Date of Birth: 5 May 1924, Bethnal Green, East London, UK
Birth Name: Joycelyn Chinery
Nicknames: Joy Beverley
Joy Beverley was the eldest of the Beverley Sisters, a singing trio that found fame in the pre-rock and roll era with novelty songs such as I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus and Little Drummer Boy.
The girls, Joy and her younger twin sisters Teddie and Babs, were famous for the identical clothes in which they always performed and their carefully rollered blonde hair-dos. Millions of Britons grew up with their close-harmony rendition of songs including Ferry Boat Inn; Sisters (written by Irving Berlin); How Much is That Doggie in the Window?; and Little Donkey. For more than a decade they broke box office records as the highest paid female entertainers in Britain; they became the first British girl group to break into the American Top 10 and entered the Guinness Book of Records in 2002 as the world’s longest surviving vocal group without a change in line-up.
As well as pop hits, for seven years during the 1940s and 1950s they had their own BBC television series , and they frequently topped the bill at the London Palladium, alongside such stars as Danny Kaye, Bob Hope and Max Bygraves, taking part in several Royal Command performances.
In later life the sisters were sometimes described as the Spice Girls of their day, and the parallels were not just musical. When, in July 1958, Joy married the Wolverhampton Wanderers star and England captain Billy Wright, it caused almost as much hysteria as the nuptials of Posh and Becks, although the venue, a register office in Poole, Dorset, was rather more modest than the medieval castle chosen by their modern counterparts.
The wedding was meant to have been secret, but news leaked out and thousands of people converged on the town. “Police, taken unawares, were unable to deal with the traffic, despite a call for reinforcements,” reported The Daily Telegraph. “People stood on walls, climbed fences and trees and sat on roofs of cars. They sang, 'For they are jolly good fellows’ and brandished football rattles. Two girls fainted. Several others, including one of the bride’s sisters, Teddie Beverley, lost shoes in the jostling crowd.”
Like the Spice Girls, too, the Beverley Sisters sometimes gingered up their performances with more risqué fare. Songs with titles such as We Like To Do Things Like That; It’s Illegal, It’s Immoral, Or It Makes You Fat, and British pop’s first covert paean to contraception, We Have To Be So Careful All The Time (which was banned by the BBC), helped to maintain their appeal into the 1960s.
Although Joy and her sisters went into unofficial retirement in favour of full-time motherhood in the late 1960s, they returned to performing when their children had grown up. In the 1980s they emerged as icons on the gay cabaret scene after appearing for a season of all-gay nights at Peter Stringfellow’s Hippodrome in London, where their cheerfully bitchy anthem Sisters (“Lord help the mister / Who comes between me and my sister / And Lord help the sister / Who comes between me and my man”) brought the house down. They continued to perform into the new millennium, singing for the Queen at her Golden Jubilee Concert in 2002 and taking part in the the 60th anniversary celebrations for D-Day in 2004 and for VE Day the following year.
Joy Beverley was born Joycelyn Chinery on May 5 1924, Bethnal Green, East London, UK.
Three years to the day before her younger sisters, Babs and Teddie. Their parents, George and Victoria, performed in musical halls as “Coram and Mills”, and the family lived in a two-up, two-down in the Homerton district, near Hackney, where the girls shared the same bed until they were teenagers.
During the war, the girls were evacuated together to Leicestershire and Northamptonshire, where they amused themselves by singing close harmony. Spotted by a man recruiting for the “Ovaltinies”, the harmony-singing advert for Ovaltine on Radio Luxembourg, they soon caught the eye of Glenn Miller and went on to record with his orchestra at the BBC’s secret wartime studio in Bedford. Having signed their first contract, with Columbia Records, in 1951, by 1952 they were starring at the London Palladium. The following year they had their first Top 10 hit with I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus, which reached No 6 in the charts.
In 1953 the sisters made their debut in the US, performing on NBC with the Glenn Miller Band (Miller himself being presumed dead in 1944, having disappeared after heading out over the English Channel on a small aeroplane bound for Paris). Three years later they broke into the US charts with their version of Greensleeves. In the late 1950s they made a coast-to-coast appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show, their host pronouncing them “sassy, but classy”.
At the time Joy married Billy Wright in 1958, the Beverley Sisters were reportedly earning £1,000 a week. Billy, by contrast, was never paid more than £24 a week by Wolverhampton Wanderers , and in more than 100 matches for England he never walked away with more than £60. As Joy recalled, the life of a footballer’s wife in the 1950s was very different from what it became in the high-rolling 1980s and 1990s: “'We were boringly well behaved, and loyal. In marriage you have to keep telling yourself that your husband is very important. That is not fashionable now, is it? I am disappointed at the way some women behave.”
The disparity between their earning power seemed to have no effect on their relationship, however, and they remained happily married until Billy Wright’s death in 1994.
The Beverley Sisters enjoyed their late-blossoming status as gay icons, although Joy complained to an interviewer that their cabaret audiences wore “more make-up in an evening than we wear in a year”.
In later life the sisters lived in Totteridge, in three near-identical next-door houses. When in 2006 they were awarded MBEs in the New Year Honours, they turned up at Buckingham Palace in identical white suits with pink hats and scarves.
Date of Birth: 27 May 1943, Vauxhall, Liverpool, UK
Birth Name: Priscilla Maria Veronica White
Nicknames: Cilla Black
Cilla Black, broke through in the 1960s as a buck-toothed pop singer in the Merseybeat boom and went on to become one of the enduring stars of television light entertainment, hosting the brassy Saturday night favourites Surprise, Surprise and Blind Date.
In August 1963 she was a 20-year-old typist in a Liverpool office. A month later, having left the Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein smitten, she recorded her first hit, Love of the Loved, a Paul McCartney number. By 1965 she had become the female symbol of British youth with two No 1 hits and a season at the London Palladium, and by 1968 she was a millionaire at 25. A quarter of a century later she was the highest-paid female entertainer on British television.
She made a career out of what one critic described as “the phenomenon of ordinariness”. Indeed she would scarcely demur at the description “dead common”. “Class, I haven’t,” she conceded, “but style I’ve got.” As the Liverpool docker’s daughter and ingenue pop star trailing in the Beatles’ wake, Cilla Black resolutely adhered to type: lacquered mane of flame-red hair (the consequence of a sixpenny rinse at the age of 13) short skirts, long legs and a strong Scouse accent.
After starring in her own BBC series Cilla in the late 1960s, she moved to ITV to star in a live Saturday night variety show, popping up “somewhere in Britain” with a camera crew to knock at someone’s front door. She once famously disturbed a man who skulked blinking on to his balcony followed by someone else’s wife wrapped in a sheet; another “Come on, luv, it’s Cilla 'ere” intrusion took her into a room where rows of embarrassed men on chairs who muttered one-word answers to her increasingly querulous questions turned out to be the clientele of the local brothel.
It was her ability to combine mischievous curiosity with deadpan humour that sealed her success with Surprise, Surprise (1984) on ITV, the strangely gripping show for which she was paid £15,000 a week. As well as emotional reunions of long-lost relatives, the show featured “Cillagrams”, in which she again turned up at a location unannounced but this time marking some special occasion with a song. Invited to the run-down port of Holyhead by the local Mayor, she sang Hooray for Holyhead in the main street, the watching crowds swelled by the staff of Woolworths who trooped out to hear her while looters trooped in through the back door and plundered the shop.
Unashamedly working-class, the show was panned by the critics as rubbish, but Cilla was unflinching. “I didn’t choose television. Television chose me,” she said. “I was a bit of fun and a bit of Scouse rough and everybody liked me, I was normal. I could have been the kid next door. And then I turned into the auntie next door. And now I’m the granny next door.”
But accusations of bad taste followed when, at Christmas 1987, the show took her to a hospital at Zeebrugge where victims of the ferry disaster were being treated, and she led medical staff and survivors through the streets of Bruges singing Little Drummer Boy.
“She really is a battler,” noted The Daily Telegraph critic, “and has honed to a fine edge her skills of cajolery, intimacy and self-deprecation .”
