John Walton 1940-2002

John was born on the 21 May 1940 in Germiston, Transvaal, South Africa. His father was a Yorkshireman who had emigrated to South Africa before WWII. His mother was of Irish and Cornish descent.

John played the harmonica from the age of twelve. While still at High School he performed magic and harmonica acts professionally with his younger sister Jill. Within three years he was giving radio performances on national radio: "Harmonica Playtime" on Springbok radio and "Margate Variety" on LM radio. He also made many appearances at local charity events.


John & his sister Jill, Durban, South Africa late 1950's

He rapidly became an all-round entertainer: harmonica player, magician, children's entertainer (puppet shows and magic), drummer, theatrical agent. He produced and starred in concerts and cabarets around Natal, South Africa, including many variety concerts at the Durban City Hall. He had residencies in Drakensburg resorts and Swaziland, and was a guest artiste at Grahamstown University. In the 1960's he formed a concert and cabaret harmonica trio called "The Playboys". He also entertained aboard cruise ships in 1975 travelling to Seychelles and Mauritius, and later to South America.

1963 - 1964

John Walton - Chords; George Galanos - Lead; Unknown - Bass

He became very well known when in 1963 he entered a competition involving 900 competitors from 31 countries, was placed first in Africa and fifth in the world.
This lead to performances with the Durban Symphony Orchestra.

He and his family, including two sons moved to England in early 1978 and immediately fell into the entertainment scene working holiday camps in the summer, and cruise ships in winter. Their two sons, by now proficient pianists, also joined the act as bass and chord players on harmonicas and appeared in many festivals in America, Germany, Holland, Switzerland and France.


In the early 1980's, John took over the National Harmonica League from John Tyler who was running the NHL for Hohner at the end of the 1970s. It had run as a Hohner organisation since the 1930's, first as the Hohner National Song Band League, then the NHL in the early 1950s. Later, John was a founding member and president of the International Harmonica Organisation (IHO) with a worldwide membership in many countries.

In the UK, John appeared on TV as an "extra", meeting stars such as Elke Sommer, Bo Derek, David Jason, George Kennedy and many more. He had a featured part as a harmonica player in the children's series "The Witches & the Grinnygog". Also, the family act were featured on TVS's Coast to Coast.

John's interests were not limited to the harmonica. He started the Bournemouth Video Club in the 1990's which was instrumental in Bournemouth winning the Entente Florale by producing the video that enticed judges from all over Europe to come to Bournemouth to see the town themselves. (It is still available at the Tourist Office.) As a teenager, he ran the 54 mile Pietermaritzburg to Durban marathon, and later in life was a member of Mensa.

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Copyright © Art M. Daane
Photographs by courtesy of Channing Walton
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