Musician, 90, celebrates 50 years at helm of Sunderland church organ

Ken Jolly, who has been organist at St Gabriel's Church for the past 50 years and is also celebrating his 90th birthday. Pic by Peter Talbot
Ken Jolly, who has been organist at St Gabriel's Church for the past 50 years and is also celebrating his 90th birthday. Pic by Peter Talbot
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A veteran musician is celebrating a double milestone after marking 50 years as a Sunderland church’s organist.

Ken Jolly, who turns 90 tomorrow, has been providing the music at St Gabriel’s Church, Barnes, since September 1965.

After learning to play the piano at the age of eight, Ken first played a church organ in 1939 at St Mary’s Church.

When he was 12 he got a piano accordion and entertained at village concerts.

Over the years he has played most of the organs in churches and cinemas in the North East.

In his work life, Ken successfully ran his family’s Jolly Buses firm in Sunderland for 43 years, but always made time for his organist role.

During his half century as organist and choir master at Saint Gabriel’s, Ken says he’s played at about 15,000 services including 3,000 weddings, 5,000 baptisms and 3,000 funerals.

Although he was appointed as organist on September 5, 1965, he was first associated with St Gabriel’s in 1940, when he continued to learn the organ there.

The Rev June Talbot, associate priest at St Gabriel’s Church, said: “Fifty years is a remarkable achievement and we’re very grateful for Ken’s talented dedication and musical sensitivity to our worship. His service to the life of the church sets a wonderful example.”

To celebrate Ken’s milestones, a concert featuring the musical group Encore, including a contribution from Ken, is being held at St Gabriel’s on Friday, August 24, at 7pm.

Tickets, which include refreshments, are £4 and can be reserved by calling 514 2397.