Her second television hit, Blind Date, launched in 1985, was a game of flirtatious lucky-dip between the sexes featuring participants separated by a screen who paired off without seeing each other amid laboured, scripted repartee. She had seen the show while touring in Australia, thought it hysterical and urged LWT to make a British version. The programme was compulsive viewing for many, although it came to be criticised for its increasingly explicit sexual innuendo.
The success rate for many of the couples was low, and most viewers tuned in to watch Cilla’s brilliantly scathing put-downs delivered (usually to the men) with robust Scouse grit. Three of the paired-up couples did, however, get as far as the altar after meeting on the show, and Cilla was guest of honour at all three weddings. In January 2003 she announced during a live broadcast that she was leaving Blind Date after 18 years. Paul O’Grady and Dale Winton were both lined up to replace her, but the show was cancelled after she left.
Priscilla Maria Veronica White was born in Liverpool on May 27 1943, the only daughter of a Mersey docker. Her mother ran a market stall selling stockings and trinkets. The family lived in a four-roomed council flat above a barber’s shop on Scotland Road, the rough and ready “Scottie Road” of Liverpool folklore and an Irish-Catholic stronghold; until she was nine, they had no indoor lavatory and bathed in a tin tub in front of the kitchen stove.
Priscilla Maria Veronica White was born 27 May 1943, Vauxhall, Liverpool, UK and educated at St Anthony’s Catholic secondary modern school nearby, she left at 15 to learn office skills at Anfield Commercial College. Within a year, she had taken a job at £4 a week as a filing clerk at British Insulated Callenders Cables, where she typed and deployed her 80wpm shorthand, supplementing her wages during her lunch hour by checking the coats at the Cavern Club, the up-and-coming music venue in Mathew Street in Liverpool city centre. At night she sang with some of the emergent Merseybeat groups such as Rory Storm and the Hurricanes and the Big Three.
At the nearby Iron Door club, she also sang with the still-unknown Beatles, courtesy of John Lennon who called her “Cyril”. In early 1962 Lennon introduced her to the Beatles’ new manager, Brian Epstein, who rejected her after she underwent an impromptu audition in the middle of a Beatles show at the Majestic ballroom in Birkenhead; she sang Gershwin’s Summertime but it was not in her key.
Her luck changed when, accompanied by John Rubin’s modern jazz group, she sang a few standards at the Blue Angel club, not knowing that, again, Epstein was in the audience. By now the Beatles were on their way to stardom, and Epstein’s talent stable was expanding. “Why didn’t you sing like that before?” Epstein asked. He was convinced that Cilla would become a huge star. Having changed her name to Cilla Black (the local Mersey Beat newspaper had mistakenly called her by the wrong colour) she made her first proper appearance with the Beatles at the Odeon, Southport, on August 30 1963, watched by Epstein’s father, Harry, who predicted she would be “the next Gracie Fields”.
A week later, over Sunday tea, Cilla and her father signed a contract with Brian Epstein. She was to be his first designer pop star and so was born Cilla black.
Cilla’s first single, Love of the Loved, written by Paul McCartney, charted disappointingly at number 35. But in February 1964 she had her first number one with Burt Bacharach’s Anyone Who Had A Heart. The American singer Dionne Warwick, who had already released her own recording of the song in the US, was miffed; while her version sounded effortless it was apparent that, as one critic put it, “Cilla was straining her garters”. Cilla Black herself recalled 30 years later: “Dionne was dead choked and she’s never forgiven me to this day.”
Epstein had heard Warwick’s record in the USA and had returned to Britain with a copy which he played to the producer George Martin. He immediately declared it would be perfect for Shirley Bassey. When Epstein insisted he had earmarked it for Cilla, Martin doubted that the Liverpool singer had the vocal ability to pull off such a powerful number. In the event Cilla’s recording sold a million copies.
When in May she followed up with a second No 1, You’re My World, Cilla became the first British female singer to have two successive No 1 hits. She appeared in that year’s Royal Variety Performance, where she met Gracie Fields, who did not take to her. Nor did Noël Coward, watching in the stalls, who thought her “ghastly beyond belief”.
In November 1966 she appeared with the comedian Frankie Howerd in Way Out in Piccadilly (Prince of Wales), the start of a long-standing friendship between them. The following year she signed a £63,000 contract to present her own series, Cilla, on BBC Television. Paul McCartney wrote the signature tune, Step Inside Love, and the critics loved her. “She’s ordinary and unassuming,” noted Philip Purser in The Sunday Telegraph, “and still tickled to death at being plucked out of the typing pool by the great god Pop.”
Cilla Black married her long-time boyfriend and manager, Bobby Willis, in 1969 who later died in 1999.
An appearance on Terry Wogan’s television chat show in 1983 was followed by a similar date with Jimmy Tarbuck on ITV; this was seen by John Birt, then director of programmes for LWT, who was struck by her fresh, unaffected, and “delicious, naturally funny” style. Realising her potential as a game show host, he booked her for Surprise, Surprise. She became a regular guest at Birt’s lunches for fellow celebrity Scousers when, with the likes of Anne Robinson, Roger McGough and Robert Runcie, then Archbishop of Canterbury, she tucked in to chip butties, scouse stew with pickled beetroot and jelly and evaporated milk.
Cilla Black never refused an interview request, the River Room at the Savoy being her venue of choice, and the presence of her beloved husband being a pre-condition a relic of her being invited, by one journalist in the 1960s, to stroke his war wound.
Politically, she swung from supporting Harold Wilson in the 1960s to backing John Major in the 1990s. She was an enthusiastic supporter of Margaret Thatcher . In August 2014, she was one of 200 public figures who were signatories to a letter to the Guardian opposing Scottish independence in the run-up to September’s referendum.
Cilla Black was named ITV Personality of the Year for Blind Date in 1987 and Variety Club Showbusiness Personality of 1991. She won a Bafta in 1995, but disliked being labelled a television presenter. “I always think of myself as a singer. That’s what I want on my gravestone: Here lies Cilla Black, singer. Not TV presenter.”
Appointed OBE in 1997, the proudest moment of her career, she once declared, was “absolutely rubbing shoulders with and meeting the Royal family”. At her own palatial 10-bedroomed house in Denham, Buckinghamshire, once owned by Sir Malcolm Sargent and bought in 1965 for £40,000, she enjoyed her 17-acre garden and, in keeping with her lifelong frugality, vacuumed it herself every Sunday (the housekeeper’s day off) “in case the Queen drops in”.
She published her memoirs, Step Inside, in 1985. In 1994 she turned down an honorary fellowship from Liverpool John Moores University (formerly Polytechnic) when some of the students complained it would “devalue” their degrees.
In 2014 the actress Sheridan Smith gave a highly acclaimed performance in Cilla, a three-part television drama about Cilla Black’s rise to fame, acted, noted The Daily Telegraph, with a “killer combination of warmth, mischievousness and vulnerability”. Cilla herself described the portrayal as “terrific”, adding, “but God knows how she sang so well with those false teeth in.”
“I didn’t want to be Doris Day,” Cilla Black once reflected, “but I wanted what went with it. She’d talk about her backyard and it was three acres of lawn; our backyard was where we kept the coal. I wanted her backyard, the fame and fortune. If there had been Blind Date then, I would have been first in the queue.”
Date of Birth: 3 February 1927, Waterford, Ireland
Birth Name: Michael Valentine Doonican
Nicknames: Val Doonican
Val Doonican's gentle style made him a popular feature on Saturday night television for more than two decades.
He became famous for his sweaters and the rocking chair in which he invariably sat to sing the final number of his show.
At a time when the 60s pop explosion was stalling the careers of so many crooners, Doonican bucked the trend with eight Top-20 hits.
And songs like Delaney's Donkey and Paddy McGinty's Goat allowed record-buyers to indulge themselves in a touch of Irish-flavoured whimsy.
Michael Valentine Doonican was born in the Irish city of Waterford on 3 February 1927, the youngest of eight children.
