Many of our maturer readers will remember a series of radio pro-grammes called “Higgins at Home”. This was aired on Sunday lunch-time in the 50’s and 60’s over either Springbok Radio or the SABC English Service (I can’t remember which). Both services are in any case now defunct, but the latter was always referred to by the late Paddy O’Byrne as “The English Wireless”.
The presenter of that show, which ran for many years, was the pianist Ken Higgins. Ken now lives in retirement in Hermanus in South Africa. I clearly and fondly recall Ken’s radio programmes, and regularly play his music at home, thanks to the CDs he has released.
He was born in Bury, Lancashire, England in 1936’. He showed a very early interest in music, starting piano lessons at the tender age of five. In 1947 Ken’s family immigrated to South Africa, bringing him along of course.
On the day he arrived in Cape Town, at the age of just 11 he performed live for twenty minutes at the South African Broadcasting Studios.
At the age of 12 he entered the South Africa College of Music and a year later performed Haydn’s Piano Concerto.
From the age of 14, he had decided to become a concert pianist. But his aspirations to achieve this were suddenly brought to an end when he heard the likes of George Shearing, Art Tatum, Carmen Cavallaro, Oscar Peterson, Errol Garner etc. At 17 he left the College of Music, and after passing his exams he entered the meat industry, a move that he says he regretted in later years.
When he was 19 he married his childhood sweetheart Cecily, and in June 2010 they celebrated their 55th Wedding anniversary. They have three sons and a daughter, all music mad; two of his sons are musicians. His children have increased his family now by having nine grandchil-dren among them
Ken continued his music after his marriage, but with the likes of Shear-ing, Tatum and Peterson influencing his repertoire he turned to playing Jazz and Swing, playing with his trio in nightclubs.
At 25 years old he was approached by the ‘GALLO’ Music group to record an LP, which became an instant success, leading to many more recording sessions. He eventually released 14 LP records.
He was offered his own radio programme by the SABC, and presented more than two thousand programmes over the years. “Higgins at Home” alone (nothing to do with Magnum PI) ran for 13 years.
During this period he won the ‘SARI’ award twice as “Best Instrumen-talist”. He also entered the world of Television, where he did many var-ied appearances and was nominated for several TV Awards. He gave numerous live concerts throughout South Africa, many as soloist with all the leading Orchestras.
He relates a nice anecdote: when he applied to have his hands insured for a fairly large sum, no company is South Africa would touch him. His broker applied to Lloyds of London and their reply came back: “A Concert Pianist who is a butcher? NO THANK YOU!”. His name has been added to the Trivial Pursuit questions, which read “Which retired South African Musician is a Butcher by day and a concert pianist by night?”
With many fans still wanting to hear his music, he receives constant enquiries. And so he came out of retirement a number of years ago, and has since then released three CDs under his own label. These are for-tunately available via his website, where one can also listen to samples of his music – http://www.kenhiggins.co.za The playlist includes a su-perb selection of favourites along with a couple of original composi-tions, and on many of the tracks he’s accompanied by one or more of his musically-talented children.
Ken adds: “I feel very fortunate to have enjoyed a great amount of success with these new releases; I have had a wonderful and interesting life, and would not change any part of it, except perhaps the part about the meat business”.