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Dame Shirley Veronica Bassey, DBE (born 8 January 1937 in Cardiff, Wales), is a Welsh singer who found fame in the late 1950s and has continued a successful career since then worldwide. She is best known for recording the theme songs to the James Bond films Goldfinger (1964), Diamonds Are Forever (1971), and Moonraker (1979), and is a UNESCO Artist for Peace.
Birth to 1959
Shirley Bassey was born the last child of Eliza Jane (née Start) and Henry Bassey in Tiger Bay, Cardiff, Wales, 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. She next took up a professional engagement in Hot from Harlem, which ran until 1954. By this time Bassey had become disenchanted with show business, and had become pregnant at 16 with her daughter Sharon, so she went back to waitressing in Cardiff. However, in 1955, a chance recommendation of her to Michael Sullivan, a booking agent, put her firmly on course for her destined career. He saw talent in Bassey, 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. Owing to the suggestive lyrics, the BBC banned it, but it sold well nonetheless, backed with her powerful rendition of "Stormy Weather". Further singles followed, and in February 1957, Bassey had her first hit with "Banana Boat Song", which reached #8 in the UK Singles Chart. 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.
1960 to 1979
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.
In 1965, Bassey enjoyed her firstand onlyU.S. Top 40 Billboard Hot 100 hit with the title song of the James Bond film, Goldfinger. The single peaked at #8, while the original soundtrack of Goldfinger hit #1 in the U.S. that same year. Also in 1965, she sang the title track for the spoof James Bond film The Liquidator, and had a Top 20 live album recorded during a sell-out run at London's Pigalle.
From 1964 onwards the "Goldfinger" single had a lasting impact on her career: writing for the sleeve notes of Bassey's 25th Anniversary Album, Clayton (1978) notes that: "Acceptance in America was considerably helped by the enormous popularity of (Goldfinger)...But she had actually established herself there as early as 1961, in cabaret in New York. She was also a success in Las Vegas...'I suppose I should feel hurt that I've never been really big in America on record since Goldfinger...But, concertwise, I always sell out.'..." This was reflected in the fact that Bassey had only one solo LP to reach the Top 20 in a US chart (R&B, Live at Carnegie Hall), and she was technically a "one-hit wonder," making only one appearance in the Top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100, "Goldfinger". But in the aftermath of "Goldfinger" her UK sales started to falter as well: only two of her singles would enter the UK top 40 until 1970. She had signed to United Artists, and her first album on that label, 1966's I've Got a Song for You, spent one week on the chart; from there until 1970, only two albums would chart, one of those a compilation. In 1967 came the release of one of her best-known singles "Big Spender", although it charted just outside the UK Top 20.
Bassey started living as a tax exile in 1968, and was not permitted to work in Britain for almost two years. Also in 1968, at the Sanremo Festival in Italy, she performed "La vita", an Italian song by Bruno Canfora and Antonio Amurri, with some lyrics re-written in English by Norman Newell for her performance. Her version of the song with chorus sung in Italian became a Top 40 hit on the Italian chart, and Bassey recorded several songs in Italian, some appearing on a 1968 Italian album titled La vita. (Later, Newell would write English lyrics for the rest of "La vita", and the result was "This Is My Life".) But her UK sales continued to suffer.
Bassey's UK comeback came in 1970, leading to one of the most successful periods of her career. In this year, she returned to the UK with a record breaking run of performances at the Talk of the Town nightclub. Also in that year, she released the album Something, which showcased a new Bassey style, a shift from traditional pop to more contemporary songs and arrangements (the single of the same name was more successful in the UK charts than the original Beatles recording - the only artist to have achieved this), though Bassey would never completely abandon what had been her forte, standards, show tunes, and torch songs. "Something" was also a Top 10 U.S. hit on the Adult Contemporary chart. Other singles of this period included top ten hits "For All We Know" (1971) and "Never Never Never" (1973) the latter reaching the Top 10 in the U.S. Adult Contemporary Chart, the UK Top 10 and and number one in Australia and South Africa. The success of "Something" (single #4, album #5) spawned a series of successful albums on the UA label, including Something Else (1971), And I Love You So (1972), I Capricorn (1972), Never Never Never (1973), Good, Bad but Beautiful (1975), Love, Life and Feelings (1976), You Take My Heart Away (1977) and Yesterdays (1978). Bernard Ighner wrote and duetted with Bassey for the track "Davy" on the Nobody Does It Like Me album (1974). Additionally, two of Bassey's earlier LPs entered the charts, 1967's And We Were Lovers (re-issued as Big Spender), and 1962's Let's Face the Music (re-issued as What Now My Love). Two compilations, The Shirley Bassey Singles Album (1975) and 25th Anniversary Album (1978) both made the UK top three: The Shirley Bassey Singles Album her highest charting album at No. 2 and earning a gold disc, and 25th Anniversary Album going platinum.
