George Melachrino was one of the few British big-band maestros to survive in the age of the Beatles.
Born in London to Greek parents, Melachrino got his start studying classical chamber music. He later moved toward popular music with compositions for movies, the stage and radio. In World War II he was conductor of the British band of the Allied Expeditionary Force in Europe after beginning his military career as a cook. After the war, the band kept going on a civilian basis for a while.
Popular in America as well as in Britain, Melachrino’s music was a far cry from the twangy product of the era’s pop groups. His specialty was the sweet serenade type of music delivered by a 40-piece orchestra, and he released a number of mood-music albums such as “Music for Relaxation,” “Under Western Skies” and “Soft Lights and Sweet Music.” He could play every instrument in the band save for the harp and piano.
Melachrino also composed film scores for “The Man from Yesterday” (1949), “Now Barabbas” (1949), “Eight O’Clock Walk” (1954) and “Ondongo” (1956), among others.
The bandleader did not keep an orchestra together. Although he tried to get the same musicians each time he made a record or had a television appearance, sometimes this was impossible, as when he made a 28,000-mile tour across the United States in 1959 — so he just recruited musicians on the spot.
He was found dead in his home June 18, 1965.