Northern Ireland

Ruby Murray commemorated with Belfast blue plaque

Ruby Murray pictured with screenwriter Larry Forrester, Tommy Steele and producer Ernest Maxin.
Image caption Ruby Murray pictured with screenwriter Larry Forrester (left), Tommy Steele (centre right) and producer Ernest Maxin (right)

She shot to fame at the age of 19 and became a megastar in the pre-rock 'n' roll era.

Now, Belfast singer Ruby Murray has been commemorated with a blue plaque near to her childhood home on the Donegall Road.

The marker was unveiled on Friday by her children Tim and Julie Murray.

"Just a tingle down the spine, it's always the same. To hear her voice, still to this day it's always amazing," said Julie.

In her 1950s heyday, Ruby Murray was one of the biggest recording artists in the UK and Ireland.

She has even been immortalised in Cockney rhyming slang, with her name taken to mean 'curry' - a reference which famously cropped up in an episode of Only Fools and Horses.

Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption Tim Murray and Julie Murray

Known for her signature hit 'Softly Softly', in 1955 she had five songs in the UK top 20 at one time - a feat which would only be matched by Madonna four decades later.

'It started early on'

Speaking to the BBC's Good Morning Ulster programme, Tim said his mother's singing career had its roots in her Belfast childhood.

"It started early for her, she didn't have much choice when you think about it. It started very early on," he said.

"Her father Dan would often perch her up on a table and get her to sing and then very craftily pass the hat around."

Despite her huge success, her daughter Julie said there was "no question" she was exploited financially.

"I mean all mum wanted to do was sing, she had very little business acumen at all," she said.

"Agencies and agents came along a little later. And they were all too willing to go 'oh, well you can have this because we're going to have 90% of it'."

Julie added her mother received "very, very little" in royalties from her records.

'In her DNA'

Throughout her life Ruby battled with alcoholism.

A story about the origin of her struggles with addiction is that after marrying Bernie Burgess, a member of successful television and recording vocal quarter the Four Jones Boys, she faced the dilemma of having to call home and tell her parents about her new husband.

They had married secretly six weeks after meeting.

To settle the nerves, it is said the husband of a housekeeper offered her a drink.

"Somebody may have handed her the drink. But there is nothing in the drink," said Tim.

"The drink isn't the devil. There is nothing about that particular person, it was just in her DNA."

He added: "If you think about it because you know her father was a drinker, and it is a culture. Along with many others things [Northern Ireland] is renowned for being a drinking culture.

'Burst into tears'

Her daughter Julie says even more than 20 years after her mother's death in 1996, she remains "truly blown away" by the public's response to her.

"The only way I can describe it is by telling a story," she said.

"A friend of mine who I had known for about five years came up to me and said, 'Is Ruby Murray your mum?' And he shook my hand and burst into tears.

"I mean that to me says it all. That's what I come across, or what we come across all the time. And I can't tell you how that makes me feel."

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