His father died of cancer when he was 14 and he was forced to leave school and work in a packaging factory to supplement the family income.
He wrote music from a very young age, and formed a singing group with his friends when he was just 10.
With his guitar, he later took part in the town's first ever television broadcast and, after his first paid engagement at the Waterford fete, left his factory job to tour the country in a caravan.
In 1951, Doonican was invited to join a group called the Four Ramblers.
The band toured England where Doonican was introduced to the joys of golf, and also to his future wife, the cabaret star Lynnette Rae.
Doonican later moved to London, where he continued his entertainment apprenticeship in radio, television, cabaret and music hall.
He recalled that "it took 17 years to become an overnight success", when his appearance on Sunday Night at the Palladium prompted the BBC to offer him his own series in 1964.
He was given an initial series of six half-hour programmes which were broadcast live from a BBC studio in an old chapel in Manchester.
The Val Doonican Music show saw him become a mainstay of Saturday night television.
But he was always grateful that his career gave him the opportunity to meet his idols such as Bing Crosby and Howard Keel.
"You can't imagine," he later recalled, "that you're going along in your young life, buying records of people that you think are fantastic and, in my case, I ended up singing duets with them on my show."
The comedian Dave Allen also got his big break by appearing on the show.
In the 1970s, his fame spread when the programme was transmitted overseas.
Two of Doonican's most enduring props were his collection of multi-coloured sweaters - which became known as "Val Doonican jumpers" and his ever-present rocking chair.
In fact, the star swapped his sweaters for jackets back in 1970, so remained bemused when people everywhere continued to ask him where his jumper was.
Doonican went on to record more than 50 albums, and he appeared several times on Top of the Pops.
At a time when the charts were dominated by pop groups he had a string of hits including Special Years, Walk Tall and What Would I Be?
The television shows came to an end after 24 years, but Doonican continued to tour, choosing mostly intimate regional theatres, in the UK and abroad.
He eschewed television appearances, preferring to share his time between Buckinghamshire and Spain, and to spend his semi-retirement playing golf.
"Golf is like an 18-year-old girl with big boobs," he once said. "You know it's wrong but you can't keep away from her."
His other great hobby was painting, and his work was exhibited around the country.
A lot of his art was inspired by his Irish homeland, where he remained revered for his modest charm and embrace of original Gaelic values.
Date of Birth: 12 November 1943, Kingston, Jamaica
Birth Name: Lester Errol Brown
Nicknames: Errol Brown
Errol Brown was the lead singer of Hot Chocolate, the British soul band best known for the 1975 disco anthem You Sexy Thing; the group’s funky and harmonious sound was defined by Brown’s seductive voice and charismatic stage presence.
Bald-headed and slinky-hipped, Brown was a master of the art of the come-hither look (and gently come-hither lyrics) but when he originally wrote You Sexy Thing it was intended to be a B-side for Hot Chocolate’s single Blue Night. The band’s producer, Mickie Most, remixed the song several months later and it became an instant hit, reaching No 2 in the British charts and No 3 in America. It was, Brown later recalled, “a joyous song. I remember when I thought of the title I had a shiver go through me. Because it was such a nice way of using sex in a title without it being crude.”
In 1997 the track underwent a renaissance when it featured in the film The Full Monty, which told the story of six unemployed steel-workers from Sheffield who decide to form a striptease act. The scene in which the actor Robert Carlyle grinds his hips to You Sexy Thing attracted a new generation of fans and gave Brown’s career a major boost.
“There’s no doubt about it,” he said, “it relaunched my career and took me back into the Top 10. Then at my first gig in Scotland shortly after its release I was rushed on stage by about a hundred screaming girls it was like the old days. I played more gigs the year after the film than I’d ever previously done over a 12-month period.”
In 2005, buoyed up by the renewed adulation, Brown released an album titled Still Sexy. The promotional video for the single, Still Sexy (Yes U Are), showed a still dapper Brown, impeccably dressed in a grey silk suit and grooving in the back of a limousine with two attractive young women, while You Sexy Thing played in the background.
“You Sexy Thing is a hook that’ll last for decades and decades,” he explained, “because it’s such a nice, pleasant thing to say to somebody.”
Lester Errol Brown was born on November 12 1943 in Kingston, Jamaica, where he spent his early childhood before his mother brought the family to London. When he was in his early teens his mother took him out of secondary modern school to attend a private school, where, as he later recalled, “everyone there was very wealthy and I came to appreciate good clothes and good food. You could say I was a teenage yuppy”.
At this stage, Brown showed very little interest in the music business, although he liked singing. He preferred the prospect of a proper job with a regular payslip and for a time did temporary clerical work at the Treasury, which he found unrewarding.
In his early twenties he met and became friends with Tony Wilson, a Trinidad-born musician, who suggested they should try writing music together. “Tony and I used to go out 10-pin bowling,” Brown recalled, “and while driving I’d start to sing. When asked what I was singing, I’d tell him it was just a tune I had in my head. This happened a few times and Tony suggested I try writing songs with him so we did and that’s how I got into songwriting.”
Brown could not play the guitar at this point, but he soon picked it up and within six months he and Wilson had cut a demo of John Lennon’s Give Peace a Chance, performed in a reggae rhythm. He sent the tape to the Beatles’ label, Apple, and Lennon signed the pair called The Hot Chocolate Band virtually on the spot.
Their recording of Give Peace a Chance failed to make any impact on the charts, but the next single, Love is Life, proved more fruitful. Brown’s verve, flair and musical imagination were essential to the band’s success. He refused to be pigeonholed as a black musician, preferring his music to reflect the multi-racial mixture of West Indian and British influences in his cultural background. To this end he included strings and a rock guitarist in the band.
“It was never my intention to make black music,” he said. “I just wanted to make music. You have to understand, the only reason I’ve survived so long is because I make music that’s true to me… I’m influenced by all the things I listened to growing up and that’s what comes out in my music.”
The Hot Chocolate Band was quickly taken over by the British record producer Mickie Most and his Rak Records label. Most, who had a sharp ear for a hit, had been responsible for acts including The Animals, Herman’s Hermits, Lulu and Suzi Quatro. The first thing he did was to shorten the name of Brown’s group to the snappier “Hot Chocolate”. Under Most’s tutelage the band for most of its life a five-piece led by Brown, with his distinctive shiny shaved head became a regular fixture in the UK Top 40 through the disco era of the mid-1970s, with Brown and Wilson writing most of the songs.
Harvie Hinsley was taken on in 1970 and the principal other members were Tony Connor, Larry Ferguson and Patrick Olive. Love is Life reached No 6 in Britain in September 1970. You Could Have Been a Lady fared less well, then I Believe (in Love) entered the Top 10.
All in all Hot Chocolate recorded more than 20 hits at a rate of roughly one a year, among them Every One’s A Winner, It Started With A Kiss, No Doubt About It and So You Win Again, a soulful, funky ballad which was, in 1977, the band’s only No 1.
By the early 1980s Hot Chocolate had become a treasured part of British culture: as an indicator of their status, they were invited to perform at a reception in 1981 at Buckingham Palace to celebrate the imminent marriage of the Prince of Wales and Lady Diana Spencer. Three of their singles reached the charts in the mid-1980s: No Doubt About It, Are You Getting Enough Happiness? and Love Me to Sleep.
By now, however, there were worrying signs of friction between band members. “We took everything pretty lightly for 12 years,” Brown recalled, “but at the end of the day, the laughter turned into animosity.” In 1987 he went solo for WEA Records.
He continued touring in later life and enjoyed the fruits of his fame, claiming to have made £2 million from You Sexy Thing before The Full Monty and the same after it. He voted Conservative, took up golf he was a member of Loch Lomond Golf Club and owned National Hunt horses, including Gainsay, trained by Jenny Pitman.
Errol Brown was appointed MBE in 2003.
Date of Birth: 28 September 1938, North Carolina, US
Birth Name: Benjamin Earl Nelson in Henderson
Nicknames: Ben E King, Ben Nelson
Ben E King was one of the senior figures of soul music, having made his mark in the 1960s first as the lead singer of the Drifters and later with solo hits such as Spanish Harlem and, pre-eminently, Stand By Me.
