Bowlly was born in Lourenço Marques in the Portuguese colony of Mozambique. He was brought up in Johannesburg. After a series of odd jobs across South Africa, including barber and jockey, he sang in a dance band led by Edgar Adeler on a tour of South Africa, Rhodesia, India, and Indonesia during the mid-1920s. Jimmy Liquime hired him to sing with the band in India and Singapore. In 1927 Bowlly made his first record, a cover version of “Blue Skies” by Irving Berlin that was recorded with Adeler in Berlin, Germany. During the next year, he worked in London, with the orchestra of Fred Elizalde. The onset of the Great Depression in 1929 resulted in Bowlly being made redundant and returning to several months of busking to survive.
In the 1930s, he signed two contracts, one in May 1931 with Roy Fox, singing in his live band for the Monseigneur Restaurant in London, the other a record contract with bandleader Ray Noble in November 1930. During the next four years, he recorded over 500 songs. By 1933, Lew Stone had ousted Fox as bandleader, and Bowlly was singing Stone’s arrangements with Stone’s band. After much radio exposure and a successful British tour with Stone, Bowlly was inundated with demands for appearances and gigs, including undertaking a solo British tour, but continued to make most of his recordings with Noble. There was considerable competition between Noble and Stone for Bowlly’s time. For much of the year, Bowlly spent all day in the recording studio with Noble’s band, rehearsing and recording, then the evening with Stone’s band at the Monseigneur. Many of these recordings with Noble were issued in the United States by Victor, which meant that by the time Noble and Bowlly came to America, their reputation had preceded them. Al died in 1941 during the London blitz when the door of the room he was in was blown off, striking him and killing him instantly. Thus we lost one of the great vocalists of the early twentieth century. This CD is an attempt to offer some of the very best and most popular numbers he ever recorded for your listening pleasure.