Tessie O'Shea

Tessie O'Shea with Gibson ukulele banjo
Tessie O'Shea was a great star of the variety stage; her trademarks being an exuberant personality, a 'larger than life' figure and a ukulele-banjo technique to match the brashness of her character.

Although her signature tune was the comical Two Ton Tessie From Tennessee, she was in reality Welsh: born in Cardiff in 1914.

Tessie began singing as a young girl and joined a concert party around the age of eight, where she learnt the arts of stage craft and comedy. She also began to play the mandolin, and soon progressed to the uke. After making her stage debut at the Hippodrome Bristol, Tessie slowly worked her way up the showbiz ladder, and a lucky break came when she was called in at the last minute to replace an artiste who had fallen ill at Blackpool's North Pier Theatre. In the thirties, she began to make a name for herself.

Tessie was a great success in summer seasons and touring variety, and progressed into records and broadcasting. In the war years she worked for ENSA, and in 1944 she shared top billing at the London Palladium with the great Max Miller. Her style on the ukulele-banjo was powerful, confident, and entertaining, and while she lacked the technical prowess of George Formby or Billy 'Uke' Scott, she lacked nothing in spirit and vigour. At the end of a song she would often throw her uke from one hand to the other with bravado - a stunt few musicians would risk!

After the war Tessie toured with the famous Billy Cotton and his Band, and she diversified as an actress, appearing in films and plays.

In the sixties Tessie headed for the USA, starring in Noel Coward's The Girl Who Came To Supper, and more films, musicals and TV work followed.

Tessie made America her home, and died in Florida in 1995.