September 24th, 2016

The golden voice of radio turns 90

Updated: 10:18 am, May 07, 2015

A CHILD prodigy described as the golden voice of radio during the 1930s and 1940s has celebrated her 90th birthday.

Millicent Phillips marked the occasion with a party at Redditch’s Palace Theatre on Tuesday (May 20) – a venue she has a special connection with having performed there on many occasions after having first graced its stage at the age of five.

Millicent was born in Easemore Road and was the daughter of a factory worker. It was her mother who discovered her talent for singing and took her to the popular coloratura soprano Mavis Bennett.

“I was singing in the bath and my mother heard me and she said I’m going to take you to Mavis Bennett and she was a beautiful singer and I went to see her and she started teaching me when I was ten,” Millicent told the Standard.

“Then I started going to festivals and won cups and medals and then I went to London and became a pro.

“It was lovely but you don’t appreciate it when you are young I think I appreciate it more now, it does pass you by a bit.”

In 1935 at the age of just ten she wowed judges at the Cheltenham Music Festival and was declared ‘a little genius’ only to be disqualified because of her age as she had been entered in a class of 12 to 15-year-olds.

In the same year she made her first studio recording The Little Brown Owl.

Eventually she came to the attention of executives at Parlophone Records and went on to record and release several records including On the Wings of Song by Jakob Mendelsshon in 1939. She also had a weekly radio show on Radio Luxembourg and Radio Normandy.

Dubbed the English ‘Deanna Durbin’ – a famous Canadian singer and actress who appeared in a number of musicals during the 1930s and 1940s – Millicent was billed as the sensational 14-year-old girl soprano. She toured theatres across the country including the London Palladium then the Second World War broke out.

“I wasn’t with Parlophone for very long because of the war,” she said.

“I was given a seven year contract to make films but the war ruined everything.

“I do look back and think what could have been, I could have done much more, it was a shame really.”

During the war she was an inspiration to many at a time of hardship helping to entertain the troops.

A CD of her wartime recordings called From the Palace to the Palladium was released in about 2005 while some of her earlier recordings are now available online.

Millicent’s professional singing career came to an end when she was 27 after she settled down to raise her three children. Now living on Birchfield Road, she said turning 90 had not phased her.

“It doesn’t feel any different really, I feel about 16.”

Millicent Phillips was dubbed the sensational 14-year-old soprano. (s)