Vale Judith Durham, First Aussie Female Musician To Sell 50 Million Records
Judith Durham AO was a major figure in opening the doors for Australia’s music global onslaught, becoming the first Australian female musician to sell 50 million records.
She died in Melbourne on Aug. 5 aged 79, due to complications from chronic lung disease.
During their Golden Jubilee Tour in 2013 to mark the Seekers’ 50th year, she suffered a stroke after a concert in Melbourne.
It diminished her ability to read and write —both visual language and musical scores — but it did not affect her singing.
George Ash, president of Universal Music Australia, described Durham as “a force of nature, constantly energised with a passion for music and life”.
“We were all privileged to have known Judith and heard her heavenly voice. We are deeply saddened by her passing and will miss her dearly,” he said.
Durham’s status as a ground-breaking force for female music talent was underscored when she was inducted into the Australian Women in Music Awards (AWMAs) in 2019.
Executive director Vicki Gordon noted the singer’s constant support for artists from the First Nations and disabled communities.
Photo credit: Fernando Barraza
“Many people will speak about the purity and clarity of Judith’s amazing voice, and it is true that she had one of the most extraordinary voices in the world,” Gordon paid tribute on the weekend.
“But it was the purity and clarity of Judith’s spirit and heart that struck me most when we met to induct her into the Australian Women in Music Honour Roll in 2019.
“A humility and curiosity that shone and vibrated like the amazing harmonics of her beautiful voice.”
Gordon said meeting Durham was one of the greatest moments of her life.
“Not only because she is a giant of song writing and a consummate musician and singer but because she lifted up with kindness and sincerity everyone who had the honour to be in her presence.
“She was and will remain one of the greatest women in music of all time.”
Coming from a musical family, Durham intended to be a classical pianist or opera singer. But her love for jazz and blues cultivated at university won out, first emerging in jazz legend’s Frank Traynor’s nine-piece band.
But it was the folk-pop Seekers with whom she made her mark.
In the 1960s, overseas markets were all but unreachable for an Australian-based act.
They were the first Australian act to top the U.K. charts, with “I’l Never Find Another You” in 1965 – three years after forming in Melbourne.
The song, recorded during a visit to London, also reached No. 1 in Australia, No. 2 in Ireland and No. 4 in the U.S.
Durham was initially unimpressed with the song when the song’s writer Tom Springfield (Dusty’s brother) played it to her over the phone.
“I thought it just a nice pop song, nothing more,” she said.
She overslept on the day of the session and appeared flustered at Abbey Road Studio, and hit a flat note during the recording.
“We could only afford one take, so we couldn’t redo it.”
The band won Best New Group at the April 1965 New Musical Express Poll Winners Awards.
“The Rolling Stones, the Kinks, we gave them a run for their money in the charts, and (Kinks leader Ray Davies wanted to write us a song.”
The Seekers had one million sellers each with “I’ll Never Find Another You”, “A World of Our Own” “The Carnival Is Over” and “Georgy Girl”, all written or co- written by Tom Springfield.
“Georgy Girl” (1966) reached No. One in the U.S. (on the Cashbox charts), New Zealand and Canada, No. 3 in the U.K. and parts of Asia, and No. 10 in Ireland and South Africa.
The title track of a British movie, it marked a first for an Aussie act when the song was nominated for an Oscar, although it lost to “Born Free”.
“The Carnival Is Over” (1965), based on an 1880s Russian folk song, was selling 93,000 copies per day in the U.K. and shifted 1.75 million worldwide.
Other Top 10 hits were “Morningtown Ride” and “Someday, One Day” written by Paul Simon.
In 1967, the Seekers were named joint Australians of the Year, and a TV special “The Seekers Down Under”, on Channel 7, had 6 million viewers.
Their homecoming show at Myer Music Bowl to an estimated 200,000, one tenth of Melbourne’s population, was acknowledged by Guinness Book of World Records as biggest crowd at a concert in the Southern Hemisphere.
A year later, Durham went solo, with a greater focus on jazz and blues with her jazz pianist husband Ron Edgeworth until his death in 1994, and a more spiritual path.
Her periodical reunions with the Seekers included sell-out global tours, one a mammoth 102-date run.
A new deal with Universal yielded platinum a record with “Future Road” (No. 4) and the Top 20 Morningtown Ride To Christmas.”
In 1995 they were inducted into both the ARIA Hall of Fame and Music Victoria Hall of Fame.
In June 2014 Durham (with the others) was honoured as Officer of the Order of Australia in the Queen’s Birthday Honours.
The Seekers recalled: “Her struggle was intense and heroic — never complaining of her destiny and fully accepting its conclusion.”
Responding to her AWMA induction, Durham said of her career: “They say the longest journey begins with just one step, but you have to have a dream to start, and I had plenty of dreams.
“They say destiny happens when you’re making other plans, and that’s how it was.”
(Lead photo credit: Fernando Barraza)