Hartlepool singer broke records with his hit records

Chick Henderson, third from right, pictured with members of the Joe Loss Orchestra in 1938. Britain went to war just a year later.
Chick Henderson, third from right, pictured with members of the Joe Loss Orchestra in 1938. Britain went to war just a year later.

A Hartlepool singer who became one of the most prolific recording artists of the British dance band era was cut down in his prime - after being hit by shrapnel in World War Two.

Henderson Rowntree - better known as Chick Henderson - was born in West Hartlepool in 1912 and made over 280 recordings, including one which sold over a million copies.

A record featuring Chick Henderson's best known song - Begin the Beguine.

A record featuring Chick Henderson's best known song - Begin the Beguine.

But, as with many big band singers of the time, his name did not appear on the record label. Indeed, following his tragic death in 1944, Chick left just £173 to his widow Pamela.

“Chick recorded his biggest-ever hit, Begin the Beguine, with the Joe Loss Orchestra, in July 1939. The song went on to sell over a million copies,” said local historian Norman Kirtlan.

“It was the only recording by a 1930s vocalist to achieve such a triumph. But, despite such amazing success, Chick remained a quiet, very self-effacing man. A very modest star.”

Chick, one of the youngest of at least eight children born to ship rigger Richard Henderson and his wife Hannah, was born on November 22, 1912, and grew up in the Bath Street area.

According to archive records he attended Galley’s Field School on Hartlepool Headland and, on account of him being the smallest son in the family, he was nicknamed Chick.

“As a boy he was a member of his local church choir,” said Norman. “In this capacity Chick was heard by band leader Harry Leader, who signed him up in 1935.

“He made three records on the Eclipse Label, before joining the Joe Loss Band. Apparently they heard him on the radio, and invited him to join the group.”

Chick recorded over 250 tracks with Joe Loss but, even though he was the band’s principal singer, he also made records on Columbia and Regal Zonophone with Harry Leader.

“By all accounts Chick was a shy, modest, man who loved to spend weekends with his family away from the showbiz world,” said Norman.

“He made his first solo recordings in July 1937 - Greatest Mistake of My Life and Broken Hearted Clown - but it was Begin The Beguine that really made his name.”

One of Chick’s final music sessions took place in 1940, when he jammed with Harry Roy, the Organ Dance Band & Me and London Piano Accordion Band.

He went on to serve in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve during World War Two - surviving at least one torpedo attack. The sub-lieutenant was killed, however, in 1944, with shrapnel injuries officially blamed for his death.

“Chick’s last recording session was in 1942, up in Glasgow with Joe Loss,” said Norman. “He was serving on HMS Victory at time of his death, and was buried in Haslar Royal Naval Cemetery under his real name.”