It takes considerable gusto
to sing with a brass
band without your voice being drowned out. Shirley Bassey could indeed belt out songs, but still inject her brand of tenderness
Shirley Bassey was born in the rough Tiger Bay district of Cardiff, Wales in 1937, the youngest child of seven to a Nigerian father and English mother. She sang duets with one of her brothers at family occasions, and began her career singing at men's clubs in the early 1950s. Her big break came in 1955 when her talent was identified by band leader Jack Hylton, who brought her on at a Christmas show directed by comedian Al Read. For the next year she was in Al Read's revue Such is Life, before releasing her own singles with Philips Records. Her songs The Banana Boat Song, Reach for the Stars/Climb Every Mountain and As I Love You became number one hits in Britain.
In 1962 she paired up with the arranger Nelson Riddle, gaining her exposure in the United States. She gave several live shows in New York and Las Vegas, but it was her rendition of Goldfinger in 1965 that gave her popular recognition in the United States (although oddly Goldfinger failed to enter the top 20 British charts). Shirley Bassey would later provide the theme song for two more James Bond films.
In the 1970s she would perform more hits, including Something, For All We Know and Never Never Never. In 1977 she was granted the Britannia Award for best female solo singer in the last fifty years. For a short time on BBC television she had her own variety show, but in the 1980s she slowed down her schedule, going into semi-retirement in Switzerland. She would still tour the world, run her own Cardiff nightclub and sing covers or accompany other artists, including Yello and The Propellerheads.
On 31 December 1999 Shirley Bassey was knighted.