Between 1970 and 1979, Bassey had 18 hit albums in the UK Albums Chart. Her 1978 album The Magic Is You featured a portrait by the photographer, Francesco Scavullo. In 1973, her sold-out concerts at New York's Carnegie Hall were recorded and released as a two-LP set, Shirley Bassey: Live at Carnegie Hall. This album and the majority of her recordings from this period have been re-mastered and released on CD by EMI and BGO Records. In 1971, she recorded the theme song for Diamonds Are Forever. The recording featured as part of Sydney, Australia's 2007 New Year's celebration.
Bassey appeared on the Morecambe and Wise Christmas Show, broadcast on Christmas Day in 1971. In 1976 Bassey starred in the six-episode The Shirley Bassey Show, the first of her television programs for the BBC, followed by a second series of six episodes in 1979. The final show of the first series was nominated for the Golden Rose of Montreux in 1977. The series featured guests including Neil Diamond, Michel Legrand, The Three Degrees and Dusty Springfield; filmed in various locations throughout the world as well as in the studio.
In 1978 Bassey pleaded guilty to being drunk and disorderly "after shouting abuse in the street and pushing a policeman".
Bassey closed out the decade with her third title theme for the Bond films, Moonraker (1979).
1980 to 1999
Throughout most of the 1980s, Bassey focused on charitable work and performing occasional concert tours throughout Europe, Australia, and the United States, having ended her contract with EMI-United Artists and taking what she referred to as 'semi-retirement'. In 1982 Bassey recorded an album entitled All by Myself and made a TV special for Thames Television called A Special Lady with guest Robert Goulet. In 1983 she recorded a duet with Alain Delon, "Thought I'd Ring You", which became a hit single in Europe. Bassey was now recording far less often but released an album in 1984 of her most famous songs, I Am What I Am, performed with the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Carl Davis. In 1986, she released a single and video to support the London Tourist Board, There's No Place Like London co-written by Lynsey de Paul and Gerard Kenny. In 1987 she recorded an album of James Bond themes, The Bond Collection, but was apparently unhappy with the results, as she declined to release it. (Five years later it was released anyway, Bassey sued in court, and all unsold copies were withdrawn.) Also in 1987, Bassey provided vocals for Swiss artists Yello on "The Rhythm Divine", a song co-written by Scottish singer Billy Mackenzie. In 1989 she released an album sung entirely in Spanish, La Mujer. In the latter mid-1980s Bassey had started working with a vocal coach, a former opera singer, and her 1991 album Keep the Music Playing displayed a grand, operatic pop style on several songs (perhaps also influenced by her album with the LSO seven years earlier).
In 1994 EMI released the five-CD box set Bassey The EMI/UA Years 1959 1979. The accompanying booklet opened with a poem by Marc Almond. In 1996, Bassey collaborated with Chris Rea in the film La Passione, appearing in the film as herself and releasing the single "'Disco' La Passione". The remix of this single proved a major club hit throughout Europe, though charting just outside the UK top 40. Bassey released a new recording the following year, "History Repeating", written for her by the Propellerheads and scoring a #1 on the UK Dance Chart, and #10 on the US Dance Chart. It was also a top ten hit in Italy. The liner notes of the Propellerheads' album Decksandrumsandrockandroll included the lines "We would like to extend our maximum respect to Shirley Bassey for honouring us with her performance. We are still in shock ..." Bassey celebrated her 60th birthday in 1997 with two open-air concerts, at Castle Howard and Althorp Park, and another TV special. The resulting live album The Birthday Concert received a Grammy Award nomination for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Performance. On 7 October 1998 in Egypt, Bassey performed for a benefit at an open air concert close to the Sphinx and the Great Pyramid.
In the 1998 film Little Voice, Bassey was one of three central figures along with Marilyn Monroe and Judy Garland, and Bassey's track "Goldfinger" featured in the movie. Jane Horrocks, the lead actress in the film, went on to impersonate Bassey both on record and television, as well as during a UK tour.
