Dame Shirley Bassey

Whenever I hear the name “Shirley Bassey”, I think of her powerful voice belting out the theme songs from the James Bond movies, “Goldfinger”,”Diamonds Are Forever” and “Moonraker.  I reminisce about the album my father used to play when I was growing up–it was called “One of Those Songs” with the “one” crossed off and replaced with “Twelve” and I remember being impressed when I saw that Sean Connery had done a little write up on each of those twelve songs. That was and still is my favorite album. 

One thing I admired about Shirley Bassey was her ability to sing with such feeling.  You could hear the sadness in her voice as she sang some of the songs and in some cases, the desperation.  She was a woman who loved deeply and in each song it was as if she had to let the man to know that.  I have come to the conclusion that no one can sing like this Dame and I mean, no one.

Recently I stumbled across The Bassey Blog and saw pictures of her and she looks amazing–ageless and vibrant.  She recently became the godmother of a ship which she named Adonia in a ceremony in Southampton.

Shirley Bassey born born 8 January 1937 in Tiger Bay, Cardiff, Wales.  She was the last child of Eliza Jane (née Start) and Henry Bassey of paternal Nigerian and maternal English descent.  She grew up in the nearby working-class dockside district of Splott. After leaving Splott Secondary Modern School at the age of fourteen, Bassey first found employment packing at a local factory while singing in local public houses and clubs in the evenings and weekends. In 1953, she signed her first professional contract, to sing in a touring variety show Memories of Jolson, a musical based on the life of Al Jolson.

It was in1955 when a chance recommendation of her to Michael Sullivan, a booking agent, put her firmly on course for her destined career. He saw talent in Shirley, and decided he would make her a star. She toured various theatres until she got an offer of the show that put her firmly on the road to stardom, Al Read’s Such Is Life at the Adelphi Theatre in London’s West End. While she starred in this show, Philips A&R and record producer Johnny Franz spotted her on television, was impressed, and offered her a recording deal. Bassey recorded her first single, entitled “Burn My Candle (At Both Ends)”, and Philips released it in February 1956, when Bassey was just nineteen.

During that year, she also recorded under the direction of American producer Mitch Miller in New York for the Columbia label, producing the single “If I Had a Needle and Thread” b/w “Tonight My Heart She Is Crying”. She then travelled to Las Vegas to make her American stage debut at the El Rancho Vegas.

In mid-1958, she recorded two singles that would become classics in the Bassey catalogue. “As I Love You” was released as the B-side of another ballad, “Hands Across the Sea”; it did not sell well at first, but after a chance appearance at the London Palladium things began to pick up. In January 1959, it reached number one and stayed there for four weeks. It thus became the first number one single by a Welsh artist. Bassey also recorded “Kiss Me, Honey Honey, Kiss Me” at this point, and while “As I Love You” raced up the charts, so too did this record, with both songs being in the top three at the same time. A few months later, Bassey signed to EMI’s Columbia label, and the second phase in her recording career had begun.

In the early and mid 1960s, Bassey had numerous hits on the UK charts, and five albums in the top 15. Her 1960 recording of “As Long As He Needs Me” from Lionel Bart’s Oliver! reached #2, and had a chart run of 30 weeks.  On 13 November 1960, Bassey made her debut performance on American television, appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show.  In 1962, Bassey’s collaboration with Nelson Riddle and his orchestra produced the album Let’s Face the Music (#12) and the single “What Now My Love” (#5). Other top ten hits of the period included her second #1, the double A-side “Reach for the Stars”/”Climb Ev’ry Mountain” (1961), “I’ll Get By” (also 1961), and a cover version of the Ben E. King hit “I (Who Have Nothing)” in 1963.

During this period, Bassey appeared on the cover of Ebony magazine and sang at a Washington gala celebrating the end of President Kennedy’s second year in office.  I heard her sing, “I Who Have Nothing, and was moved because she poured such feelings into the words.

In the aftermath of her success with Goldfinger which was a #1 hit in the U.S and the only U.S. top 40 Billboard Hot 100 hit and the single inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, her sales in the UK faltered and continued to suffer until her comeback in 1970.  she returned to the UK with a record breaking run of performances at the Talk of the Town nightclub. 

It was during that year, she released the album Something, which showcased a new Bassey style, a shift from traditional pop to more contemporary songs and arrangements.  She achieved something no other artist ever had and that was she made this single  more successful in the UK charts than the original Beatles recording. “Something” was also a Top 10 U.S. hit on the Adult Contemporary chart.  Between 1970 and 1979, Bassey had 18 hit albums in the UK Albums Chart and she closed the decade with her third title theme for the Bond films, Moonraker (1979).

During the 80s and 90s, Shirley focused on charitable work and performing occasional concert tours throughout Europe, Australia, and the United States. 

In 2001, Bassey was principal artiste at the Duke of Edinburgh’s 80th Birthday celebration. Then, in 2003, Bassey celebrated 50 years in show business, releasing the CD Thank You for the Years, which was another Top 20 album. A gala charity auction of her stage costumes at Christie’s, ‘Dame Shirley Bassey: 50 Years of Glittering Gowns’, raised £250,000 (US$500,000) for the Dame Shirley Bassey Scholarship at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama and the Noah’s Ark Children’s Hospital Appeal. Bassey topped the bill at the 2005 Royal Variety Performance, introducing her new song “The Living Tree”.

In 2007, Shirley performed “Big Spender” with Elton John at his annual White Tie and Tiara Ball to raise money for The Elton John AIDS Foundation.  In 2007, Bassey performed in Fashion Rocksin aid of The Prince’s Trust at the Royal Albert Hall.  Last year May, Shirley Bassey performed at the Rainforest Foundation Fund 21st Birthday concert at Carnegie Hall, New York City.

Shirley was married and divorced twice.  She had two daughters with her second husband, Sergio Novak–.  Unfortunately, one of them–Samantha was found dead in the River Avon in Bristol, England.  It was suspected that she committed suicide but Shirley always maintained that this was not the case.  On 24 March 2010, Avon and Somerset Police confirmed they were undertaking fresh inquiries into the death of Novak, and specifically claims that the convicted killer Michael Moffat was involved in her death.  However, in October 2010 it was reported that the investigation came to an end, and concluded that there “is no evidence of any criminal act involved” in Novak’s death.  Shirley is currently living in Monte Carlo. 

In recognition of her career longevity, and admiration from the British Royal Family, Bassey was created a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) on 31 December 1999 by HM Queen Elizabeth II. She was invited to perform in 2002 at the Party at the Palace, a public celebration of the Queen’s Golden Jubilee. She was awarded France’s top honour, the Legion d’Honneur, to signify her popularity and importance in the culture of France (Wikipedia).  On March 30th of this year, Shirley, accompanied by the London Symphony Orchestra, performed two very special songs to celebrate Mikhail Gorbachev’s 80th birthday, and in aid of the Macmillan Foundation. The event was held at the Royal Albert Hall (http://www.dameshirleybassey.com/).

We salute this amazing woman with a big voice.  She is the “Most Successful British Female Singer” according to the Guinness Book of Records.  She is a UNESCO Artist for Peace.   Shirley, nobody does it like you.

Diamonds never leave you… men do!

It’s hard for a man to live with a successful woman – they seem to resent you so much. Very few men are generous enough to accept success in their women.
You don’t get older, you get better.

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