Early in life Judith believed her future would be as a pianist in classical piano and dreamed of fame singing opera or musical comedy. In 1961, aged 18, she was ready to begin classical vocal training when, just for fun, she found instant success performing blues, gospel and jazz standards, also developing as a serious ragtime pianist.
On taking a new secretarial job at J Walter Thompson Advertising in late 1962, on her first day she met account executive Athol Guy who invited her that very night to join him, with Keith and Bruce, in some harmony folk singing at the local ‘Treble Clef’. Their subsequent four-year fairytale story is now the stuff of legend, but Judith wanted to spread her wings in 1968, hoping to find Mr. Right and follow other musical paths – without any notion of the lasting universal grief suffered by Seekers fans worldwide.
The surprise for Judith was to receive “offers” as a solo artist after the news of The Seekers’ break-up, so she asked a London-based freelance musician, Ron Edgeworth, to be her musical director and pianist.
Judith and Ron began an exciting musical adventure, full of surprises, lasting quarter of a century, recording albums with orchestras and jazz bands, and performing on international concert stages around the world, creating musical magic with a wonderful mix of music, from folk to country, jazz to pop, blues to gospel, original songs and even classical.
With Ron’s blessing, Judith reunited with The Seekers for The Silver Jubilee Tour and album in 1992 and plans were seriously underway when Ron was given the devastating news that he had motor neurone disease. Ron didn’t want his illness to daunt the uplifting spirit already in motion for Seekers fans around the world.
Judith became National Patron of the Motor Neurone Disease Association of Australia (MNDAA) and many thousands of dollars were collected by MNDA volunteers at The Seekers’ concerts all around the world.
After Ron’s death in 1994, Judith continued touring, recording and composing. She is acclaimed as a gifted and versatile musician: as a singer (fans travel half way around the world to hear that legendary golden voice in concert); as a pianist, both ragtime and classical (A.Mus.A.); her exceptional talent as a lyricist and composer and poet (of inspirational and philosophical works) has been showcased in three powerful milestone self-penned albums ‘Hold On To Your Dream’, ‘Epiphany’ and ‘The Australian Cities Suite’; and the healing power of her voice and compositions has been widely documented.
In 2003 Judith celebrated her 60th birthday with her UK ‘Diamond Tour’ culminating at London’s Royal Festival Hall, which coincided with the publication of an international update of Graham Simpson’s best-selling biography ‘The Judith Durham Story : Colours Of My Life’.
In 2006, Judith was invited by rock star Daniel Johns to guest with Silverchair on a track (“English Garden”) for their ARIA award-winning album ‘Straight Lines’.
Behind the scenes Judith had been an egg-free vegetarian since 1968, advocating a lifestyle that is non-smoking, environmentally friendly, decaffeinated, teetotal, drug free and cruelty free. Through her website and her production company Musicoast® she enjoyed a passionate involvement in recording, composing, music publishing and the entertainment industry.
In 1995, Judith was honoured with the Medal of the Order Of Australia (OAM) for services to music, particular as an entertainer and composer.
Judith was Patron of the Injured Nurses Support Group (INSG) and the Small Miracles Foundation (formerly Bonnie Babes Foundation). Judith supported Yooralla’s disability services, and women through her association with the International Women’s Federation of Commerce & Industry (IWFCI).
Judith was subsequently awarded the Centenary Medal by the Governor General in 2003 for service to Australian society through music, and was honoured by Rotary International when she was invested as a Paul Harris Fellow in recognition of her work on behalf of charities.
2011/12 brought celebrations of Judith’s own 50th anniversary year in the music industry when Musicoast joined forces with Universal Music Australia for a bonanza of album releases and events:
· In October 2011 the release of Judith’s self-penned album embracing in-depth compositions on a scale not attempted by Judith before, epitomising her God-given gifts which have resulted in her unparalleled success as an Australian musician globally;
· For Christmas 2011, ‘Colours Of My Life – A 50th Anniversary Retrospective’ was released, with specially handpicked tracks from her albums through five decades, including a bonus DVD of Judith’s interview on ABC TV’s ‘Talking Heads’;
· The release in March 2012 of ‘The Australian Cities Suite’, a major work composed and sung by Judith, with the magnificent Orchestra Victoria under the baton of conductor and arranger Kevin Hocking. Royalties from the album aided The Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation and the 400 charities they support, including the Motor Neurone Disease Association and Orchestra Victoria;
· Also released in 2012 for the first time on CD and download was Judith’s legendary 1969 vinyl album ‘Gift Of Song’, a precious gift for all her fans who have waited so long for the opportunity to hear these rare tracks at their pristine best;
· In August 2012, a 2CD box set ‘The Hottest Band In Town Collection’ featuring Judith’s two acclaimed trad jazz albums from the 1970s, recorded in San Francisco and London with her own trad jazz bands, arranged and co-produced by her late husband, pianist Ron Edgeworth;
· Judith also celebrated her 50th anniversary in June/July 2012 with her one-woman ‘Colours Of My Life’ concert tour of Australia, drawing on much-loved material recorded over five decades, with memorabilia on the big screen.
Bringing 2012 to a very fulfilling close, Judith happily joined Athol, Keith and Bruce in their 50th Anniversary year of celebrations, until December 2013.
The Golden Jubilee Tour was abruptly halted when Judith suffered a brain haemorrhage backstage in Melbourne after a sold-out concert. She spent many months in hospital, during which time she worked with a team of therapists, learning to read, write, and play the piano again.
It is testament to her fierce determination and courage that she was eventually given the ‘green light’ from her medical team to triumphantly return to the concert stage, completing the postponed Golden Jubilee Tour of the UK and New Zealand in 2014.
Upon their return to Australia that year, The Seekers were once again honoured by their country when they were individually awarded the Officer of the Order of Australia (AO).
Judith was once again honoured in 2015 when she was named ‘Victorian of the Year’ for outstanding public and community services at a ceremony in her honour.
Judith completed her final solo tour of New Zealand in 2016.
Two years later, her album ‘So Much More’ was released, comprising previously unreleased demos of tracks she’d co-written with several other artists, including fellow-Seekers Keith Potger, Adam Thompson of Chocolate Starfish, and Mark Holden. Mark was an executive producer of the album along with Graham Simpson and Mahlia Simpson.
And still the accolades kept coming with Judith’s 2019 induction into the ‘Australian Women in Music Awards’ Honour Roll.
Judith passed away in Melbourne’s Alfred Hospital on 5 August 2022, at age 79. Her death was a result of complications from a long-standing chronic lung disease. Judith was given a State Memorial service by the State of Victoria 6 September 2022 at Hamer Hall.
Among the countless tributes that flowed following her death was one from Australia’s then-Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, who hailed Judith as "a national treasure and an Australian icon.
"Judith Durham gave voice to a new strand of our identity and helped blaze a trail for a new generation of Aussie artists," Mr. Albanese said on Twitter. "Her kindness will be missed by many, the anthems she gave to our nation will never be forgotten."
Victorian Premier, Daniel Andrews announced that the "true icon of Australian music" would be given a State Funeral.
George Ash, President of Universal Music Australia and New Zealand said, “Great artists become part of our fabric and our extended family, and Judith Durham was no exception. She was 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.” www.judithdurham.com