Cecil Armstrong Gibbs was born in 1889 at 'The Vineyards,' Great Baddow, the first child of Ida Gibbs (nÈe Whitehead ) and David Cecil Gibbs, soap and chemicals manufacturer. His mother died when he was only two years old, so he was brought up by five maiden aunts who took it in turns to stay at Great Baddow and run the household. So apparent were his musical gifts at a young age, that the aunts begged the boy's father to send him abroad to receive a musical education. However David Cecil, who had himself been educated in Germany, was determined to give his son the benefit of an English public school education. Consequently the young Armstrong was sent first to a preparatory school on the Hove / Brighton borders and then on to Winchester College.
From Winchester, Armstrong Gibbs gained an exhibition and a sizarship to Trinity College Cambridge to read history. After completing his History Tripos in 1911 he stayed on at Cambridge to take his Mus. B. During that period he received composition and harmony lessons from E. J. Dent and Charles Wood and studied the organ briefly under Cyril Rootham. Realising that he could not make a living from composition alone, he decided to take up teaching. He spent just over a year at Copthorne School, East Grinstead, before returning to his old preparatory school, 'The Wick.' Although he was not able to compose as much as he had hoped, he did write some songs to poems of Walter de la Mare. On being asked to produce a play for the headmaster's retirement in 1919, Gibbs approached de la Mare directly and was delighted when the author produced the play 'Crossings' for him to set to music.
The producer of the play, Gibbs' old composition teacher E.J. Dent, brought the young Adrian Boult down to conduct 'Crossings.' He was so impressed with the music that he generously offered to fund Gibbs for a year as a mature student at the Royal College of Music. Encouraged by his wife, Honor, to take up the challenge, Armstrong Gibbs resigned from his post and moved back to Essex. After a year at the RCM studying conducting under Boult and composition under Vaughan Williams, he accepted a part-time teaching post at the college.
Soon after moving to Danbury in 1919, Gibbs set up a choral society which then participated in the Essex Musical Association festivals in Chelmsford. The setting of one of his own compositions, for a festival class in Bath, led to his becoming an adjudicator and eventually Vice-President of the National Federation of Music Festivals. Thereafter followed a busy life of touring the country adjudicating festivals, conducting and composing. As well as conducting the Choral Society in Danbury and singing with the Church Choir, Gibbs played cricket and bowls and lent active support to many local organisations.
His house 'Crossings' being requisitioned as a hospital during the Second World War Gibbs moved to Windermere, where he continued composing and conducting. After his son David was killed on active service in Italy he wrote his third symphony, 'The Westmorland.' On his return to Essex in 1945 he re-formed Danbury Choral Society and renewed his association with the Festivals Movement, playing a key role in the organisation of the music for the Mothers' Union World Wide Conference of 1948 and the Festival of Britain in 1951.
Known principally for his solo songs, Gibbs also wrote music for the stage, sacred works, three symphonies and a substantial amount of chamber music, much of which remains unpublished. He gained wide recognition during the early part of his life, but until recently, like many of his contemporaries, has been little known. Although he retired from adjudicating, he continued conducting and composing right to the end of his life. He died in Chelmsford on 12th May 1960 and is buried with his wife in Danbury churchyard.