Born 14 November 1821 in Crane Street, Chester, the son of a captain Owen. After receiving a good education he was apprenticed to Messrs. Powell and Edwards, Cutlers, Chester. He was taught music first of all by Edward Peters of Chester, and later, by C. Lucas of London.
When still quite young he became organist in the countess of Huntingdon chapel; he also became conductor of the ‘Octagon Orchestral Society.’ In 1842 he married a Miss Williams of Chester, and two years later relinquished his business and decided to give his whole time to music. He was appointed organist of S. Paul's church, Broughton, and afterwards of S. Bride's church; later he became organist and choirmaster of S. Mary's Welsh church, Chester.
He was vocalist (baritone), composer, organist, and accompanist. A hymntune by him called ‘Calfari’ appeared in Haleliwia, 1849; in the Rhuddlan eisteddfod of 1851, where he was given the name of Owain Alaw, he took the prize for an anthem, ‘Deborah a Barac.’ In the same year he tied with John Ambrose Lloyd at the Tremadoc eisteddfod for a cantata, ‘Gweddi Habacuc.’ Other eisteddfodic successes were — London, 1855, ‘Can Mair’; Merthyr Tydfil, ‘Y ddaeargryn’; ‘Cymanfa Gwent a Morgannwg,’ anthem ‘Och, Annuwiol; Llanrwst 1859 anthem ‘Arnat Ti y llefais.’
In 1860 John Owen published Gems of Welsh Melodies, a collection which proved very useful, and was widely used. He won the prize at a Caernarfon eisteddfod for his cantata, ‘Tywysog Cymru,’ whilst for the Chester national eisteddfod of 1866 he composed ‘Gŵyl Gwalia.’ He published Tonau yr Ysgol Sabothol; Welsh Harp, airs arranged for four voices; Ceinion Alawon Seisnig. His greatest work, the oratorio ‘Jeremiah,’ was published in 1878. Among his most popular anthems were ‘Pa fodd y glanha’ and ‘Gwyn fyd a ystyria wrth y tlawd.’ Anthems, part-songs, and songs, by him appeared in the series called Y Gyfres Gerddorol (of which he was editor), and in Y Drysorfa Gorawl, Ceinion Cerddoriaeth, Miwsig y Miloedd, y Cerddor Cymreig, Greal y Corau, Y Cerddor, and Cronicl y Cerddor.
He was much in demand throughout Wales as accompanist and adjudicator. He died 29 January 1883, and was buried in the old cemetery, Chester.
Published date: 1959
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His son, W[illiam] H[enry] Owen, [studied at the Royal Academy, London, and] was the organist of St. Bartholomew's church, Dublin. He lost his life in a railway accident near Abergele, 20 August 1868, when he was only 23 years old. [ WWP; Llan, 14 April 1939, 3.]
Published date: 1997