Ernest Leroy Nocho (14 January 1919 – 4 September 1997), better known by his stage name Lobo Nocho, was an African-American émigré jazz singer and painter in Europe. A former United States citizen, he settled in Europe after serving in World War II, and renounced his citizenship in 1950 to become a French citizen. He was later widely noted for his romantic links to Winston Churchill's daughter Sarah Churchill.
Nocho was born in Philadelphia, one of six children of Samuel Nocho and Mary Jackson. He spent his youth in the city, graduating from Simon Gratz High School. His talent for painting and drawing manifested itself early in his youth; he was a shy boy who spent much of his time alone doing crayon sketches of adults. His teachers at Gratz High remembered him as an outstanding art student whose paintings won municipal awards and were exhibited in major department stores such as Wanamaker's and Gimbels.
However, Nocho disliked life in Philadelphia, particularly due to issues of race relations; as his elder brother Edward Nocho put it, "he just couldn't adjust to Philadelphia life anymore and once told me that everyone who looked at him on the street regarded him not as a painter, not even as a human being, but as a black man." Some time after graduating high school, he moved to Quebec and enlisted in the Canadian Army there. This allowed him to put his artistic talents to practical use as a draughtsman, preparing blueprints for military architecture. In Canada, he also began courting Phyllis La France, a black Canadian woman living in Montreal, whom he had met earlier when she was in Trenton, New Jersey, visiting her aunt. The two were married at the Union Congregational Church by Reverend Charles H. Este on 27 December 1941.
Career in Europe
After serving in the Canadian Army for some time, Nocho transferred to the United States Army just in time to see service during the 1944 Normandy landings. He eventually attained the rank of Technical Sergeant. His wife, who had remained behind in Montreal, obtained United States permanent residence through her marriage to him, and moved to New York, settling in Harlem. However, the two remained separated and fell out of contact. Nocho chose to settle in Europe after World War II ended, and in 1950 renounced his U.S. citizenship to become a French citizen.
Nocho enjoyed various professional successes in Europe, working as a jazz singer for Paris, Malta, and Rome nightclubs to earn a living while also continuing to paint, making him one of a number of African Americans in France pursuing careers in the arts in those years. By a year after the war ended he had found a regular gig at Schubert's club in Montparnasse, singing in both English and French. In 1952 he appeared at Jean's Intrigue in Paris, performing alongside fellow African-American émigré Aaron Bridgers. In September 1962, a Paris court found him guilty of smoking marijuana, and fined him NF500.
In 1971, Nocho visited New York City to watch Hazel Scott play piano in a fashion show, in which singer Freda Payne also appeared, and reminisced with them about African Americans in the Paris music scene in the 1950s. David Amram would later praise him as "one of the finest jazz singers I had heard in Paris", also noting his skills on the drums and in dance and his encyclopedic knowledge of jazz music. A book of Nocho's poetry was published by Vantage Press at the beginning of September 1997. He died just days later and was buried at the Calverton National Cemetery in Suffolk County, New York.
Relationship with Sarah Churchill
In mid-1964, Nocho became acquainted with British actress Sarah Churchill, the daughter of former Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and by early 1965 the two had struck up a romance, a fact which became widely noted in world news reports after he was photographed escorting her back to London when her father was on his deathbed. Nocho moved into a Rome, Italy villa which she rented for him, and there were reports in Italian newspapers that the two would marry, though Nocho refused to answer media enquiries to this end. The two were still together in July 1966, when Churchill organised a London exhibition of Nocho's paintings at the home of Edwina Dixon, the daughter-in-law of British ambassador to France Pierson Dixon. Nocho gave a number of his paintings to Churchill's friend Pete Ballard, which the latter donated to North Carolina Central University in 2013.
However, in the end Churchill and Nocho never married. In her 1981 autobiography, she described him as a "vision in Levis, a jet-age troubadour and a one-man debating society". She hinted in her published poetry that her late father had strongly disapproved of her relationship with Nocho, writing:
- Forgive me if I do not cry
- The day you die
- The simplest reason that I know
- You said you'd rather have it so
- This is what I have chosen
- This moment bitter and free
- This is what I have chosen
- From so much that was offered to me
- Life showered her costliest gifts
- And a safe passage home, if need be
- But this is what I have chosen
- This moment so bitter ... and so free
- "Winston Churchill's Daughter May Wed Negro Artist". Jet Magazine. 1965-01-28. Retrieved 2013-03-25.
- Sears Jr., Art (1965-02-18). "Negro in Sarah Churchill's life has ill wife in N.Y.". Jet Magazine. Retrieved 2013-03-25.
- "Philly Man Serving in Canadian Army". The Afro American. 1942-06-09. Retrieved 2013-03-25.
- Fisher, Joy (August 2006). Calverton National Cemetery (Nickens-Nolan, Helen); Calverton, Suffolk co., NY. Department of Veterans Affairs. Retrieved 2013-03-25.
- "Ernest ('Lobo') Nocho: Three Original Paintings". Between The Covers: African-Americana 157. 2010. Retrieved 2013-03-25.
- "Churchill's daughter to wed Lobo". The Afro American. 1965-01-23. Retrieved 2013-03-25.
- Stewart, Ollie (1965-02-13). "Report from Europe". The Afro American. Retrieved 2013-03-25.
- Stewart, Ollie (1952-05-20). "Report From Europe". Baltimore Afro-American. Retrieved 2013-03-25.
- Michaels, Anne (1952-07-05). "Paris Peek". Billboard Magazine. Retrieved 2013-03-27.
- "Americans fined in Paris court". Star-News. 1962-09-11. Retrieved 2013-03-25.
- "New York Beat". Jet Magazine. 1971-07-15. Retrieved 2013-05-04.
- Amram, David (1980). Vibrations: the adventures and musical times of David Amram. Greenwood Press. ISBN 9780313222306.
- Nocho, Lobo (1997). Places, Thoughts, and Things. Vantage Press. ISBN 9780533123766.
- "Sarah Churchill Sets Art Show For Suitor, Nocho". Jet Magazine. 1966-07-07. Retrieved 2013-03-25.
- Earle, Rosalie (2013-04-27). "After his own art: Pete Ballard finds homes for his paintings, dolls". West Virginia Gazette. Retrieved 2013-06-20.
- "Obituaries: Sarah Churchill, 67, British Leader's Daughter". Philadelphia Inquirer. 1982-09-25. Retrieved 2013-03-25.
- Churchill, Sarah; Medlicott, Paul (April 1981). Keep on dancing: an autobiography. Weidenfeld and Nicolson. p. 210.
- Sanders, Charles L. (1966-02-28). "Paris Scratchpad". Jet Magazine. Retrieved 2013-03-25.
- Photograph of Nocho and Sarah Churchill in Rome from the 1 July 1965 issue of Jet Magazine