The distinguished English bass-baritone, John (Stanton) Shirley-Quirk, sang at the school choir of Holt High School, Queen's Drive, Childwall Five Ways, Liverpool. His music teacher there was Dr Marshall. He first studied the violin and was awarded a scholarship for that instrument. Later at Liverpool University, where he read chemistry and physics, he studied singing with Austen Carnegie. Service in the Royal Air Force interrupted these studies until, in 1957, he came to London to work under Roy Henderson. His hyphenated name is composed of the place-name Shirley, in Derbyshire, where his ancestors lived, and the Celtic appellation in the Manx language, used in the channel Isle of Man.
John Shirley-Quirk made his operatic debut in 1961 as the Doctor in Pelléas et Mélisande at the Glyndebourne Festival. From 1964 to 1976 he was a leading member of the English Opera Group, where he became well known for his outstanding performances of many of Benjamin Brittenís works, including The Prodigal Son which was presented at the Aldeburgh, Versailles, City of London, Flanders and Edinburgh Festivals. He premiered roles in all of B. Britten's last five operas. In June 1973 he created all the baritone roles in B. Brittenís Death in Venice. In 1973 he sang at Londonís Covent Garden. In October 1974 he made his Metropolitan Opera debut in New York, as the Traveller in Death in Venice. In July 1977 he created the role of Lev in Tippettís The Ice Break at Covent Garden.
John Shirley-Quirk is renowned for his masterful performances in orchestral and recital repertoire ranging from the baroque to 20th-century works. He performs regularly with major orchestras world-wide, especially in England, Europe and the USA. He appeared with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra several times (1965, 1970). Opera performances include major roles at Londonís Covent Garden, Milanís La Scala, New Yorkís Metropolitan Opera. He also toured widely as a concert artist.
John Shirley-Quirk has also taken part in productions of opera for television, with notable performances in Billy Budd and Eugene Onegin. He has made over one hundred recordings on major international labels, including works by Monteverdi, J.S. Bach, George Frideric Handel, Haydn, Felix Mendelssohn and Berlioz. Many of which have received awards.
In 1975 John Shirley-Quirk was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire.