Yusef (Joe) Kayrooz (17 April 1926 – 30 January 2003) was the grandson of Lebanese migrants who migrated here in 1886 and was one of Australia’s finest tenors with a musical reputation of world renown.
Joe was born in Randwick in 1926 and grew up in Surry Hills. He studied violin as a child but turned to singing. Like his grandfather and father, he had a fine singing voice. He attended the Sydney Conservatorium of Music under Madame A. Prowse and later with Harold Williams.
During the Second World War he served with the Royal Australian Air Force. The Australian War Memorial shows him enlisting on 28th April 1944, shortly after his 18th birthday. On his discharge on 25th July 1947 he held the rank of Leading Aircraftman. He served with the 81st Fighter Wing and a newsletter photograph of him from the 81 Fighter Wing Association shows him with his mates on service at Labuan, Borneo in 1946.
As a young man he would sing between boxing matches at the old Leichhardt Stadium. By 1954 he was part of an Australian National Opera tour of New Zealand with Ronald Dowd, Allan Light, Neil Easton, Betty Fretweel and others.
During the New Zealand tour Joe became involved in a poker game with Dowd, Light and Geoffrey Chard. He won four hundred pounds, which allowed him to purchase a fare to England where he was able to continue his studies with Dino Borgioli and Madame Triguez.
He toured with Carl Rosa and studied with Maestro Jacopetti for a year in Milan in Italy. He auditioned for Professor Hermann Reutter, director of the Staatliche Hochschule fuer Musik in Stuttgart, Germany, who awarded him a three-year scholarship to study under Kammernsaenger Franz Voelker, director of vocal arts
Joe made his debut in 1959 in Ulm as Canio in Pagliacci (a role he sang more than 120 times). This was followed by Ramades in Aides and Manrico in Il Trovatore. He compiled more than 50 major operatic roles to his repertoire, fulfilling contracts in Switzerland, Austria, Germany, France, Italy and Britain.
After 20 years overseas, Joe married in 1974 returned to Australia. He sang with many of the finest Australian musical institutions including the Queensland and Canberra Opera Companies in affiliation with the Australia Opera. He also performed with the Sydney Touring Theatre Company until 1986. In 1977, for instance, he appeared with June Bronhill, the renowned Australian Coloratura Soprano, at Sydney’s Seymour Centre in the production of The Music of Sigmund Romberg.
Joe achieved many musical honours during his career. He gave two Royal Command Performances, firstly at the Tivoli Theatre before the Queen in 1954, and later at the Sydney Opera House with June Bronhill in 1977 for Prince Charles. Among the prizes he won was the 1991 Gosford Open Aria Competition.
Joe was considered by many to have the world’s outstanding tenor voice. When he teamed up with two other tenors, Doug Merrick and Marlo Monte, they were said to have been The Other Three Tenors.
Joe Kayrooz died on 30 January 2003. A requiem mass was held at his funeral at Westmead on the 4th February 2003. Survived by his wife Rita and children and grandchild, his death notice carried the following request: “In honour of Joseph’s flamboyance, colourful clothing will be appreciated in lieu of flowers; donations for diabetes research would be welcomed.”
• Field, Cheryl. ‘Following their dreams’ [Newspaper clipping, c. 1991] – ALHS Collection
• Yusef (Joe) Kayrooz 17 April 1926 – 30 January 2003. 81 Fighter Wing Association Newsletter [n.d.]
• ‘Yusef has made singing his life’ [Newspaper clipping, c. 1991] – ALHS Collection
• Sydney Morning Herald 3rd February 2003, p. 40
• Thanks to Adele Moriarty for supplying much of the material relating to Joe Kayrooz.