Brighton Street Musicians

Perhaps two of Brighton’s most famous street musicians were Frederick Alexander and Joseph Marcantonio. Frederick played the harp while Joseph played the violin.

Wooden harp from the Musical Instruments collection
Wooden harp from the Musical Instruments collection

They played together on the streets of Brighton for 58 years until Joseph’s death in 1958.

Frederick was actually recorded as Raphaele Aliandro on the 1911 census and his occupation was given as ‘professional harpist’. He was born in Potenza, Italy, in 1883 and came to England when he was eight. By 1911 he was living in Brighton with his wife Florence and four children.

Violin and bow from the Musical Instruments collection
Violin and bow from the Musical Instruments collection

Joseph, or Guiseppe, was born in Bournemouth in 1883 but was living in Brighton by 1891. His father, Luigi, and three of his siblings were listed on the census as ’musicians’. By 1911, Joseph was married and his occupation was given as ‘violinist.’

They appeared to have teamed up in about 1905, and at one time played to trippers on the local paddle-steamers. After World War Two, they made appearances on television and radio. A recording of their music was played for the American radio station W.T.A.G. (Worcester, Massachusetts) in August 1949.

Later that year they played beneath the bedroom window of Harriet Gunn, a local flower-seller, as she lay dying. A photograph of them outside her house appeared in the Brighton Herald.

Wooden harp from the Musical Instruments collection
Wooden harp from the Musical Instruments collection

Joseph died in 1958. Frederick was reported to be inconsolable: “we were like brothers,” he said.

Frederick died in 1963 and the Argus wrote: ‘Now the harp’s plaintive melodies are stilled and another character of Old Brighton has departed.’

Paul Jordan, Senior History Centre Officer

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