Ernest Arthur Lough (17 November 1911 - 22 February 2000) (pronounced Luf) was an English boy soprano who sang the famous solo O for the Wings of a Dove from Mendelssohn's Hear My Prayer for the Gramophone Company (later HMV and then EMI) in 1927. The record became HMV's biggest seller for 1927, and made the piece, the choir and the soloist world famous. The original master recording wore out and a second version had to be recorded to replace it in 1928. In 1962, it became EMI's first million-selling classical record, earning it "gold disc" status.
Lough was born in Forest Gate. His father worked for an insurance company. He was a treble in local church choir, at St Peter's, Forest Gate. He auditioned at Southwark Cathedral, but joined the choir of the Temple Church in London in 1924, which was under the direction of organist and choirmaster George Thalben-Ball (later Sir George Thalben-Ball) who had just succeeded Sir Henry Walford Davies. As a chorister of the Temple Church, Lough had a choral scholarship to the nearby City of London School.
Lord Justice Eldon Bankes suggested that the Temple choir should make a record, and on 15 March 1927, the Gramophone Company brought its new mobile recording unit to the Temple Church where the choir recorded Mendelssohn's Hear My Prayer, in which the famous solo O for the Wings of a Dove was sung by Ernest Lough, then aged 15. It is said that Lough had to stand on two large books in order to be near enough to the microphone.
HMV issued its record, C1329, in June 1927. It was an instant hit and became HMV's biggest seller for 1927. It made the piece, the choir and the soloist world famous. Crowds of people packed the congregation to hear Lough sing at Sunday services, and his singing on the recording was considered so beautiful that a legend grew up that he had died after singing the last note. The original master recording wore out and a second version had to be recorded to replace it in 1928.
This recording continued to sell throughout the twentieth century. In January 1963, it earned a gold disc specifically to mark the 35th anniversary of the recording and the completion of over 35 years of co-operation between the Temple Church and HMV. It is known that it did sell over a million copies, but the number was not exactly recorded. It is still available on CD and has now sold over 6 million copies. It was described in The Record Guide (1951) as "one of the outstanding best-sellers of gramophone history".
Ernest Lough's voice broke in 1928, after he had made a number of other recordings, although none of them achieved the iconic status of O for the Wings of a Dove. He continued to sing in his spare time as a baritone (and was one of the "gentlemen" or adult members of the Temple choir).
He made little money from the recording. A 5% royalty was paid to the Inner Temple, with half of that shared by Thalben-Ball and 24 members of the choir.
After he left school, Lough worked in the advertising department at HMV, where he met Ethel Winnifred Charlton. They were married in June 1938, and had three sons. Two became choristers at the Temple Church choir and one at the Chapel Royal.
Lough served in the fire service during the Second World War, and was present when the Temple Church burned down in 1942. He appeared as a fire control operator in a wartime propaganda film about the fire service in London titled Fires Were Started, which was filmed using actual firefighters rather than professional actors.
He was a member for many years of The Bach Choir, singing 1st bass, together with his son Graham.
He died at Watford General Hospital, aged 88, survived by his wife and three sons. His obituary appeared in The Times and The Guardian on 24 February 2000 and there is a commemorative plaque to him in the Temple Church.
- Elizabeth Forbes, ‘Lough, Ernest Arthur (1911–2000)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2010 accessed 17 Nov 2011
- Obituary, The Guardian, 24 February 2000
- Obituary, The New York Times, 6 March 2000
Record sleeve LP of: 'The Ernest Lough Album', "My Life in Music". Ernest Lough and the Choir of the Temple Church, London. Organist and Director of Choir Dr. George Thalben-Ball. E.M.I. Records Limited, Hayes, Middlesex, England.
- Ernest Lough at the Boy Choir & Soloist Directory - Extensive discography
- Ernest Lough's entry on the Boy Soprano pages[dead link]
- His obituary in the Independent[dead link]
- The Boy Choir and Soloist Directory
- Six digitally restored recordings of Ernest Lough