The legend that is Dame Shirley Bassey began life in Tiger Bay, Cardiff in January 1937. The daughter of a Nigerian father and English mother, Shirley was the youngest of seven children and despite her parents divorcing when she was very young, she enjoyed a close family relationship.
Initially a tomboy “left to run wild”, as her teens progressed she began performing locally, singing in pubs and clubs while still working in a factory. At the age of 16, she was offered the chance to join a touring revue called Memories of Jolson and did so, becoming pregnant shortly afterwards.
Another revue, Hot From Harlem, followed, but soon she was back at home again, working as a waitress and wondering if it was all over.
An invitation to sing at a Jersey ballet show proved pivotal. It was from impresario Mike Sullivan, who became her first manager and turned the gauche but gifted young Shirley into a performer.
She appeared at the Astor nightclub in London and was given a spot on television by mogul Jack Hylton.
She was awarded a recording contract on the strength of her TV appearances.
In 1959, Shirley Bassey achieved the distinction of becoming the first Welsh singer to reach #1 in the British charts with her ballad As I Love You.
Already established as a star by virtue of strident big-voiced romps through the likes of Kiss Me, Honey Honey, Kiss Me and As Long As He Needs Me, in 1962 Bassey embarked on a ten-day British tour in the company of leading American arranger/conductor Nelson Riddle.
Famous for his work with Judy Garland, Nat King Cole and Frank Sinatra, Riddle was available to work with Bassey as a result of Sinatra’s label move to Reprise, which meant that the singer and his arranger (who was under contract to Sinatra’s previous label, Capitol) were unable to continue their partnership.
The Welsh belter and Riddle hit it off so well that they quickly hatched plans for a studio collaboration: days after the tour ended they started recording the album Let’s Face The Music.
Despite the speed at which they worked (the arrangement for What Now My Love? was written by Riddle on the morning of the recording, with parts of the orchestral score arriving midway through the session) the American’s sympathetic, understated arrangements brought out the best in Bassey, who discovered a new vocal subtlety for masterful interpretations of such standards as Let’s Fall In Love, I Get A Kick Out Of You and the title song.
The album was a major success when issued in December 1962.
In 1964, Bassey recorded the title track to the third James Bond film, Goldfinger. The track was a resounding success in America with the soundtrack LP reaching #1.
She parodied her own fame on The Morecambe and Wise Show in the 1970s and was awarded a Damehood by 2000. She also won over a new generation of fans by appearing at Glastonbury in an evening gown and customised wellington boots.