He was born Terence Edward Parsons in Shoreditch, London and attended Duncombe School in Islington, and Elliott School, Putney. He was first noticed while serving in the British armed forces in Hong Kong.
A regular guest (and frequent winner) of Radio Rediffusion's Talent Time show, he was invited by then-host Ray Cordeiro to perform in his own one-off show, on the condition that he would bow out of future Talent Time episodes to make way for others. Agreeing to the deal, he performed his first on-air concert for Rediffusion on June 27, 1953.
By 1956, Monro had become a featured vocalist with the BBC Show Band. An important influence on his early career was the pianist Winifred Atwell, who became his mentor, provided him with his stage name, and helped him sign with Decca Records.
In 1957 Monro released Blue and Sentimental, a collection of standards. Despite the album's critical acclaim, Monro languished among the young male singers trying to break through at the end of the 1950s, many of them emulating Frankie Vaughan by recording cover versions of American hits. (Monro even recorded a version of Vaughan's "Garden of Eden" during this period.) A short recording contract with Fontana Records followed.
By the end of the 1950s, Monro's mid-decade fame had evaporated, and he returned to relative obscurity. He and his wife Mickie lived from her wages as a song plugger and his royalties from a TV advertising jingle for Camay soap. In 1959 he recorded a country pastiche song, "Bound for Texas", for The Chaplin Revue, a feature-length compilation of Charlie Chaplin shorts. It would be the first of many Monro soundtrack themes.
Prior to producing the Peter Sellers album Songs for Swingin' Sellers in 1960, George Martin asked Monro to record a satirical ditty to help the comedian imitate the song with a Frank Sinatra-type styling. When Sellers heard the recording he decided to use it to open the record rather than record his own version. However, Sellers billed Monro as "Fred Flange," and though it was a demoralising experience at the time, the incident developed into a lifelong friendship with Martin, who subsequently asked Monro to begin recording with him for EMI's Parlophone record label. Their second single and Monro's highest UK chart success, "Portrait of My Love", written by Cyril Ornadel and Norman Newell OBE (using the pseudonym "David West") reached number three in the UK Singles Chart.
By the following year, he had been named Top International Act by Billboard. In February 1961, the British music magazine, NME reported that Monro had won ITV's A Song for Britain with "My Kind of Girl". His follow-up hits included that song, plus "Softly as I Leave You" (1962) and the song from the James Bond film From Russia with Love (1963). For the latter, his vocals were not used in the opening titles, as became the standard for the series; they were heard on a radio during the film and over the final credits.
At the 1964 Eurovision Song Contest, singing "I Love the Little Things," Monro finished second behind Italy's 16-year-old Gigliola Cinquetti, despite an "excellent performance of the only English language song of the night." The Austrian entry "Warum nur warum?", performed by songwriter Udo Jürgens, caught Monro's ear, despite its sixth-place finish, and he recorded an English version titled "Walk Away" (lyric by Monro's manager Don Black), earning him another hit single late in 1964. He also had a hit with the Beatles' "Yesterday" in 1965, releasing the first single of the most recorded song of all time, predating even the Beatles' own.
The following year, Monro sang the Oscar-winning title song for the film, Born Free, which became his signature tune. It was also his second collaboration with John Barry, following From Russia With Love. Monro went on to record two further songs from Barry film scores: "Wednesday's Child" (from the film The Quiller Memorandum) and "This Way Mary" (from Mary, Queen of Scots). Both Born Free and "On Days Like These" (from the film The Italian Job) had lyrics by Don Black.
In the late 1960s he recorded another Udo Jürgens song with the name Was Ich Dir Sagen Will. It was adapted to English as The Music Played. Matt recorded a Spanish version of the song with adapted title of Alguien Canto. The Spanish version was a top sales hit (Superventas) in Spain in 1969. Additionally, Monro recorded an English version of Jürgens' 1966 Eurovision winner Merci, Chérie, but it failed to chart when released as a UK single.
On 31 December 1976, Monro performed Black's "Walk Away" on BBC1's A Jubilee of Music, celebrating British pop music for Queen Elizabeth II's impending Silver Jubilee.
