Bernard Stanley "Acker" Bilk (January 28, 1929 - November 2, 2014) was a highly acclaimed and veteran English jazz clarinetist and composer with a distinctive low-register vibrato who became internationally famous during the early 1960s. He is best known for the sweetly nostalgic instrumental easy listening classic, "Stranger On The Shore" (1962), a longtime standard of both jazz and traditional pop.
Born in Pensford, Somerset, Bilk learned to play the clarinet while enlisted in Britain's National Service with the Royal Engineers in Egypt. After his service was complete, he worked for his uncle as a blacksmith while performing on the Bristol jazz circuit. During the early 1950s, he moved to London where he joined Ken Colyer's band before forming the Bristol Paramount Jazz Band. They got their first big break when their agent booked them for an extended gig in Dusseldorf, Germany where they performed seven nights a week at a bar. During that time, Bilk honed his craft and adopted his trademark onstage garb complete with goatee, bowler hat, and striped waistcoat. His unusual stage name, Acker, came from the Somerset slang for friend or mate. By the late 1950s, Acker Bilk had amassed a loyal following and became one of the most prominent figures in the U.K.'s emerging trad jazz movement. His first in a long string of hits on the U.K. charts came in 1960 with "Summer Set," a Top 5 smash co-written by Bilk and pianist Dave Collett.
Acker Bilk also made his debut on the U.S. charts in 1960 with "Summer Set," which became a minor hit. His fame took off in 1962 with "Stranger On The Shore," which topped both the Adult Contemporary and Pop/Rock charts and made the R&B Top 10. This smash, which reached #2 on the U.K. charts and became that country's top selling single of 1962, was used as the title theme for a BBC TV series. With "Stranger On The Shore," his greatest hit on both sides of the Atlantic, Bilk became the second British performing artist to top the Billboard Hot 100, and this oldies classic soon after became a million-seller and went gold. His other hits, which continued through 1964 in the U.S., also include "Above The Stars" (1962), a cover of the Charlie Chaplin-penned "Limelight" (1962), and "Only You (And You Alone)" (1963), an instrumental rendition of The Platters' same-named oldies classic. Bilk re-emerged years later in 1976 on the Adult Contemporary chart with "Aria," which also became his final charting song in the U.K., reaching #5.
At the height of his commercial fame in the early 1960s, Acker Bilk appeared and performed in "It's Trad, Dad!" (1962, released in the U.S. as "Ring-A-Ding Rhythm") and "Band Of Thieves" (1962). He continued to perform and record actively through the 2000s and sold millions of records over the years. In 2001, he won an Ivor Novello award and was appointed as a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE), and he was honored with the BBC Jazz Awards' "Gold Award" in 2005.
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Mr. Acker Bilk
- Stranger On The Shore 1962
(This instrumental hit topped both the Adult Contemporary and Pop/Rock charts in 1962. Both Andy Williams and the Drifters also had hits that same year with sung versions of this song.)
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