Bassey, Shirley

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Bassey, Shirley

Bassey, Shirley, soulful English diva with a brass band of a voice; b. Tiger Bay, Cardiff, Wales, Jan. 8, 1937. Shirley Bassey was the youngest of seven children in a black family living in a largely white area of Cardiff. Bassey’s father left when she was two and she never saw him again, nor did she feel anything in common with her brothers and sisters. Her only solace was her incredibly powerful singing voice that she discovered as a young girl.

By age 14, she was singing at “working men’s clubs” on weekends. By 16 she was touring with variety shows throughout the U.K. By 1957, she was in working in the London theater, as part of the revue Such Is Life. That year she cut a version of “The Banana Boat Song,” already a hit for Harry Belafonte. This started a series of English hits. Her output ranged from theater hits like “As Long As He Needs Me” (from Oliver) and “Climb Every Mountain” (from The Sound of Music) to the Beatles’s “Something.” From the early 1960s through the mid-1970s, Bassey was a presence on the English charts.

Bassey’s only real hit in America was the theme from the 1965 James Bond film Goldfinger (#5), but by then she already had a club following in the U.S. and a huge following nearly everywhere else. She subsequently recorded the themes to two more Bond films, but without enjoying the same chart success.

Bassey has retired nearly as many times as David Bowie, withdrawing to her Swiss retreat; however, she always seems available for the big-ticket concert, TV special, or recording opportunity. These included her 1987 team-up with Yello on “The Rhythm Divine.” A decade later, she recorded “History Repeating” with the Propellerheads. The song appeared in the film Something About Mary and was also used in an automobile advertisement. Her live shows are lavish affairs, full of extravagant gowns and sets. In a 1998 poll asking “Who is your favorite recording artist?” in the British magazine MOJO, she bested the likes of Neil Diamond, Barbra Streisand, Whitney Houston, Bruce Springsteen, Led Zeppelin, Ella Fitzgerald, and Tina Turner.


I’m in the Mood for Love (1981); Power of Love (1992); Shirley Bassey Sings the Songs of Andrew Lloyd Webber (1994); Goldsinger—Best Of (1995); Birthday Concert (1997); Great Shirley Bassey (1997); Original Gold (1999).

—Hank Bordowitz