Monro achieved fame in the United States when "My Kind of Girl" (1961) and "Walk Away" (1964) hit the Top 40. In 1966, following the death of Nat King Cole, EMI moved Monro from Parlophone to Capitol. After relocating to California and recording several albums with American arrangers, Monro returned to the UK and began appearing on EMI's Columbia label, his final U.S. album release being Close To You in 1970. This LP contained "We're Gonna Change The World", a semi-satirical song about women's liberation, which was not a hit in either the US or the UK but was nevertheless widely played, and became enduringly popular, on BBC Radio 2.
He continued touring and recording until just before his death, releasing a single and promoting it throughout the UK and Australia in 1984. In one of his final appearances Monro praised Boy George, noting the importance of quality recordings in all musical genres.
He was married twice, to:Iris, in 1953 (divorced); one son Mitchell (died 2004)
Mickie Schuller (born 19 July 1933 in Berlin; died 25 February 2010 aged 76, in Middlesex, England of bone cancer), married 1959–1985; one daughter Michele and one son, Matt Monro Jnr
Monro died from liver cancer in 1985 at the Cromwell Hospital, Kensington, London, leaving a widow, Mickie, and three children: Mitchell, Michele, and Matthew. Mitchell, a professional pilot, also died of cancer, in 2004. Matt Monro was cremated at Golders Green Crematorium on 7 February 1985. The ashes were removed by the family. A memorial service was also held in Harrow.
The 20th anniversary of Monro's death spotlighted the continuing interest in his music, with a Top 10 tribute compilation CD (UK), a No. 1 concert DVD (UK), a BBC TV documentary, and an official website all appearing in 2005. A 2007 compilation CD entitled From Matt With Love reached the Top 40 of the UK Albums Chart during its first week of release. His songs were featured on Friday Night is Music Night on 8 October 2010.
In Autumn 2005 Matt Monro Jnr. toured the United Kingdom with a tribute concert commemorating the anniversary. Also, EMI re-released Matt Sings Monro, a 1995 duet album that combined his voice with the senior Monro's. Another posthumous Matt Monro duet, with Cliff Richard, appeared on Richard's duets CD, Two's Company, in 2007.
Monro never recorded a "live" concert album, preferring the technical purity of the recording studio and wanting his public performances to retain an element of uniqueness. However, in the past few years, commercially released concert albums have emerged following meticulous remastering of radio and television shows, private recordings he commissioned. These include an intimate 1967 cabaret performance from his first tour of Australia; a 1967 BBC concert with Nelson Riddle; a 1966 arena concert before 24,000 fans in Manila; and one of his final concerts, recorded on the last night of his fourteenth and final Australian tour in 1984.
In recent years, Michael Bublé and Rick Astley have cited Matt Monro as a strong influence. He continues to feature prominently on radio stations and CD compilations featuring popular easy-listening vocalists.
His daughter Michele has written a biography, The Singer's Singer: The Life and Music of Matt Monro and has been instrumental, along with sound engineer Richard Moore, in releasing rare and unreleased material by Matt Monro in recent years.
Most of Monro's recordings were produced or overseen by George Martin. Unlike his contemporaries, Monro recorded very few Tin Pan Alley standards during his career. (The exception was Matt Monro Sings Hoagy Carmichael, one of his most highly regarded albums.) Instead, he and Martin searched for material written by promising newcomers and commissioned English lyrics for dramatic melodies written by European composers.
Monro also covered many of the most popular stage and screen songs of the 1950s and 1960s. Over the years, his recordings featured arrangements by Sid Feller, Billy May, John Barry, Buddy Bregman, Kenny Clayton and Colin Keyes, and Martin himself. He also had a long and fruitful musical partnership with British arranger Johnnie Spence. Monro also teamed up with American star arrangers Nelson Riddle and Billy May and leading British bandleader Ted Heath, for concerts broadcast by the BBC.
In 1973 Monro released a vocal version of the popular Van der Valk TV-series theme titled "And You Smiled", with lyrics written by Melvyn Taggart. It was his final hit. In 1977, he recorded the Don Black penned, "If I Never Sing Another Song", which became a latter-day standard among his contemporaries, its lyrics referring to the "heyday" of fan mail, awards, and other trappings of celebrity that had faded for them.
† Before 1973 the BPI did not have an album/single certified award scheme.