Acker Bilk MBE (born 28 January 1929), born Bernard Stanley Bilk, is a clarinetist.
He is known for his trademark goatee, bowler hat, striped waistcoat and his breathy, vibrato-rich, lower-register clarinet style.
He was born in Pensford, Somerset, England.
Bilk earned the nickname Acker from the Somerset slang for friend or 'mate'.
His parents tried to have him learn the piano, but Bilk as a boy found it restricting upon his love of outdoor activities including football He also lost two front teeth in a school fight and half a finger in a sledging accident, both of which Bilk has claimed impacted his eventual clarinet style.
He learned the clarinet while serving in the Royal Engineers in the Suez Canal Zone, and by the mid-1950s he was playing professionally.
Bilk was part of the boom in traditional jazz that swept the United Kingdom in the late 1950s and 1960s.
He first joined Ken Colyer's band in 1954, and then after he formed his own ensemble, The Paramount Jazz Band, in 1956.
Four years later, his single "Summer Set" hit the British charts and it began a run of eleven top 50 hit singles.
Bilk was not an international star until an experiment with a string ensemble and a composition of his own as its keynote piece made him one in 1962.
He wrote "Stranger on the Shore" for a British television serial series, and recorded it as the title track of a new album in which his signature deep, quivering clarinet was backed by the Leon Young String Chorale.
The single was not only a big hit in England but shot to the top of the American charts as well – at a time when the American pop charts and radio playlists were open to just about anything, in just about any style – making Bilk the first Briton ever to have a song in the number one position on the Billboard singles chart.
The album was also highlighted by a striking interpretation of Bunny Berigan's legendary hit "I Can't Get Started." At one point, at the height of his career, Bilk's public relations workers were known as the "Bilk Marketing Board", a play on the then Milk Marketing Board.
Bilk recorded a series of albums in England that were also released successfully in the United States, including a memorable collaboration with Danish jazz pianist-composer Bent Fabric .
But his success tapered off when British rock and roll made its big international explosion beginning in 1964, and Bilk shifted direction to the cabaret circuit.
He finally had another chart success in 1976, with "Aria," which went to number five in England.
In the early 1980s, Bilk and his signature hit were newly familiar, thanks to "Stranger on the Shore" being used in the soundtrack to Sweet Dreams, the film biography of country music legend Patsy Cline.
Most of his classic albums with the Paramount Jazz Band have been reissued and are available on the UK based Lake Records label.
Bilk has been described as "Great Master of the Clarinet" and is often said to be the originator of 'Hyung-Tiger' playing, often copied by such artists as Johnny Range and Ted Morton.
His clarinet sound and style was at least as singular as had been those of American jazzmen such as Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, and Russell Procope, and "Stranger on the Shore" – which he was once quoted as calling "my old-age pension" – remains a beloved standard of jazz and popular music alike.By 2000, Bilk was reportedly semi-retired and taking up painting as a hobby, but still appears with contemporaries, Chris Barber and Kenny Ball as the 3B's.
One of his best recordings is ironically with the Chris Barber band, sharing the clarinet spot with the band's regular reedsmen, John Crocker and Ian Wheeler.
He made a CD with another legend of British Jazz Wally Fawkes for the Lake Records label in 2002.
He has appeared on two recent albums by Van Morrison, Down the Road and What's Wrong With This Picture?.