Vera Lynn Biography

Vera Welch, 20 March 1917, London, England. A much-loved singer with a clear, strong, plaintive voice, who is held in great esteem by British audiences because of her work in entertaining service personnel during World War II. At the age of seven she was singing regularly in working men’s clubs, and later joined a dancing troupe until she was 15. She made her first broadcast in 1935, singing with the Joe Loss Orchestra, and later worked with Charlie Kunz and Ambrose. While she was with Ambrose she met saxophonist Harry Lewis, who later became her husband and manager. She went solo in 1940, and with the help of producer Howard Thomas, launched her own BBC radio series entitled Sincerely Yours. Introducing each programme with the signature tune ‘Wishing’, she attempted to become the musical link between the girls ‘back home’ and their men overseas, by reading out personal messages and singing sentimental favourites such as ‘Yours’, ‘We’ll Meet Again’ and ‘The White Cliffs Of Dover’. In 1941, she appeared in the revue Applesauce! at the London Palladium, with Florence Desmond and the ‘Cheekie Chappie’, comedian Max Miller. By now, she was the most popular female vocalist in Britain and with UK Forces overseas, to whom she was known as ‘The Forces Sweetheart’. One comedian was heard to remark: ‘The war was started by Vera Lynn’s agent!’.

She also made three films, We’ll Meet Again (1942), which featured Geraldo’s Orchestra, Rhythm Serenade (1943) with comedy duo Jewell And Warriss, and One Exciting Night (1944) with top wartime comedian Richard Murdoch. Lynn toured Burma with ENSA, entertaining the troops, and shortly after the war ended she retired, temporarily. She returned to the UK variety circuit in 1947, and soon had her own BBC radio series again, this time with Canadian Robert Farnon as musical director. Partly because a musicians’ strike was causing disruption in the USA, UK Decca Records decided to issue some of her material on their US London Records label. From 1948-54, she had several US Top 30 hits there, including ‘You Can’t Be True, Dear’, ‘Again’, ‘Auf Wiederseh’n Sweetheart’ (the first record by a UK artist to top the US charts), ‘Yours’, ‘We’ll Meet Again’, ‘If You Love Me (Really Love Me)’ and ‘My Son, My Son’. She promoted the records by making regular guest appearances on Tallulah Bankhead’s US radio programme The Big Show. In the UK during the 50s, besides ‘Auf Wiederseh’n’ and ‘My Son, My Son’ (a UK number 1), Vera Lynn had Top 30 entries such as ‘Homing Waltz’, ‘Forget Me Not’, ‘Windsor Waltz’, ‘Who Are We’, ‘A House With Love In It’, ‘The Faithful Hussar (Don’t Cry My Love)’ and ‘Travellin’ Home’. From 1952-54 she appeared at London’s Adelphi Theatre in the revue London Laughs, which also featured young English comedians Jimmy Edwards and Tony Hancock. In the late 50s, with the UK variety theatres in decline, Lynn appeared mainly on radio and television.

In 1960, after 20 years with Decca, she joined EMI Records, a move that prompted the album Hits Of The Sixties, which contained contemporary ballads such as ‘By the Time I Get To Phoenix’, ‘Everybody’s Talking’ and ‘The Fool On The Hill’. In 1962, her recorded voice was used to evoke memories of the war years each night in Lionel Bart’s West End musical Blitz! In 1969 she launched her first television series for seven years, and in the following year was unable to sing for four months after developing the lung condition emphysema. In the same year she was awarded the OBE. Since then she has worked less and less, preferring to save her performances for nostalgic occasions organized by bodies such as the Burma Star Association at London’s Royal Albert Hall, and shows to mark the 50th anniversaries of the outbreak of World War II, the D-Day landings, and VE Day. She was created a Dame of the British Empire in 1975, and is still fondly regarded as a legend by a large proportion of the British public.

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

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