Canadian-born harmonica player Tommy Reilly was born in Guelph, Ontario on 21 August 1919 and played violin from the age of eight and harmonica from the age of eleven.
His family moved to London before World War II and he began to study at the Leipzig Conservatory, but was arrested after the war began and spent the war years in prisoner of war camps, where he developed his own harmonica technique, basing the phrasing and interpretation on the violin playing of Jascha Heifetz.
From 1945 onwards, back in London, he promoted the harmonica as a serious solo instrument for concert music, performing on radio and TV and touring Europe. Over thirty concert works were written for him, including Robert Farnon's Prelude and Dance for Harmonica and Orchestra, James Moody's Little Suite for Harmonica and Small Orchestra, Matyas Seiber's Old Scottish Air for Harmonica, Strings and Harp and Gordon Jacob's Five Pieces for Harmonica and Strings. He also recorded works for harmonica by Arnold, Benjamin, Vaughan Williams and Villa-Lobos, and played for various films, radio and TV shows.
Tommy Reilly died in Fresham, Surrey, UK on 25 September 2000, aged eighty-one.