Ruth Silvestre 1930-2022

Ruth Silvestre

We are sad to report the death of Ruth Silvestre, aged 92. An enthusiastic and active member of the CAA for many years, she served on the committee.

Born in Basingstoke, her mother, who had worked in service as a children’s nanny, would sing Ruth to sleep with a repertoire of music hall songs; Polly Wolly Doodle and Lily of Laguna being two favourites.

The fortune to find a good music teacher at secondary school inspired Ruth to sing and music became “as essential as breathing”. Moving to London to train as a teacher at Goldsmiths she joined dramatic societies and singing groups, enjoying parts in a variety of small productions and then in a professional pantomime one Christmas holiday. After graduating she continued singing lessons with the classically trained opera singer turned teacher, Catherine Rosser. The ensuing friendship continued for many years, Ruth eventually moving Catherine (and her Steinway Baby Grand) into the top floor of her house in Clapham.

An initial spot at Balsam’s restaurant in Mayfair (twenty minutes at 10pm) paved the way to a robust career as a cabaret artist with regular appearances in London at the Dorchester, the Cafe Royal and the Grosvenor House. Endlessly developing her craft and with a fine ear for accent and language she not only could sing Puccini fluently in Italian, but also had a repertoire of French, Yiddish, Hebrew, and Hungarian songs and was adept at holding an audience in the palm of her hand as she skilfully adapted her act to each occasion.

Ruth also appeared on screen and in theatre with parts in Kismet at the Stoll Theatre, Flower Drum Song at the Palace and Man of La Mancha at the Piccadilly. She took over the lead role of Aldonza from Joan Deiner, realising her ambition to see her name up in lights in London’s West End.

Away from the limelight Ruth was generous with her time and talents and she liked to keep busy. As well as singing for friends and family at parties, weddings and ceremonies, she joined Xenia Field’s ‘Old Lags’ prison entertainers, was a trustee of the Cara Trust (founded in 1988 by her cousin, Father David Randall) and also gave home schooling to a succession of troubled children who had fallen outside the educational system.

With her husband, Michael Grater, she bought and restored an old farmhouse in the South West of France where long summers were shared with an eclectic mix of family and friends and locals. Actors, artists, choreographers, directors, farmers, craftsmen, vicars and nuns would come together to share food, wine, music and good conversation. Ruth and her friends effortlessly supplied wholesome food from the tiny rustic kitchen and Mike making sure that everyone’s glasses were full. Diaries from this adventure led to the writing and publication of an acclaimed series of books; the Sunflower Trilogy.

In her later years she found comfort in music and worship at Southwark Cathedral and the Church of the Holy Spirit in Clapham, and was an enthusiastic member of MJ Parazino’s South London Choir. With a wide circle of friends she enjoyed exercise classes, French conversation meetings, book clubs and women’s groups.

In April 2020 she celebrated her 90th birthday at the CAA club with a cabaret dinner for family and friends, giving a robust performance of “Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner”. Her voice was strong and clear, her love for her craft, her family and all of her friends undiminished.

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