Looking at Wilma Reading
Cairns born and bred singer Wilma Reading is one of Australia's hidden treasures.
Like Diane Cilento, her host at Karnak this weekend, she’s an international star of stage and screen.
Born to an English-Irish father and a mother of Torres Strait Islander, Jamaican, Afghan, Scottish and Aboriginal ancestry, Wilma first sang at “family days” in Cairns.
An impromptu performance in Brisbane as a teenager triggered a series of opportunities that saw her sashay to the top tier in Australia before she was 20.
Discovered on the South East Asian circuit, she was whisked off to the US, where she sang with the legendary Duke Ellington band and appeared on the famous Johnny Carson TV Show.
“The Duke got mileage out of introducing me as an Australian singer, the only Aussie to play with the band,” Wilma recalls.
During a residency at New York’s Copacabana club, Bill Cosby became a fan.
The comedian later tried to track her down to open for him in Las Vegas.
Blessed with a three-octave singing voice and a flair for theatre, Wilma went on to take the lead role from Cleo Laine in the stage production of Showboat in London’s West End.
She appeared in no fewer than 30 BBC TV shows, including a season on Britain’s highest rated program at the time, The Morecambe & Wise Show.
Wilma performed more than 30 concerts in pre-glasnost Russia with the Moscow Symphony Orchestra. She also played with national orchestras in Belgium, Holland, Iceland and Germany.
She had a role in the movie Pacific Inferno and recorded the title song for the Julie Andrews/Omar Sharif film The Tamarind Seed. Reflecting on her stellar career, Wilma speculates that she might have done “even better” had she stayed long enough in one place. When her husband died five years ago, she decided to return home to Cairns.
After virtually retiring from performing, Wilma has entered a new phase in her career. She’s getting a lot of satisfaction teaching singing at TAFE’s music faculty one day a week and now she’s got a new album to promote.Now You See Me is Wilma’s first Australian release for more than 40 years. Stylistically, it covers a lot of ground – Latin, reggae, swing, jazz, funk as well as the showy ballads that earned her international renown.
She wants Now You See Me to stand as a showcase for local talent: “It’s my purpose,” she stresses.
“It will let people down south know that we do exist up here and that we’re good.”Wilma Reading will be in concert at Karnak Playhouse, Whyanbeel Valley via Miallo, on Saturday (6.30pm for an 8pm start). Pre-booking for soul food dinner and show essential by calling 4098 8111.
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Wilma Reading will be in concert at Karnak Playhouse, Whyanbeel Valley via Miallo, on Saturday.
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