Cilla Black Biography

Priscilla White, 27 May 1943, Liverpool, England. While working as a part-time cloakroom attendant at Liverpool’s Cavern club in 1963, Priscilla appeared as guest singer with various groups, and was brought to the attention of Brian Epstein. The Beatles’ manager changed her name and during the next few years ably exploited her girl-next-door appeal. Her first single, under the auspices of producer George Martin, was a brassy powerhouse reworking of the Beatles’ unreleased ‘Love Of The Loved’, which reached the UK Top 40 in late 1963. A change of style with Burt Bacharach’s ‘Anyone Who Had A Heart’ saw Black emerge as a ballad singer of immense power and distinction. ‘You’re My World’, a translation of an Italian lyric, was another brilliantly orchestrated, impassioned ballad that, like its predecessor, dominated the UK number 1 position in 1964. In what was arguably the most competitive year in British pop history, Black was outselling all her Merseyside rivals except the Beatles. For her fourth single, Paul McCartney presented ‘It’s For You’, a fascinating jazz waltz ballad that seemed a certain number 1, but it stalled at number 8.

By the end of 1964, Black was one of the most successful female singers of her era and continued to release cover versions of superb quality, including the Righteous Brothers’ ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ ’ and an excellent reading of Randy Newman’s ‘I’ve Been Wrong Before’. A consummate rocker and unchallenged mistress of the neurotic ballad genre, Black was unassailable at her pop peak, yet her chosen path was that of an ‘all-round entertainer’. For most of 1965, she ceased recording and worked on her only feature film, Work Is A Four Letter Word, but returned strongly the following year with ‘Love’s Just A Broken Heart’ and ‘Alfie’. The death of Brian Epstein in 1967 and a relative lull in chart success might have blighted the prospects of a lesser performer, but Black was already moving into television work, aided by her manager/husband Bobby Willis (b. 25 January 1942, England, d. 23 October 1999, England). Her highly rated television series was boosted by the hit title theme ‘Step Inside Love’, donated by Paul McCartney. Throughout the late 60s, she continued to register Top 10 hits, including the stoical ‘Surround Yourself With Sorrow’, the oddly paced, wish-fulfilling ‘Conversations’ and the upbeat ‘Something Tells Me (Something Is Gonna Happen Tonight)’.

Like many of her contemporaries, Black wound down her recording career in the 70s and concentrated on live work and television commitments. While old rivals such as Lulu, Sandie Shaw and Dusty Springfield were courted by the new rock élite, Black required no such patronage and entered the 90s as one of the highest paid family entertainers in the British music business, with two major UK television shows, Blind Date and Surprise! Surprise! In 1993, she celebrated 30 years in showbusiness with an album, full-length video, book and television special, all entitled Through The Years. Two years later she received a BAFTA award on behalf of Blind Date, in recognition of her contribution to this ‘significant and popular programme’. She received an OBE from Queen Elizabeth II later in the year. In October 1999, her husband and business manager Bobby died of lung and liver cancer. With Blind Date recordings halted, rumours were rife that this might hasten the public withdrawal of Black, but she returned to work and within a year found herself being awarded a number of prestigious accolades from the TV And Radio Industries Club, Broadcasting Press Guild, and John Moore’s University in Liverpool.

At the start of 2003 and on the eve of both her 60th birthday and 40th year in showbusiness, Black unexpectedly decided to quit Blind Date after 18 years hosting the show. She signed a new recording contract with EMI Records, her original record label, and began work on new studio recordings for a compilation album. Her autobiography, What’s It All About?, was published later in the year.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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