Great Musicians' Lives

Great Musicians' Lives

A BBC biography collection


Distinguished guests nominate a great musician for BBC Radio 4's Great Lives

For 20 years, Great Lives has been a linchpin of Radio 4, presented by Joan Bakewell, Humphrey Carpenter, Francine Stock and Matthew Parris. In it, a household name is invited to choose one of their heroes to discuss with the presenter and a guest expert. But will their chosen person live up to intensive scrutiny, and merit the description of having led a great life?

In this special collection, celebrating the programme's 20th anniversary, the very best episodes featuring musicians' lives are collected together. From Marvin Gaye to Lonnie Donegan, here are examples both classical and contemporary. Simon Armitage expresses his admiration for on Ian Curtis, Phill Jupitus nominates Joe Strummer, pianist Joanna MacGregor selects Nina Simone, and former Children's Laureate Michael Morpurgo champions Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Whether it's Hanif Kureishi on David Bowie or Stuart Maconie on Ralph Vaughan Williams or the lives of the proponents are every bit as interesting as those of their nominees.

Fascinating and engaging, these captivating episodes follow the ups and downs of some of the most iconic musicians of all time, separating the truth from the myths to reveal just what made them so great, and why they continue to influence and inspire us today.

List of episodes and date of first broadcast on BBC Radio 4:

Louis Armstrong 12.7.02
Sergei Rachmaninoff 11.4.03
Pyotr Tchaikovsky 16.4.04
Marvin Gaye 5.11.04
Sir Edward Elgar 19.11.04
Mozart 19.4.05
Samuel Coleridge-Taylor 21.10.05
Ella Fitzgerald 2.5.06
Nina Simone 19.9.06
Joe Strummer 3.4.07
Billie Holiday 1.5.07
John Cage 04.09.07
Paul Robeson 29.4.08
Ian Curtis 6.5.08
Alan Freed 26.8.08
Pavarotti 9.12.08
Thomas Beecham 21.04.09
John Coltrane 12.05.09
Miriam Makeba 15.09.09
Agustin Barrios Mangore 26.1.10
Malcolm McLaren 07.12.10
Kathleen Ferrier 26.04.11
Kirtsy McColl 09.08.11
Lonnie Donegan 03.1.12
Ralph Vaughan Williams 25.12.12
Fela Kuti 13.8.13
Jacqueline Du Pre 1.04.14
Dinu Lipatti 20.12.16
Captain Beefheart 03.04.18
Miles Davis 17.04.18
David Bowie 31.07.18
Ferruccio Busoni 30.04.19
Brian Epstein 14.5.19
Herbert Howells 06.08.19

Copyright © 2021 BBC Studios Distribution Ltd. (P) 2021 BBC Studios Distribution Ltd
Presented by Humphrey Carpenter, Matthew Parris and Francine Stock
Produced by Mark Smalley, Miles Warde, Perminder Khatkar, Peter Everett, Isobel Eaton, Jolyon Jenkins, John Byrne, Maggie Ayre, Christine Hall, Julia Johnson, Mark Smalley, Chris Ledgard, Beth O'Dea, Lucy Lunt, Eliza Lomas, Melvin Rickarby

About the authors

Joan Bakewell

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Humphrey Carpenter

Humphrey Carpenter (1946-2005), the author and creator of Mr Majeika, was born and educated in Oxford. He went to a school called the Dragon School where exciting things often happened and there were some very odd teachers - you could even call it magical! He worked for the BBC then became a full-time writer in 1975, and he was the author of many award-winning biographies, including books about J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Benjamin Britten and Spike Milligan.
As well as the Mr Majeika titles, his children's books also included Shakespeare Without the Boring Bits and More Shakespeare Without the Boring Bits. He wrote plays for radio and theatre and founded the children's drama group The Mushy Pea Theatre Company. He played the tuba, double bass, bass saxophone and keyboard.
Humphrey once said, 'The nice thing about being a writer is that you can make magic happen without learning tricks. Words are the only tricks you need. I can write: "He floated up to the ceiling, and a baby rabbit came out of his pocket, grew wings and flew away." And you will believe that it really happened! That's magic, isn't it?'
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Francine Stock

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Matthew Parris

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