The Drifters originally enjoyed considerable success in the mid-1950s when led by Clyde McPhatter, but after he left the band their fortunes declined and the remaining members fell out with their manager, George Treadwell, the former husband of Sarah Vaughan the jazz singer. In 1958, Treadwell, who owned the rights to the group’s name, abruptly sacked the entire line-up and replaced them with an up-and-coming outfit named the Five Crowns, one of whom was King.
The new Drifters toured for a year to a poor reception from audiences loyal to the earlier group, but their fortunes changed in mid-1959 when they recorded a song co-written and sung by King, There Goes My Baby. Produced by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, it was the first R&B track to feature orchestration, and reached No 2 in the Hot 100. Its sophisticated, Latin sound became the group’s signature and propelled them to renewed popularity.
Other hits quickly followed, notably Save The Last Dance For Me, but then in 1960 King quarrelled with Treadwell over an increase in pay his contract gave him only £64.19 a week, however many concerts the band did, and no share of record royalties. He, too, therefore, left the Drifters and was replaced by Rudy Lewis, who went on to sing on the group’s later hits, including Up On The Roof and On Broadway. (Lewis, however, choked to death on the morning that they were due to record perhaps their best-remembered song, Under the Boardwalk, and had to be replaced by former member Johnny Moore.)
Having gone it alone, King teamed up again with Leiber and Stoller and in one afternoon recorded both the songs that were to be the cornerstone of the remainder of his career. Spanish Harlem, co-produced by Phil Spector, reached No 10 in the British charts (which were always receptive to King’s clear baritone) in March 1961.
Three months later he released Stand By Me. “It’s a love song, it’s a friendship song, it’s a song where you promise anybody in need to do anything you can to help,” King said. It reached No 4 in America.
Both songs helped to steer R&B away from its blues roots towards a more pop sound, and served as a template for the later work of both Spector and Motown, whose stars were soon to replace King in the public’s fickle affections.
King was born Benjamin Earl Nelson in Henderson, North Carolina, on September 28 1938. His first exposure to music was in a church choir, but in 1947 his family moved to Harlem, where he soon began singing doo-wop on street corners with three friends from school. They called themselves the Four Bs for Ben, Billy, Billy and Bobby. King later married Betty, the sister of Billy and Bobby.
After he did well in a talent competition at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, Ben Nelson (as he was called until he began his solo career) was offered a place in the Moonglows, a well-known group of the time, but he found the pressure too great and returned to working in his father’s restaurant. There he was spotted singing by the manager of the Five Crowns, and persuaded to return to the stage.
Following his heyday in the early Sixties, King’s star gradually declined, with Don’t Play That Song (1962) being his last substantial hit in America, although his two best-known numbers were revived with great success in the 1970s, first by Aretha Franklin, who took Spanish Harlem to No 2 in the US chart, and then by John Lennon, who covered Stand By Me in 1975.
By that time King had been reduced to playing the veterans circuit (and to appearing on the Genesis LP The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway), and it was while performing in a Miami hotel that he was spotted by Ahmet Ertegun, the head of Atlantic, his former record label. Ertegun was impressed once more by King’s voice, re-signed him, and helped him to score a Top 5 hit in the disco era with Supernatural Thing Part 1 (1975).This revival of King’s career proved to be short-lived, however, and he had to wait another decade until he once more returned to the limelight.
This came courtesy of the use of Stand By Me as the theme song to Rob Reiner’s 1986 film of the same name (based on a coming-of-age story by Stephen King). When the song was re-released that year, the single reached No 9 in the American charts, 25 years after its first placing there.
The track did even better in Britain the following year when it was used in a Levi’s television commercial, on the back of which it climbed to No 1 and exposed a generation of teenagers to classic American soul. Its success led to King recording a series of LPs in the 1990s, although there proved to be little demand for them.
Nevertheless, he continued to tour regularly, occasionally with various versions of the Drifters, finding a steady audience for his highly polished renditions of some of pop’s finest moments.
Date of Birth: 15 June 1946, Alexandria, Egypt
Birth Name: Artemios Ventouris Roussos
Nicknames: Demis Roussos
Demis Roussos, the Greek singer who has died aged 68, became an unlikely heart throb in the 1970s when his album sales earned him a place in the Guinness Book of Records.
He scored his biggest success in Britain in 1975 when he had five albums in the top 10 simultaneously and in 1976 when his annoyingly unforgettable romantic ballad Forever and Ever was No 1 in the single charts. Worldwide he sold more than 60 million albums. “My music came right on time,” Roussos told an interviewer in 2002. “It was romantic Mediterranean music addressed to all the people who wanted to go on holiday. My music was liked by the people ... other artists of the same era, Mediterranean, like Julio Iglesias and Nana Mouskouri, followed me.”
His publicity people described Roussos’s songs as a mixture of “Byzantine psalms and muezzin prayer calls”, and there was something otherworldly about his tremulous, near-falsetto delivery. But there was much that was strange about Roussos. Even if his voice had not compelled attention, his Falstaffian 23-stone girth, beard, long hair and penchant for billowing kaftans would have marked him out.
Incredibly to some, Roussos, who became known as “The Phenomenon”, became seen as a sex symbol. In Britain the mostly middle-aged female audiences at his sell-out concerts became every bit as hysterical about his wobbling chins and zithery ballads as their teenage counterparts had been for the Beatles. In later life he recalled that women in the front row would sometimes try to grab his kaftans to see if he was wearing anything underneath (the answer, he claimed, was no).
Critics, though, were less easily smitten. The Sun called him “The Big Squeak” and likened him to a cross between Mickey Mouse and Moby Dick. Others called him the “The Love Walrus” or “The Singing Tent”, while The Sunday Times said he sounded like a spaniel that had been kicked. And after two years of British hits, Roussos faded from view. The coup de grace, according to some, was administered by Mike Leigh in the scene in his Play For Today, Abigail’s Party (1977), in which the monstrous Bev (Alison Steadman) sways gormlessly to Forever and Ever, consigning Roussos to the ranks of the irredeemably unhip. His next two singles struggled to gain entry into the Top 40.
Roussos, however, felt that his inadvertent role in the film was proof that he had left an enduring impression on the 20th century: “Nobody can deny that my name left a mark into the century’s music,” he told The Guardian in 1999. “Even if I die tomorrow, Demis Roussos left a card, a trademark, something that cannot be forgotten.”
Artemios Ventouris Roussos was born to Greek parents on June 15 1946 in Alexandria, Egypt, where his father was working as an architect.
The family was forced to flee Egypt for Greece during the Suez crisis of 1956, leaving all of their possessions behind, and as soon as he was old enough young Demis, who sung in a Greek Byzantine church choir as a child and learned guitar, trumpet and piano in school, began work as a cabaret musician to to help his family make ends meet. His teenage years coincided with a boom in the Greek tourism industry and he began singing in tourist bars. By the mid-1960s he was performing covers of British and American pop hits, such as House of the Rising Sun and When a Man Loves a Woman, with a band called The Idols.
Towards the end of the decade he hooked up with the future film music composer Vangelis, with whom he formed Aphrodite’s Child, a prog-pop combo who fled to France after the Greek military coup of 1967 made them unwelcome in their homeland. In 1968 they released the song Rain And Tears (derived from Pachelbel’s Canon) during the student riots in Paris. Referring to the tear gas used on demonstrators, it sold more than a million copies in France and managed to scrape into the Top 40 in Britain.
After half a dozen albums in three years, Aphrodite’s Child broke up in 1971 and Roussos went solo, cutting his first album, On the Greek Side of My Mind, the same year. He was already well known on the continent but little known in Britain until 1974 when a BBC documentary, entitled The Roussos Phenomenon, turned out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.
His first UK single to make the charts, Happy to be on an Island in the Sun, reached No 5 in 1975. Other hits included My Friend The Wind; Goodbye My Love, Goodbye; Quand je t’aime, Someday Somewhere and Lovely Lady Of Arcadia.
