Shirley Bassey Biography

8 January 1937, Tiger Bay, Cardiff, Wales. A thrilling, highly emotional singer, whose career has spanned some 40 years. Her early jobs included work in a factory’s wrapping and packing department, while playing working men’s clubs at weekends. After touring the UK in revues and variety shows, Lancashire comedian Al Read included her in his 1955 Christmas Show at London’s Adelphi Theatre, and his revue, Such Is Life, which ran for a year. Her first hit, in 1957, was the calypso-styled ‘Banana Boat Song’, followed by ‘Kiss Me Honey Honey, Kiss Me’ nearly two years later. With her powerful voice (she was sometimes called ‘Bassey the Belter’), the unique Bassey style and phrasing started to emerge in 1959 with ‘As I Love You’ which topped the UK chart, and continued through to the mid-70s via such heart-rending ballads as Lionel Bart’s ‘As Long As He Needs Me’ (Nancy’s big song from Oliver!), ‘You’ll Never Know’, ‘I’ll Get By’, ‘Reach For The Stars’/‘Climb Ev’ry Mountain’, ‘What Now My Love’, ‘I (Who Have Nothing)’, George Harrison’s ‘Something’, ‘For All We Know’, and an Italian hit with a new lyric by Norman Newell, ‘Never, Never, Never’.

Bassey’s singles sales were such that, even into the new millennium, her records had spent more weeks on the UK chart than those of any other British female performer, and 29 of her albums registered in the UK bestsellers between 1961 and 1991. In 1962 she was accompanied on Let’s Face The Music by top US arranger/conductor Nelson Riddle. In live performances her rise to the top was swift and by the early 60s she was headlining in New York and Las Vegas. In 1964 Bassey had a big hit in the USA with ‘Goldfinger’, one of three songs she has sung over the title sequences of James Bond movies (the others were ‘Diamonds Are Forever’ and ‘Moonraker’). In 1969 she moved her base to Switzerland but continued to play major concert halls throughout the world. The American Guild Of Variety Artists voted her Best Female Entertainer for 1976, and in the same year she celebrated 20 years as a recording artist with a 22-date British tour. In 1977, she received a Britannia Award for the Best Female Solo Singer In The Last 50 Years.

In 1981, Bassey withdrew to her Swiss home and announced her semi-retirement, but continued to emerge occasionally throughout the 80s for television specials, concert tours, and a few albums including Love Songs and I Am What I Am. In one of pop’s more unlikely collaborations, she was teamed with Yello in 1987 for the single ‘The Rhythm Divine’. In the 90s, with her provocative body language, ever more lavish gowns, and specialities such as ‘Big Spender’, ‘Nobody Does It Like Me’, ‘Tonight’ and ‘What Kind Of Fool Am I’ - together with more contemporary material - the ‘Tigress Of Tiger Bay’ has shown herself to be an enduring, powerful and exciting performer. In 1993 she was awarded the CBE, and a new cabaret club named ‘Bassey’s’ was opened in Cardiff. In the following year her 40th Anniversary UK concert tour attracted favourable reviews, even from some hardened rock critics, and in 1995 Bassey was named ‘Show Business Personality of the Year’ by the Variety Club of Great Britain. In the following year, after celebrating her 60th birthday with nine sell-out concerts at London’s Royal Festival Hall (among other locations), and on television in Happy Birthday, Shirley, she duetted with Chris Rea on the clubland hit ‘‘Disco’ La Passione’. It was the title song from her first feature film, written and scored by Rea, in which she played herself. In 1997 Bassey reinvented herself once more, and was back in the UK Top 20 with ‘History Repeating’, a collaboration with big beat artists, the Propellerheads. Two years later, The Birthday Concert album was nominated for a Grammy Award. In the year 2000, Bassey embarked on her Millennium Tour and also played Las Vegas for the first time in a decade. In the same year she was created a Dame Commander of the Most Excellent Order of British Empire.


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


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