Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

George Leybourne

George Leybourne (1842 - 1884) was a British Music-Hall performer, often nicknamed Champagne Charlie, and remembered as the lyricist for "The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze".

George Leybourne was born Joe Sanders in Newcastle, and became a factory worker in Birmingham. He made his start with the song "Villikins and His Dinah."

When singing "Champagne Charlie", he entered in top hat and tails, dressed as a "swell" in immaculate evening dress, with gloves, cane, and scarf, waving a bottle of vintage Moet & Chandon. Leybourne's rival Alfred Vance introduced a number called 'Cliquot', starting a fierce competition between the two which culminated with Vance's rendition of "Beautiful Beer".

He wrote the lyrics for many of his great hits, including "The Flying Trapeze" (now universally known as "The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze"), which was published in 1867 with music by Gaston Lyle, arranged by Alfred Lee. The tune may have been based on Jacques Offenbach's Le Papillon, Act 2, Scene 1: the lyrics were based on the phenomenal success of trapeze artist Jules Léotard. Years later, the song inspired a short story by William Saroyan.

Leybourne also wrote the lyrics to an 1871 song "If Ever I Cease To Love" that is remembered today because of its association with Mardi Gras in New Orleans. It became the signature song for the Rex Krewe. The song was sung in England by Lydia Thompson, who included it in her burlesque show Bluebeard, which she then toured in the United States. Grand Duke Alexis Romanoff saw it and was fascinated by the song, the songstress, or both. He visited New Orleans in 1872, and the king of Carnival directed that all bands in the Rex parade would play "the Royal Anthem" "If Ever I Cease To Love". It remains permanently associated with Rex, and is a New Orleans carnival standard.

George Leybourne's daughter Florrie married Music-Hall performer Albert Chevalier and was the inspiration for Chevalier's hit "My Old Dutch".

Leybourne died in Islington and is buried at Abney Park Cemetery in Stoke Newington.