Jean Grayston, singer

Jean Grayston in 2016
Jean Grayston in 2016
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Jean Grayston, who has died at 91, was a famed contralto singer who spent her summers performing in Scarborough and who married the violinist and bandleader Max Jaffa, remembered fondly for his leadership in the 1950s of radio’s Palm Court Orchestra.

She and he met at a concert in Portsmouth in 1956 at which they were both performing, and Ms Grayston would go on to summer seasons as a soloist, first in the musical King’s Rhapsody at the Open Air Theatre and then at the Scarborough Spa with her husband.

Jean Grayston in the 1950s

Jean Grayston in the 1950s

Sparks had flown between the two of them instantly, their daughter, Lisa Gershon, said.

“Daddy told his trio, ‘I do hope she can sing the way she looks’, and of course she was a natural,” Mrs Gershon said.

The pair married in June 1959 and had three daughters.

Ms Grayston, who hailed from London, became attached to Scarborough and persuaded Jaffa to accept his first residency there in 1960.

Jean Grayston with daughters Naomi Jaffa, Jenny Isaacson and Lisa Gershon

Jean Grayston with daughters Naomi Jaffa, Jenny Isaacson and Lisa Gershon

He had his doubts. “Don’t be ridiculous – it’s all bloody mills and flat hats up there,” Ms Grayston would later remember.

But when the council invited him to be musical director at the Spa, he accepted, and stayed for 27 years, with a punishing summer season of concerts, every night for 17 weeks.

He brought his wife on stage as guest singer for every first and last week of the season.

His ensemble at the Spa was Britain’s last surviving professional seaside orchestra.

“The chemistry between them on stage was so real, they were exactly the same off stage,” said Mrs Gershon.

“She was always available too. She could be mucking out a stable with us and the Spa would call and ask her to step in. She would put on a frock, think of a song and get down there.”

The Jaffas lived during the summer in Argyll Lodge at Scalby, and became involved with such community activities as the Burniston Show, at which Ms Grayston hosted an Easter Egg hunt for almost every child in the village.

Born in 1926, Jean Grayston had trained in London and possessed a contralto voice that was as at home in opera as it was in the light music in which her husband specialised.

In a career spanning five decades, she also sang with many other orchestras and under the leading conductors of the day. She spent periods at Glyndebourne and with the Huddersfield Choral Society as soloist under Sir Malcolm Sargent.

She was a prolific broadcaster in her own right, giving recitals on the BBC Home Service, and oratorios the Third Programme. For many years she was a guest singer on Radio 2’s light classical programmes.

In her later years she performed aboard the liner QEII and was still singing for the guests at her 90th birthday.

Her husband died in 1991, at 79. Two years later, she unveiled a bronze and marble plaque at Scarborough Spa to commemorate his life.