By the time his star began to wane in Britain Roussos was a wealthy man with a mansion outside Paris, a private jet, an estate in the south of France and all the other trappings of success. But he did not remain idle. In the early 1980s, while living in California, he went on a diet, shed more than six stone, then published A Question of Weight, which sold a million copies. He remained constantly popular in Europe, where he continued to tour, through his fluency in Spanish, French, Italian, German and Arabic, as well as Greek and English. In later years he found new fans in the Middle East, Russia and central Asia, developing what one critic described as “a new-age, ethnic kind of sound, influenced by Africa and the Balkans”.
In 1985 he made an unwitting comeback into the British national consciousness when he was held captive for a few days in Beirut after his flight from Athens to Rome was hijacked by Hizbollah militants. The press reported that he had sung to his captors (not true, said Roussos) and had a bit of fun at his expense, one correspondent rejoicing that his captors “did not go unpunished”. In 2002 he enjoyed a mini-comeback when his “Best Of” collection, Forever And Ever, reached number 20 in the album charts and he undertook a tour of Britain.
Demis Roussos was married and divorced three times.
Date of Birth: 12 December 1941, Troy, New York, US
Birth Name: Timothy DuPron Hauser
Nicknames: Tim Hauser
Tim Hauser, was a founder-member of the vocal group the Manhattan Transfer, a four-part harmony ensemble which has survived for more than 40 years virtually without a break.
First formed in 1969 by Hauser (a one-time market researcher who worked on the Pepsodent toothpaste account) and three friends, Manhattan Transfer’s cool elegance and nostalgic aura enthused audiences in the 1970s, when they became one of New York’s most popular live acts.
Among the venues they played in those days was the Continental Baths, a gay bathhouse in the basement of the Ansonia hotel which included a disco, cabaret lounge, sauna rooms and swimming pool. In the late 1960s and early 1970s the Continental Baths featured a host of famous entertainers, among them the Andrews Sisters, Tiny Tim and Bette Midler (known as “Bathhouse Betty”, and sometimes accompanied on the piano by Barry Manilow dressed only in a white towel). Manhattan Transfer went on to produce a string of hits and win 10 Grammies, and continued to record and tour into the new millennium.
Timothy DuPron Hauser was born on December 12 1941 in Troy, New York. When he was seven, his family moved to New Jersey, and he was educated at St Rose High School in Belmar. Music was his governing passion from childhood, and at the age of 15 he founded a doo-wop vocal quintet called the Criterions which recorded two singles for the Cecilia Label, I Remain Truly Yours and Don’t Say Goodbye. They also performed at many R&B revues and record hops around New York, appearing alongside Dion and the Belmonts, the Elegants and the Heartbeats. When he was only 17, Hauser produced Harlem Nocturne for the Viscounts, which reached No 3 on the Billboard chart in 1959.
At Villanova University, where he read Economics, Hauser sang in a folk group called the Troubadours Three, joined the Villanova Singers and also worked on the college radio station. After serving for a year (1964) with the US Air Force, he became a market research analyst with a New York advertising agency where his accounts included Pepsodent and Micrin mouthwash. From 1966 to 1968 he managed the market research department at Nabisco’s special products division, working mainly on cereals and pet foods.
Music, however, remained his true calling, and in 1969 he formed the first version of the Manhattan Transfer (named after John Dos Passos’s novel of 1925) with Gene Pistilli, Marty Nelson, Erin Dickins and Pat Rosalia; but after recording only one album, Jukin’, in the early 1970s they broke up after disagreements about future musical direction; Hauser wanted to take the group towards jazz and swing.
And there the story might have ended, as Hauser found himself working as a New York taxi driver. But one night in April 1972 he was flagged down by Laurel Massé, a waitress and would-be singer who admired the Manhattan Transfer having seen them perform at Fillmore East. They stopped for coffee and discussed music, and arranged to meet again. Shortly afterwards, again on his taxi-driving shift, Hauser picked up the conga player for the group Laurel Canyon, who invited him to a party at which he met Janis Siegel (a member of Laurel Canyon).
Hauser, Janis and Laurel Massé decided to re-form the Manhattan Transfer, and recruited as their fourth member Alan Paul, who was appearing in the Broadway production of Grease. The group was launched on October 1 1972.
Within two years Manhattan Transfer were performing regularly in New York City, at venues such as Trude Hellers, the Mercer Arts Center and Club 82, as well as the Continental Baths. In 1975 they were signed to Atlantic Records by Ahmet Ertegun, releasing an eponymous album in the same year; a single from the album, a remake of the Friendly Brothers’ gospel classic Operator, gave the group their first national hit. The group was soon invited by CBS to host a weekly show, on which Bob Marley and the Wailers would make their first US television appearance. Their next two albums, Coming Out and Pastiche, generated a string of Top 10 hits in Europe, and a No 1 in Britain and France with Chanson d’Amour.
In 1978 Cheryl Bentyne replaced Laurel Massé, who had been injured in a car accident and had decided to pursue a solo career. The first album featuring the new line-up, Extensions (1979), included Birdland, which was to become the group’s anthem. In 1981 Manhattan Transfer became the first group to win Grammy Awards in both the pop and jazz categories in the same year . The group has continued to record and tour, and in 2000 they released a tribute album to Louis Armstrong, The Spirit Of St Louis.
Hauser worked as a producer as well, and in 2007 he released a solo album, Love Stories.
Away from music, he enjoyed collecting and restoring classic cars; he also launched a brand of tomato sauce.
Date of Birth: 4 March 1944, Cleveland, Ohio, US
Birth Name: Bobby Womack
Bobby Womack, was a rhythm and blues guitarist and songwriter and, despite a life that was luridly eventful even by the grand guignol standards of the milieu, the last great surviving exponent of the “testifying” style of soul singing.
“Testifying”, rooted in gospel music, came to the fore in the 1960s through the impassioned performances of such singers as Otis Redding, James Brown and Wilson Pickett. Womack’s own voice ran the gamut from a smooth, beseeching baritone to an urgent, gravelly growl, often rising to a piercing, full-throated scream that vividly suggested a man in the grip of powerful emotions beyond his control.
His songs, punctuated by moralising soliloquies on the subject of love and betrayal, saw him cast in the figure of “The “Preacher” a role which had been his childhood ambition when performing on the gospel circuit, “because all the preachers had everything in the neighbourhood, they had all the money and the Cadillacs and they got the best part of the chicken”.
But Womack was not a preacher. Instead his life was laced with drug addiction, gunplay, financial exploitation and chaotic personal relationships. Nonetheless, he managed to outlive all his contemporaries, and as a result billed himself “the Soul Survivor”. As one song, Only Survivor, put it: “They call me a living legend/But I’m just a soldier who’s been left behind.”
Bobby Womack was born on born March 4 1944 in Cleveland, Ohio, the third of five sons of a steelworker, Friendly, and his wife Naomi. Friendly was also a sometime gospel singer, but channelled his musical ambitions into his sons, organising Bobby and his four brothers, Harry, Cecil, Friendly Jnr and Curtis, into a group, The Womack Brothers, which performed on the local gospel circuit.
It was there that Womack met the two men to whom he would later attribute his singing style: Sam Cooke, then the lead singer of the Soul Stirrers, and Archie Brownlee, from the Five Blind Boys of Mississippi. From the former, Womack took a dulcet, seductive crooning; from the latter the “testifying” screeches and yelps. A child musical prodigy, Bobby got first hand experience of Brownlee’s style at the age of 13, playing guitar for him.
“I modelled my screams on Archie,” he once recalled, “but I never could get them as clear as he did, because he’d mellow it in gin. He’d lie down on stage to sing because the drink had eaten the lining of his stomach so much. They’d kneel down there and put a microphone up close. He always said he wanted to die right there, wailing his head off, and he did, singing Leave Me In The Hands Of The Lord.”
Womack would look back on his short period with the Blind Boys with great affection. “I would take them to their hotel rooms, dress them, take their clothes and get ’em cleaned, and they’d let me get a little nooky on the side when their girlfriends would go for it.”
