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Eric Boswell, composer of 'Little Donkey', died on 29 November, aged 88 as his famous carol celebrates it's 50th anniversary.
Sunderland-born Boswell wrote 'Little Donkey' in 1959, but today it is commonly assumed to be traditional due to its place as a staple of Christmas concerts around the world. It hit the charts in 1959, alongside songs by Elvis Presley and Cliff Richard.
Best known for Little Donkey, which he composed out of a desire to ‘write a tune that was simple for children to sing’, Boswell wrote many other songs, including humorous ones in the Geordie dialect, such as ‘I’ve Got a Little Whippet’ and contemporary folk songs like ‘Supermarket Blues’. He commented himself that many of the songs he wrote after ‘Little Donkey’ are ‘far from religious’.
Boswell’s death has come just before the release, on 8 December, of a new CD of his music, There’s More To Life. It includes a duet of 'Little Donkey' sung by opera singer Graeme Danby and the actress and singer Gracie Fields. Danby’s voice has been weaved into Fields’ recording from 1959. Other artists who have recorded the song include the Beverley Sisters and Vera Lynn. It has been translated into many different languages.
Boswell began music lessons in Sunderland aged seven, studying with a local church organist since his family could not afford to send him to music school. He moved to London to pursue music professionally, before returning to the North East, where he had three sons.