In his youth, Billy Neely was a renowned boy soprano, known to many as the original Belfast Boy.
Back in the 1940s, his voice thrilled many as he sang solo in St Anne’s Cathedral, and he later went on to take part in Children’s Hour broadcasts in the BBC Northern Ireland Home Service.
Billy is now 76 and living in France near his daughter and son and their families.
The family have created a page for Billy on the social networking site Facebook which son-in-law Richard Earls said he hoped would allow people to share their memories of Billy and his music.
Born in Belfast in 1935, Billy took singing lessons with Miss Nan Shaw, who discovered his fine treble voice. He became a member of the choir of St Anne’s Cathedral in 1946.
Two years later when Billy was 13, he became one of the Cathedral choir’s leading soloists and around this time also became a pupil of the renowned vocal trainer Arthur Martin. With his help, and that of Havelock Nelson (1917-1996) of the BBC, Billy was commissioned in 1948 to take part in Children’s Hour broadcasts in the Northern Ireland Home Service, the first of more than 20 broadcasts on the BBC.
In March 1949, Billy took first place at the Blackpool Festival, and in May he won the boys’ solo class at Glasgow. In second place came Master Robert Waddell, a member of the Kirkintilloch Junior Choir.
Billy was sponsored by the great Northern Ireland tenor James Johnston (1903-1991) who in 1950 took him all over the province and to London fulfilling singing engagements. Johnston was contracted to HMV and arranged test recordings for Billy at Abbey Road Studios.
Richard said: “We have created this Facebook page in order for those of you who loved Billy’s music in the past to share your memories of his music, whether it be in Belfast Cathedral; in London at the Royal Academy; his association with Gerald Moore, Havelock Nelson and Benjamin Britten or his perfomances on the BBC, in the late 40s and early 50s.”
Click to go to Billy Neely’s Facebook page.