At the same time The Womack Brothers were also spotted by Sam Cooke, who was shortly to abandon gospel for the more lucrative pastures of secular Rhythm and Blues. In 1962 he sent for the Womacks from Los Angeles and, encouraging them to follow his example, signed them to his SAR label, renaming them The Valentinos.
The group’s first single, Lookin’ For A Love (1963), sold a million copies, and provided an early lesson in music business practice. “We didn’t know that we were supposed to get paid,” Womack would later recall. “We was just honoured to be with Sam Cooke’s company, an’ we didn’t get no royalties. He said, 'Well, that car you bought was your royalties. You stayed in a hotel; you know what that cost me? We took care of you guys, paid for the session. You may be gettin’ screwed, but I’ll screw you with grease. James Brown, he’d screw you with sand.’”
Cooke provided a further lesson with the release of the group’s fourth single, a Womack composition entitled It’s All Over Now. Cooke – who had a piece of the song’s publishing – gave the song to The Rolling Stones, whose version went to the top of the British and American charts, eclipsing The Valentino’s original. “I was still screaming and hollering right up until I got my first royalty cheque from the song,” Womack recalled. “Man, the amount of money rolling in shut me right up.”
Cooke took Womack under his wing, employing him as a guitarist in his touring group and treating him as his protégé. It was a relationship that would come to a violent end with Cooke’s untimely death in 1964, shot dead by the manageress of a motel where he had been enjoying a tryst with a prostitute.
Womack’s efforts at comforting Cooke’s widow, Barbara, resulted in them marrying three months after the singer’s death, angering Cooke’s friends who felt that Womack was exploiting a grieving widow. Womack insisted that the match had started at her instigation, and it was Barbara who put up the money to pay for Womack’s first solo recordings for the Chess label. But the marriage was to end catastrophically when she discovered he was having an affair with her teenage daughter, Linda, obliging Womack to beat a hasty retreat from the family home at the end of the barrel of a gun. Linda, in turn, would go on to marry Womack’s younger brother, Cecil, thus leaving Womack in the possibly unique position of having been the same woman’s stepfather, lover, and brother-in-law in short order. Cecil and Linda would later enjoy success as Womack and Womack with the singles Love Wars and Teardrops.
With his early solo recordings having passed without notice, Bobby Womack concentrated on songwriting and session work. As a member of the house band at the famed American Sound Studio in Memphis he played on recordings by a host of artists including Joe Tex, Elvis Presley, Aretha Franklin and Wilson Pickett, who recorded no fewer than 17 Womack songs in three years.
In 1968 he resurrected his singing career with the R&B hit What Is This. More hits followed with judicious covers of such songs as Fly Me To The Moon, Sweet Caroline and California Dreaming, and Womack’s own, rootsier compositions. The albums Communication, Understanding, Facts of Life and Lookin’ For A Love Again, established him in the vanguard of soul music and provided a run of hit singles including A Woman’s Gotta Have It, Nobody Wants You When You’re Down And Out and the million-selling Harry Hippie, a song written by Jim Ford but which Womack adapted as a tribute to his younger brother.
Across 110th Street was a highly-lauded soundtrack album for one of the classic “blaxploitation” movies of the time (and later for the Quentin Tarantino movie, Jackie Brown). And Womack also recorded a country album, BW Goes C&W. (His record company balked at his original suggestion for the title, “Step Aside Charlie Pride And Give Another Nigger A Chance”. Womack was also obliged to withdraw his interpretation of Gene Autrey’s song I’m Back In The Saddle Again, which he had retitled “I’m Black In The Saddle Again”, after Autrey threatened a lawsuit.)
But by the mid-70s Womack’s albums were showing signs of creative fatigue from his increasingly erratic lifestyle. He had become close friends with Sly Stone, playing on Stone’s There’s A Riot Going On, and proving an enthusiastic participant in Stone’s infamous drug-binges. And he was further undermined by a series of family tragedies.
In 1974 his younger brother Harry was murdered by a jealous girlfriend while he was staying at Bobby Womack’s house. The girl, happening upon some women’s clothes in the closet of the room where Harry was sleeping, assumed he was carrying on an affair and stabbed him in the neck with a steak knife. The clothes belonged to a girlfriend of Bobby.
Four years later Womack’s first child by his second marriage, Truth, died at the age of four months after suffocating in bed. Another son, Vincent, by Barbara Cooke, committed suicide at the age of 21.
Enveloped in what he would later describe as “the paranoia years”, Womack himself had taken to carrying a gun. Lying in bed one day he saw the handle on the bedroom door slowly turn. He reached for his gun and emptied it into the door. The door swung open to reveal his son Bobby Truth, “not yet in long trousers” standing there. The bullets had gone over his head. But the boy did not escape such an upbringing entirely without cost. Following his father’s troubled path, Bobby Truth would later be sentenced to 28 years imprisonment for second-degree murder.
In 1981 Womack returned triumphantly to form with the album The Poet, which couched the titanic passion of his voice in elegant arrangements. The album restored Womack to the R&B charts, but he saw none of the royalties, leading to a protracted, and fruitless, court case. “I owed money to everybody,” he would later recall. “The only reason they couldn’t sell my house is because I wouldn’t move; and the only reason I wouldn’t move is because I didn’t have a Master Charge to pay the truck. Things were bad.” He would later admit that it was only the timely intervention of his wife that prevented him from shooting firstly the record-company boss who owed him money, and then himself.
However, a follow-up album in 1984, The Poet II, featuring a guest appearance by Patti LaBelle, restored his fortunes.
Over the next 20 years Womack continued to record and tour, but with diminishing returns, until yet another surprising resurrection in 2010, when he was invited to perform with Damon Albarn’s loose aggregate of musicians, Gorillaz, singing live with the band and on two albums, Plastic Beach and The Fall. In 2012, Albarn produced Womack’s album The Bravest Man in the Universe. A 28th album, entitled The Best is Yet to Come, is to be released posthumously.
Date of Birth: 14 September 1914, Salzburg, Austria
Birth Name: Maria Franziska von Trapp
Nicknames: Maria von Trapp
Maria von Trapp, was the last of the original Trapp Family Singers, whose story of musical success and subsequent flight from Austria during the Nazi regime in the late 1930s was the inspiration for the Broadway show and hugely successful 1965 film, The Sound of Music.
The Von Trapps were an aristocratic Austrian family headed by the decorated naval officer Baron Georg von Trapp and his wife, Agathe. In the wake of Baroness von Trapp’s death in 1922 the family moved to a villa in Aigen in the suburbs of Salzburg. and Maria Augusta Kutschera a young postulent a woman preparing for a nun’s life from the nearby Nonnberg Abbey, was appointed as tutor to the seven Von Trapp children. She was to become the Baron’s second wife (played in the film by Julie Andrews.)
In the mid-1930s the family’s finances were made precarious by the Baron’s investment in a bank which would later fail. Hardened circumstances caused the Von Trapps to stage paid choral concerts (previously a family hobby) with Maria Von Trapp singing second soprano in the choir.
With the Nazi annexation of Austria in 1938, Baron von Trapp was offered a commission in the German Navy. An ardent anti-Nazi he refused and decided to flee the country with his entire family. Not, as Hollywood immortalised their journey, overnight across the Alps to Switzerland but by train to Italy in broad daylight before taking a passage to America.
Maria Franziska Gobertina von Trapp was born on September 14th 1914, in Salzburg the third child of Georg and Agathe Von Trapp. Since personal telegrammes were not permitted to be sent to those serving in the military, her father learnt of the birth by a message from his wife in pre-arranged code: “S.M.S Maria arrived”.
Music was an integral part of her family’s life. “My father played the violin and the accordion, and I adored him I wanted to learn all the instruments that he played,” recalled Maria von Trapp late in life (she would play the accordion for the rest of her life).
