Una Winifred Atwell was a prominent Trinidadian pianist who was popular in Britain and Australia. During her professional music career, she sold over 20 million records. Atwell was best known for her series of boogie-woogie and ragtime hits, she was also the first African American woman to have a number one hit in the UK Singles Chart.
Atwell was born on February 27, 1914, in Tunapuna in Trinidad. Her family owned a local pharmacy where she trained as a pharmacist in hopes of someday joining the family business.
As a young child, Atwell showed great musical potential. She played the piano from a young age and even achieved popularity. During the early 1940s, she left Trinidad for the United States.
Once in the United States, she studied with Alexander Borovsky before moving to London in 1946. While in London, Atwell played rags at numerous clubs and theaters to help support her studies. She later married, former stage comedian Lew Levisohn, who helped shape her career as a variety star.
Her career reached its peak during the second half of the 1950s, it was at this time her concerts drew standing room only crowds in Europe and Australia. She played in every capital city in Europe.
Atwell later created headlines in the 1960s with her dieting (which today would be called a protein diet). After suffering a stroke in 1980, Atwell officially retired on The Mike Walsh Show, then Australia’s highest rating television variety program, in 1981.