b. Lena Annie Whitehead, 16 July 1955, Oldham, Lancashire, England. Whitehead joined her school’s brass band wanting to play tuba, but - an indication of the patronising attitudes she continues to suffer from as an adult, professional musician - was not allowed to, because it was felt a girl could not cope with the large instrument. She was therefore forced to choose cornet, but after a year took up the euphonium and baritone sax as well. Finally, she was allowed to switch to trombone, on which she has since proved her skill and versatility with rock, reggae and jazz groups. Leaving school at the age of 16, she joined Ivy Benson’s all-woman big band to tour Germany where, to Benson’s disapproval, she would sneak off to jam with local musicians. She stayed with Benson for two years, then moved to Jersey, giving up playing almost completely for six years as she was disillusioned with music as a job. In 1979, she formed her own ska band, and two years later moved to London to work as a session musician, re-kindling her interest in jazz at jam sessions in a Finsbury Park, north London pub. In 1983, she toured Africa with Chris McGregor’s Brotherhood Of Breath and the USA with Fun Boy Three. In the mid-80s she ran her own band including Louise Elliott, a fine saxophonist with bands like Zubop, and pianist Laka Daisical, and was one of the Sisterhood Of Spit: at the end of the decade she was again the only sister in the Brotherhood Of Breath.
A prolific and in-demand session player Whitehead has also worked with John Stevens (duelling memorably with Evan Parker), the Penguin Café Orchestra, Charlie Watts Orchestra, Guest Stars, Working Week, Jah Wobble, Lydia D’Ustbyn’s Swing Orchestra, Native Hipsters, District Six, Carla Bley, Blur, the Spice Girls, Jamiroquai, Smiley Culture, and with Alistair Anderson under the name Northern Lights. Her own bands include the Dance and the Annie Whitehead Experience, and she has also released several acclaimed collections of her own.