During World War II my grandmother Anita Lasker-Wallfisch, a German Jew, was arrested by the Gestapo for being Jewish and after almost two years in prison, sent to the Auschwitz Birkenau extermination camp. 

Joanna Wallfisch

Joanna Wallfisch

While she was being “processed” - stripped, shaved, and tattooed - the female guard, also a prisoner, asked to know what she did before. My grandmother replied “I played the cello”.

At that moment the woman said “wait here, you will be saved” and handed her a toothbrush.

Anita was taken to Alma Rosé, the conductor for the camp women’s orchestra, which lacked a cellist.

My grandmother is a remarkable woman (who tells her own story immaculately in her book Inherit The Truth) and has been a huge influence my life.

The fact that music saved her life is mind-blowing to me, and gives some answer as to why music drives me so deeply, beyond explanation. 

I now live in the USA, but am coming back to the UK in August to take my show The Great Song Cycle Song Cycle to the Edinburgh Fringe

One of the greatest pleasures will be the chance to see my grandmother, now 93, and to catch up with the rest of my family.

I was raised in London completely surrounded by music.

Indeed it seemed completely normal that every single person in my family, my parents, my grandparents on both sides, my brothers, aunts, everyone played an instrument, not just for fun, but professionally. 

I used to fall asleep backstage while mum or dad played a concerto at the Royal Festival Hall, and there was a constant stream of people in the house for rehearsals. 

Even my summer holidays were surrounded by music, as I travelled with my mum to California for the Carmel Bach Festival each year. 

Music has always been a fundamental part of my life, and I often think this is, in great part, thanks to my grandmother.

In a way I am the black sheep of the family, as I pursued jazz instead of classical music, falling in love with the voice of Ella Fitzgerald aged 11. I realised that I wanted to devote my life to singing.

Since then I have followed my dream, starting in Paris when I busked on the bridges of the Seine, to the formal training at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, and later the biggest lesson of my life, living in New York City as a jazz singer and songwriter. 

Today I’m in Los Angeles, and my career has unfolded in ways I could never have imagined, 

What is so wonderful is that I have the immense and unconditional support of my family and soar with it, using music as a vehicle to experience life to its fullest.

That’s pretty much the basis of my Edinburgh show, which was inspired by my decision to carry out an album release tour by undertaking a solo cycle odyssey 1,154 miles down the Pacific coast of America with a baritone ukulele, loop pedal, and everything else I needed to survive.

Having the support of my grandmother for adventures like these has been a true gift.

I remember visiting her for coffee and cake, sitting in her kitchen and asking if she thought I was selfish because all I wanted to do in the world was sing.

Her reply was simple and it stays with me: “Joey, if you want to sing, and singing makes you happy, then sing!” 

Find out more about The Great Song Cycle Song Cycle at https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on#q=joanna%20wallfisch.