In The Sound of Music, Maria von Trapp was portrayed as the character “Louisa” by the Canadian actress Heather Menzies-Urich (in her debut role). On the film’s release, Maria and her siblings were surprised by the level of dramatic licence taken in bringing their story to the screen. “We were all pretty shocked at how they portrayed our father, he was so completely different. He always looked after us a lot, especially after our mother died,” said Maria von Trapp. “You have to separate yourself from all that, and you have to get used to it. It is something you simply cannot avoid.”
On settling in America, the family, continued to perform choral concerts and opened a ski lodge in Stowe, Vermont. Here Maria was to play the accordion and teach Austrian dance, with her half-sister Rosmarie, one of three children by Georg von Trapp’s second marriage. Maria von Trapp became a US citizen in 1948 and in the mid-1950s worked alongside her step mother as a lay missionary in Papua New Guinea.
In the summer of 2008 she visited her childhood home in Salzburg, on the eve of the villa opening as a hotel. Staying in the house for the first time since the 1930s she found herself haunted by memories.
“Our whole life is in here, in this house,” she recalled as she walked its corridors. “Especially here in the stairwell, where we always used to slide down the railings.”
Date of Birth: 9 April 1922, Nottingham, Nottinghamshire, England
Birth Name: Rae Woodland
Rae Woodland, was a much-loved opera and concert singer with a radiant tone and warm personality. At the age of 16 she had undergone an operation to treat a cleft lip, performed by pioneers in reconstructive surgery, and she went on to develop a career notably with Sadler's Wells theatre, north London, Glyndebourne and the English Opera Group. After her retirement from the opera stage in 1984 she taught singing at the Britten-Pears School for Advanced Musical Studies and the Royal Academy of Music.
It was in part because of her congenital condition that she was sent away to a convent primary school in Southam, Warwickshire, for children with disabilities though her parents, who were in the hotel business, were always on the move. The surgeons to whose clinic her mother took her for treatment were Sir Harold Gillies and Sir Archibald McIndoe, who asked her what sort of mouth she would like. She replied that she wanted to be a singer: by the time the scars had healed, it was evident that a transformation had been achieved.
Her first vocal successes were in local festivals and in a hotel in Rotherham, South Yorkshire, run by her parents. Sent to study in London with Roy Henderson, whose pupils had included Kathleen Ferrier, she was dismayed to be advised to visit Bond Street to observe how ladies walked, dressed and did their hair; "I think you're a little bit provincial," Henderson told her.
It was not until the mid-1950s, by which time Woodland was in her early 30s, that her career began to take off. First she understudied at Glyndebourne in 1956 and then sang for Lotte Lehmann in a masterclass at the Wigmore Hall. She then joined the National Opera School, and it was while there that she was invited to sing the Queen of Night in Mozart's Magic Flute at Sadler's Wells (1957). She had in fact gone to Henderson as a mezzo, but he extended her range, and indeed the Queen of Night, with its taxingly high tessitura, became one of her signature roles. A recording of her performance at the BBC Proms in 1966, which she once described as "the highlight of my career", demonstrates that she had the ideal voice for the part, using it, moreover, not simply as a vehicle for virtuosity but in a thrilling invocation of the powers of hell to wreak vengeance.
In an archive interview as part of the Oral History of Glyndebourne, made in 1994, she spoke of her happy years with two leading British opera companies: "Sadler's Wells made me; Glyndebourne was the icing on the cake." The family atmosphere, ample rehearsals and high artistic standards at the latter were particularly valued. The roles in which she excelled included Electra in Idomeneo, the Gentlewoman in Verdi's Macbeth and Mistress Ford in Falstaff, but she also essayed such roles as Venus in Tannhäuser and Mimi in La Bohème, and presented a formidable Lady Billows in Albert Herring.
The creation of the role of Lady Eugenie Jowler in Nicholas Maw's comic opera The Rising of the Moon (1970) was another landmark in her Glyndebourne career, but she also maintained a close relationship with the English Opera Group, touring Russia with Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears and singing frequently at the Aldeburgh Festival. A memorable performance of Idomeneo, in which she was again Electra, took place at the latter festival in 1969, a few days after the catastrophic fire in the Maltings the performance was relocated to Blythburgh church.
Woodland was also known at home and abroad on the concert platform, appearing in Mahler's Second Symphony (1963), Bach's St John Passion (1967) and a Gilbert and Sullivan programme (1968) at the BBC Proms. In the latter part of her career she developed this lighter side of the repertoire and appeared regularly on BBC Radio 2's Friday Night is Music Night.
Date of Birth: 2 March 1942, Brooklyn, New York, US
Birth Name: Lou Alan Reed
Nicknames: Lou Reed
Lou Reed was the lead singer and chief songwriter with the seminal late 1960s New York band The Velvet Underground, and one of America’s most enduring and influential rock musicians.
Pale, softly-spoken and sinister in black clothes and tinted spectacles, Reed was the prototype white urban hipster, whose grim songs captured in sordid detail the sublime miseries of urban low-life and introduced into the American pop song hitherto taboo subjects such as transvestism, sado-masochism and drug abuse.
Reed’s explicit lyrics ensured that the Velvets were rarely heard on the radio. Although they became New York’s most talked about band their cult status considerably enhanced when they were “discovered” by Andy Warhol their five-year career was necessarily curtailed by their inability to sell many records. Only after their disbandment in 1970 did The Velvet Underground achieve the near-idolatrous respect they had long coveted, and over the next decade they came to be seen as the seminal art rock band. Their influence is detectable in artists as diverse as David Bowie, Roxy Music and Talking Heads; and punk rock also owed much to the Velvets’ raw, anarchic sound.
The son of a successful accountant, Louis Alan Reed was born in Brooklyn, New York, on March 2 1942 and brought up in the affluent Long Island town of Freeport, where he acquired a taste for rock and roll and teenage rebellion.
When not immersed in depression which one doctor attempted to cure with electroconvulsive therapy Reed spent his formative years perfecting three-chord rock and roll on rhythm guitar with high school bands including Pasha and The Prophets, LA, the Eldorados and the Shades. In 1957, with the latter band renamed the Jades, Reed cut his first record, So Blue, a song about teenage heartache.
His musical interests broadened at Syracuse University in the early 1960s, when he hosted a jazz programme on the campus radio station, a post which he was later obliged to relinquish after he was heard to belch loudly during a public service announcement about muscular dystrophy.
Military training, then compulsory at American universities, was treated by Reed with similar irreverence. He engineered his dismissal from the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps and escaped the ensuing commitment to two years’ military service by threatening to shoot his commanding officer.
While studying English and Modern Philosophy at Syracuse, Reed came under the influence of the poet and critic Delmore Schwartz, whose writings provided a literary model for Reed’s alienated bohemian persona.
On his graduation in 1964, Reed took a job with Pickwick Records, writing and recording derivative ditties about surfing and hot rods, which would then be piled high and sold cheap in supermarkets. One of his compositions, The Ostrich, enjoyed near-chart success for The Primitives.
But Reed’s real interests lay elsewhere. When not forcing out songs about summer good times, Reed worked on much bleaker numbers like Heroin, a detailed and dispassionate account of the pleasures of shooting up (“Cause when the smack begins to flow, Then I really don’t care anymore”).
In 1965 he joined the equally disillusioned John Cale, a classically-trained Welsh viola player, to form a band which would play their kind of music. With the guitarist Sterling Morrison and drummer Maureen Tucker, they formed The Velvet Underground named after the title of a pornographic novel.
Reed’s dirty vocals half sung, half spoken and doomy lyrics, Cale’s aggressive, sawing electric viola, and the band’s use of “grungy” guitar and shrieking feedback were remarkable at a time when American rock music was dominated by such West Coast bands as Jefferson Airplane and The Grateful Dead, singing harmoniously about peace and love.
Their debut album, The Velvet Underground & Nico (1967), for example, covered such topics as heroin abuse (Waiting for My Man, Heroin), cocaine addiction (Run, Run, Run) and sado-masochism (Venus in Furs).
