To begin our survey of the great Olly Oakley here is the obituary printed just after his death in the BMG of February 1943. Its author, the then editor A.P. Sharpe, is widely known as an important biographer of banjoists and commentator of banjo-related matters. However, his writing is not free from inaccuracies and omissions. Two such points in the Oakley obituary require immediate clarification.

Firstly, near the end of the obituary Sharpe claims that Oakley’s last recordings made for the Parlophone company in 1930 were his only electrical recordings. This is not so! Anyone who has heard them will realise that the six Regal recordings of June 15th 1927 - serial numbers: G-6202-R, G-6303-R and G-6743-R - were also made using an electric microphone (the R refers to the fact that they were remakes of Oakley’s earlier Regal recordings from 1913). Similarly, the 8" record of Rugby Parade and Fun on the Wabash recorded on October 3rd 1927 was also electrically recorded – and even says so on the Broadcast label.

The second inaccuracy concerns nothing less than Oakley’s date of birth. A.P. Sharpe is assumed to be authoritative when he declares it to be November 26th 1877. However, the birth certificate of Joseph Sharpe clearly states November 24th 1876. This is further corroborated by an entry in the 1881 Census (carried out at the start of that year) detailing the existence of a four-year old Joseph Sharpe living in Bromsgrove. No three-year old of the same name is known from the Birmingham area in 1881. I am much indebted to Tony Peabody for locating this information.

In discussing Oakley and the biographer A.P. Sharpe one important point should be clarified. Although Oakley’s original name was Sharpe he was no relation of A.P. Sharpe, his biographer. The two men were, however, friends and it is interesting to speculate how such a major biographical blunder as a mistake in the year of birth might have occurred. We are reminded of another great Sagittarian music-maker, Ludwig van Beethoven who spent much of his life convinced that he was born in 1772 in spite of firm evidence pointing to 1770. Also, like Oakley, Beethoven tried to change his name, although his more subtle alteration of ‘van’ into ‘von’, an attempt to create an aristocratic image, seems more suspect than the honest choice made by our zither-banjo hero.