well as during a 1959 trip to the USA and won herself a permanent and unshakable niche in the affections of the British jazz public by the authenticity and emotional impact of her fabulous blues singing.
Her fascination with the works of William Shakespeare led to her setting some of his texts to music and recording them in 1964, and in the mid-1960s she recorded with the Ivor Raymonde Group.
Discussing her passing with drummer Pete York, Pete recalled an evening at Birmingham Town Hall in 1964 where she topped the bill, appearing with Long John Baldry and The Hoochie Coochie Men (including Rod Stewart), the rest of the programme being The Yardbirds with Eric Clapton, Sonny Boy Williamson and The Spencer Davis Group!
Ottilie stopped touring so much in the late 1960s due to throat problems, but not being on the road so frequently enabled her to pursue others of her own projects, such as the 1969 albums "3000 Years With Ottilie" and "Spring Song". She made her last recorded appearances for many years with the Barber Band with six numbers at the Lucerna Hall in Prague on 22 October 1970 (including her classic Baby Won't You Please Come Home with Pat Halcox's eerie off-microphone piano in the background), and a version of Bill Bailey at Ljubljana Jazz Festival on 3 June 1971.
Ottilie began singing with the band again from time to time in the early 1980s - I saw her at this time at the Usher Hall in Edinburgh in 1981, and she sang with tremendous power and conviction on this occasion. In 1983 Ottilie and the Barber Band gave a series of concerts which were recorded for the album "Madame Blues And Dr. Jazz", released in 1984.
Ottilie retired to Ayr, Scotland, in 1988, which is where I got to know her. She pursued her love of classical music, practising the piano daily and she continued to paint and sketch. I have two wonderful Ottilie Patterson originals which I treasure, one being "THE DREAM" of being a professional musician, and the second "THE REALITY", which she captures to perfection.
She was one of the first people I knew to have a computer and had an amazing command and dexterity with it. She was also fanatical about classic western movies and had a collection numbering hundreds of videos and DVDs.
I spent many happy hours on day-trips with Ottilie as she didn't drive, so she loved having a chauffeur. Also, great evenings - dinner at her house followed by her playing the piano and singing with me on trombone (which she'd never let me record, even though she was excellent), and then vodka with Tia Maria and a cigarette (for her..."get us a packet of Silk Cut, John!”), and we'd watch a Western and chat for hours.
Health problems began to dog Ottilie and three years ago she moved into Rozelle Holm Farm Care Home in Ayr where she lived in anonymity until her death on 20 June 2011.
Throughout her health issues, Ottilie maintained her mischievous sense of humour and I remember on more than one occasion both of us being in a fit of giggles!
Ottilie's niece telephoned me yesterday to inform me of her death. It had been her wish that no fuss be made over her passing and that word should only be released after her body had been transported to Comber and buried alongside her mother, father and sister Jess.
God Bless You, Ott, from your pal "the Wee Raver"!!!
John Service, 29 June 2011