Leonard Alexander Kite was born in Portsmouth in 1873. He followed his father into the Royal Marine Artillery and in 1891 he was based at the RMA Barracks at Eastney, Portsmouth, as a drummer. Using the professional name of Leo Sterling he was first noted as a music hall performer in 1897 when he appeared as a comedian, dancer, and strolling musician and he toured with Graham Falcon’s pantomime company in their 1897/98 production of Dick Whittington. He also secured several long engagements at the prestigious Royal Aquarium in Westminster. Having mastered the post-horn, cornet, trombone, and bugle, as well as the drums, he developed an instrumental speciality act that also included music, dance and comedy.
In 1899 he was on his second tour with the ventriloquist ‘Lieut Walter Cole’ alongside a young contralto vocalist called Adeline Yohlo. Adeline’s real name was Mary Adelaide Love and she also appeared professionally as Addie Love. She was first noted playing the ‘Queen of the Fairies’ in an amateur production of Iolanthe in her home town of Hastings, where her parents Harry and Mary ran the Pilot Inn Public House on Queens Road. Her early act as a professional was singing impersonations of female celebrities of the day.
Leo and Addie married in West Ham, East London, in 1900 and performed together as the sketch artistes ‘Sterling and Love’. Leo was a member of the Beneficent Order of Terriers and became a Freemason when he was initiated into Liverpool Dramatic Lodge No.1609 in May 1902.
Leo and Addie’s sketches were often built around Leo’s playing of wind instruments; sketches like ‘Fox Hunting’ in which his post-horn was to the fore and a military one called ‘The Bugler and the Nurse’. Others included the nautical sketch called ‘Music Afloat’ and ‘Discord and Harmony’ set in domesticity.
They were very busy between the turn of the century and the Great War and included a tour of South Africa. They also went to Australia where they found even greater success. They were in Australia constantly during the Great War and into the 1920s, and in much the same way as Arthur Hemsley and Elsa Brull, they made Australia their base and eventually their home.
In Australia Leo would need little persuasion to appear at charity events, especially for children, and would make much fun while encouraging youngsters to come up on stage and attempt to play his instruments. In 1949, at the age of 76, he embarked on a tour of New South Wales in support of the ‘Far West Children’s Health Scheme’ and he continued working with his musical novelties acts into his eighties, both on stage and on radio, and became known as ‘The Grand Old Man of Variety’. In September 1954 a Sydney based newspaper, the ‘Cumberland Argus’ wrote “Leo Sterling is a unique artist, probably the oldest active ‘trouper’ in Australia today. His act is an unusual one for he performs with a set of original post-horns that have long been museum pieces. He plays the hunting and coaching melodies with which he made his name on the playbills of London theatres in days gone by”.