Gracie Fields Biography

Grace Stansfield, 9 January 1898, Rochdale, Lancashire, England, d. 27 September 1979, Capri, Italy. A singer and comedienne, so popular in the UK during the 30s and 40s that she was its most famous person next to Royalty. Educated occasionally, in-between work in a cotton mill and playing in juvenile troupes, pierrot shows and revues, she took her first big step in 1918 when she won the part of Sally Perkins in the musical Mr Tower Of London, which ran for over seven years. Her career took off after she married the show’s producer/comedian Archie Pitt. She started recording in 1928, and by 1933 was celebrating the sale of four million records. Guided by stage producer Basil Dean, Fields made her film debut in 1931 with Sally In Our Alley, from which came ‘Sally’, her famous theme song. In other movies such as, Looking On The Bright Side, This Week Of Grace, Love, Life And Laughter, Sing As We Go, Look Up And Laugh, Queen Of Hearts, The Show Goes On, We’re Going To Be Rich, Keep Smiling, and Shipyard Sally (1939), her vitality and spirit of determination, cheerfulness and courage, endeared her particularly to working-class people during the dark years of the 30s.

After divorcing Pitt, she married Italian comedian/dancer Monte Banks in 1940. When she subsequently moved to the USA, taking with her substantial assets, questions were asked in Parliament. The once supportive UK Press even went as far as branding her a traitor. During World War II she toured extensively, entertaining troops and appearing in USA stage shows, nightclubs, some films, including Stage Door Canteen (1944), and on her own radio programmes. After the War she was welcomed back to the UK and featured in a series of morale-building radio shows, Gracie’s Working Party, but still retained her popularity in the USA during the 40s with chart hits ‘Forever And Ever’ and the Maori song, ‘Now Is The Hour’. As early as 1933 she had bought a villa on the Isle of Capri, and during the 50s she went into semi-retirement there with her third husband, Boris Alperovic, emerging only for the occasional concert or record date. She made her final London appearance at her 10th Royal Command Performance in 1978. Her song hits, sung in a fine soprano voice, varied from the comic ‘In My Little Bottom Drawer’, ‘Walter, Walter’, ‘I Took My Harp To A Party’, ‘Fred Fannakapan’, and ‘The Biggest Aspidistra In The World’, through the spirited ‘Sing As We Go’ and ‘Wish Me Luck As You Wave Me Goodbye’, to the ballads ‘Around The World’, ‘Pedro The Fisherman’, ‘Little Donkey’, ‘La Vie En Rose’, and ‘Ave Maria’. Some of her more personalized material was studied, as social documents, by the Department of Social History at the University of Lancaster. Throughout her life she worked hard for charities, including the Gracie Fields Orphanage, and was awarded the CBE in 1938. Fields was made Dame Commander of the British Empire shortly before her death in September 1979.


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


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