Early years

During this biography, you will see a selection of sound players like the one below. You can listen to the song while reading the page.

Bowlly was born in Lourenço Marques (now Maputo), in the then Portuguese colony of Mozambique, to Greek and Lebanese parents who met en route to Australia and moved to South Africa. He was brought up in Johannesburg, South Africa.

After a series of odd jobs across South Africa in his youth, namely as a barber and jockey, he gained his musical experience singing for a dance band led by Edgar Adeler on a tour of South Africa, Rhodesia, India and Indonesia during the mid-1920s. However, he fell out with Adeler, throwing a cushion at his head as he played piano on stage and was fired whilst the band was in Surabaya, Indonesia.

After a spell with a Filipino band in Surabayo he was then employed by Jimmy Liquime in India (Calcutta) and Singapore (Raffles Hotel). Bowlly had to work his passage back home, through busking.  He reached out to Edward Adeler in Germany, who was delighted to hear from Bowlly.

Just one year after his 1927 debut recording date in Berlin, where he recorded Irving Berlin’s “Blue Skies”, the song you are currently listening to, Bowlly arrived in London for the first time as part of Fred Elizalde’s orchestra, though nearly didn’t make it after foolishly frittering away the fare which was sent to him by Elizalde.

That year, “If I Had You” became one of the first popular songs by an English jazz band to become well known in America as well, and Bowlly had gone out on his own by the beginning of the 1930s. First, however, the onset of the Great Depression in 1929 resulted in Bowlly being made redundant and returning to several months of busking to survive.