Gracie Cole was born Grace Elizabeth Agnes Annie Cole on September 8, 1924 in Rowlands Gill, County Durham, England. Her father Albert moved to Yorkshire in search of work as a miner when she was two years old. He played cornet in colliery bands, and taught her to play the cornet at the age of 12. She went on to play with local brass bands in her teens, including the Firbeck Colliery Band alongside her father. In 1939 at 15, she made her first broadcast on the BBC Radio for Children’s Hour.
From 1940, Cole appeared as a guest soloist in two concerts with the Besses o’ th’ Barn brass band, and played with various other bands including the Grimethorpe Colliery Band. In 1942 she became the first woman to compete for the Alexander Owen memorial scholarship and won by an unprecedented 21-point margin. That same year Cole switched to being a dance band trumpeter, initially joining Gloria Gaye’s All Girls Band, who toured playing theatres and forces entertainment shows organised by the Entertainments National Service Association.
Following WWII playing with Rudy Starlita’s All-American Band entertaining American G.I.s, she joined Ivy Benson’s band as lead trumpet and soloist, and toured Britain, Europe and the Middle East with them for the next five years. The Fifties saw her joining the George Evans Band, then joined the Squadronaires, but finding male prejudice uncomfortable, Gracie left to form her own all-female band in 1952 for the next four years. She would work with singers like Carol Carr and Cleo Laine and front an all-male band at Mecca Ballrooms.
From the 1960s she concentrated on bringing up her two daughters and played on a freelance basis. She was active in encouraging local brass bands, and was made a freeman of the City of London in 1990 Toward the end of the decade cornetist, trumpeter and bandleader Gracie Cole developed Alzheimer’s disease and passed away on December 28, 2006 in Westcott, Surrey, United Kingdom at the age of 82.
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