In 1998 Bassey was sued by her former personal assistant in a breach of contract case, who also accused Bassey of hitting her and making an ethnic slur. Bassey won the case. The episode was lampooned by Alexander Baron in his one-act play, The Trial of Shirley Bassey.
In 1999, she performed the official song for the Rugby World Cup, "World in Union", with Bryn Terfel at the opening ceremony at The Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, wearing a gown designed on the Welsh flag. Their single made the Top 40, and Bassey contributed two more songs to the official album Land of My Fathers, which reached #1 on the UK compilations chart, and went silver.
2000 to date
In 2001, Bassey was principal artiste at the Duke of Edinburgh's 80th Birthday celebration. On 3 June 2002 Shirley Bassey was one of a prestigious line up of artists including Elton John, Paul McCartney, Queen, The Corrs, Annie Lennox, Eric Clapton, Tony Bennett, Clidd Richards, Joe Cocker, Rod Stewart, Ricky Martin, Phil Collins and Tom Jones who performed at the Queens 50th Jubilee Party at Buckingham Palace. 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".
Two popular Audiences with Shirley Bassey have aired on British TV, one in 1995 that attracted more than 10 million viewers in the UK, with the most recent in 2006. Bassey returned to perform in five arenas around the UK in June the same year, culminating at Wembley. She also performed a concert in front of 10,000 people at the Bryn Terfel Faenol Festival in North Wales broadcast by BBC Wales.
Marks & Spencer signed her for their Christmas 2006 'James Bond style' TV advertising campaign. Bassey is seen in a glamorous Ice Palace singing a cover version of Pink's song "Get the Party Started", wearing an M&S gown.
"The Living Tree", written, produced and originally recorded by the group Never the Bride, was released as a single on 23 April 2007, marking Bassey's 50th anniversary in the UK Singles Chart and the record for the longest span of Top 40 hits in UK chart history. Bassey performed a 45 minute set at the 2007 Glastonbury Festival wearing a pink Julien Macdonald dress, and customised Wellington boots. A new album, Get the Party Started, was subsequently released on 25 June 2007 and entered the UK Albums Chart at #6. The single of the title song reached #3 on the U.S. Dance Chart. The same year, Bassey 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 Rocks in aid of The Prince's Trust at the Royal Albert Hall.
She was rushed to hospital in Monaco on 23 May 2008 to have an emergency operation on her stomach after complaining of abdominal pains. She was forced to pull out of the Nelson Mandela 90th Birthday Tribute concert because of her illness. A biography, Diamond Diva, was published in 2008. In 2009 her granddaughter appeared on The X Factor. 
In 2009 Bassey recorded a new album, The Performance, with James Bond composer David Arnold as co-producer (with Mike Dixon). A number of artists wrote songs expressly for Bassey, including Manic Street Preachers, Gary Barlow, KT Tunstall, Pet Shop Boys, Nick Hodgson of the Kaiser Chiefs, John Barry and Don Black.
In November 2009, she performed several of the new songs from The Performance on various TV shows: The Graham Norton Show, The Paul O'Grady Show and as the guest singer on Strictly Come Dancing.
Bassey performed at the Rainforest Foundation Fund 21st Birthday concert at Carnegie Hall, New York City on 13 May 2010.
On 30 March 2011, Bassey performed at a gala celebrating the 80th birthday of Mikhail Gorbachev. She also performed at the Classical Brit Awards in 2011, singing "Goldfinger" in tribute to John Barry.
On 20 June 2011, Bassey sang "Diamonds Are Forever" and "Goldfinger", accompanied by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, at the John Barry Memorial Concert the Royal Albert Hall in London.
Bassey's first marriage was to Kenneth Hume (196165) and ended in divorce. In September 1965 Bassey announced her intention to re-marry Hume, but less than a year later revealed that this would not take place. Her second husband was Sergio Novak. Bassey and Novak were married from 1968 until they divorced in 1977; Novak served as Bassey's manager throughout this time. Bassey had two daughters, Sharon and Samantha. With Novak she also adopted her great-nephew, Mark. In 1985, 21-year-old Samantha Novak was found dead in the River Avon in Bristol, England. Bassey has always maintained that the death of her daughter was not a suicide. 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.
Bassey currently resides in Monte Carlo.
Awards and achievements
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.
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