The band’s cult credentials were reinforced by the patronage of Andy Warhol, who had discovered them performing at the sleazy Greenwich Village night spot the Café Bizarre in 1966 and recruited them for his multimedia show The Exploding Plastic Inevitable, showing films over the band as they played. Warhol combined the group with the mannered German chanteuse Nico, who sang on some of Reed’s more wistful compositions.
Warhol’s imprimatur helped secure the band’s recording contract with MGM/Verve, and he was credited as The Velvets’ producer. As Reed recalled on Songs for Drella (1990), which he made with Cale as a musical obituary of their old mentor, Warhol encouraged them to work much harder, and would say things such as: “The songs with the dirty words make sure you record them that way.” Warhol also provided the celebrated “Banana” cover, which made the debut album a collector’s item.
A year later Reed broke with Warhol in an attempt to shake off the band’s cult following and gain a wider audience. But the three albums which followed White Light, White Heat; The Velvet Underground; and Loaded enjoyed no more commercial success than the first. Cale left the band in 1968 and Reed himself quit in 1970. He passed the next two years in what he called “exile and pondering”. In fact, he was working as a typist in his father’s company, before moving to London for a few months in 1972 and then recording his first solo album, Lou Reed. The record enjoyed a limited success, but he followed it with what is generally considered his finest solo album, Transformer.
Produced by David Bowie (then an up-and-coming “glam rocker”), Transformer brought Reed the wide following he had never attracted with The Velvet Underground and yielded his first hit single, Walk on the Wild Side. The song’s lyrics were no less salacious than those in earlier works, concerned as it was with homosexual prostitution; but the anticipated radio ban failed to materialise because the producers did not understand street idioms such as “giving head”.
But, with typical perversity, Reed followed Transformer with an album so morbid and pretentious that few radio stations were prepared to give it much airtime. Berlin (1973) describes an uneasy love affair between a young American expatriate and a German woman, Caroline. The couple become addicted to amphetamines, and Caroline ends up killing herself.
Although Reed later gave up listening to Berlin because it made him “too taut and nervous”, he insisted that the melancholy views expressed in it were not an artistic pose. “If people don’t like Berlin,” he said in 1974, “it’s because it’s too real. It’s not like a TV programme, where all the bad things that happen to people are tolerable. Life isn’t that way.”
Reed’s bleak vision was epitomised in his early 1970s stage act. Hair shaved in the shape of an Iron Cross, his eyes darkened with make-up and his lips and fingernails painted black, Reed liked to enhance his performance of Heroin by pretending to “shoot up” on stage. His louche demeanour was reflected in his private life, spent in a Greenwich Village apartment with his transvestite lover Rachel.
Disappointed with the public’s indifferent reaction to Berlin, Reed responded with Rock’n’Roll Animal (1974), recorded from a live performance at the Academy of Music in New York. This capitalised on the increasing popularity of old songs like Sweet Jane and proved his bestselling album to that date.
Reed’s oeuvre throughout the rest of the 1970s was at best undistinguished, but it is agreed to have reached its nadir with Metal Machine Music (1975). This two-disc set of ill-advised experimental electronic material, played on a primitive Moog, was, explained Reed, “unrestrained” by considerations of “tempo or key”.
In the first few days of its release, it sold enough copies to earn itself a modest chart entry, but shortly afterwards it went on to gain a record for number of copies returned to point of sale for a refund.
The albums which followed Coney Island Baby (1976), Sally Can’t Dance (1977), Street Hassle (1978) and The Bells (1979) served only to confirm the general view that Reed had failed to live up to his early promise and that he was determined to confuse his fans by swinging from almost self-parodic commercialism to indigestible experimentation.
But in 1982 Reed marked the turning point of his career with his redemptive album about the pleasures of being “an average guy”, The Blue Mask. Now happily ensconced in a rustic New Jersey retreat with the British writer Sylvia Morales, whom he had married on St Valentine’s Day in 1980, Reed bade farewell to his depraved persona of the 1960s and 1970s and set about promoting his new “caring” image. His marriage to Sylvia, whom he described as his best critic, and his fruitful association with the guitarist Robert Quine, led to three further successful albums, Legendary Hearts (1983), New Sensations (1984) and Mistrial (1986).
With stability came a more intense social conscience, which Reed articulated in 1989 on the most successful album of his career, New York. The subject matter metropolitan sleaze had changed little since Transformer, but his tone was now elegiac rather than celebratory. Halloween Parade, for example, was Reed’s memorial to those of his friends who had died of Aids.
Reed had always insisted that, had he not liked rock and roll so much, he would have liked to have written the Great American Novel . In later life he eschewed the vices for which he had become so famous in his youth. He gave up drugs and drinking in the early 1980s.
But if it seemed a miracle that he had lived long enough to make such sacrifices, Reed himself always insisted that his reputation for excess was greatly exaggerated. His stock response to questions about the autobiographical content of songs like Heroin was: “I couldn’t still be around if I had done everything I am reputed to have done.”
In his later years Reed practised Tai-Chi. He continued to make music, and in 2005 released The Raven, a double-CD based on the work of Edgar Allan Poe. Subsequent recordings included Hudson River Wind Meditations (2007) and Lulu (2011), on which he collaborated with Metallica. He underwent a liver transplant in May.
Lou Reed, who was briefly married and divorced in 1972, was also divorced from Sylvia Morales, and in 2008 he married the musician and performance artist Laurie Anderson.
Date of Birth: 3 December 1952, Chiswick, Middlesex, UK
Birth Name: Melvin Kenneth Smith
Nicknames: Mel Smith
Mel Smith was part of one of television's best-known comedy double acts as well as a successful actor and director in his own right.
His comedy sketches on Alas Smith and Jones and Not the Nine O'Clock News turned him into a household name.
Often he played the role of world-weary know-it-all, but also thrived as a loveable rogue.
He enjoyed long and varied career, which saw Smith appear in and direct Hollywood films, introduce Queen at Live Aid and score a top-five chart hit.
Born in Chiswick, west London, it was perhaps inevitable Smith the son of a bookmaker would enter the world of entertainment as even at the age of six he was directing plays with his friends.
He went up to New College, Oxford, to study experimental psychology, having chosen the university especially for its dramatic society.
Smith's involvement in the society led to him becoming its president, and he directed productions at the Oxford Playhouse and performed at the Edinburgh fringe festival during his university days.
His directing career saw him first working at the Royal Court in London, before moving on to the Bristol Old Vic and the Sheffield Crucible.
It was after being invited by producer John Lloyd to join the Not the Nine O'Clock News that Smith met Griff Rhys Jones, who would go on to become his comedy sidekick for decades to come.
When the programme, which also featured Rowan Atkinson and Pamela Stephenson, came to an end, Smith and Jones decided to continue their comedy partnership with their own sketch show, its name being taken from American Western series Alias Smith and Jones.
Its trademark became the pair's head-to-head chats, which have been compared to Peter Cook and Dudley Moore's Dagenham Dialogues.
The conversations saw Smith play a know-it-all, while Jones took on a dim-witted persona, and they would engage in discussions on every topic under the sun. Over the next 16 years, there were a total of 10 series of the show.
In addition, Smith and Jones made films and radio shows together, and performed in plays, clip shows and Christmas specials. The comedians' many charity appearances included taking to the stage at Wembley to introduce Queen at 1985's Live Aid.
They founded production firm Talkback in 1981, which was responsible for comedy hits including Da Ali G Show and Knowing Me Knowing You. The firm was sold in 2000.
The last Smith and Jones series aired in 1998, but the pair stayed in touch and in 2005 collaborated on The Alas Smith and Jones Sketchbook, a showcase of their past shows.
Smith directed films including Bean The Ultimate Disaster Movie, which starred fellow Not the Nine O'Clock News comic Atkinson, and Richard Curtis romantic comedy The Tall Guy. His acting credits included Babylon in 1980, the 1987 hit The Princess Bride and Sir Toby Belch in Trevor Nunn's 1996 production of Twelfth Night.
The comic also took the title role in Raymond Briggs' animated Father Christmas in 1991, in which he sung the song Another Bloomin' Christmas.
He had previously demonstrated his vocal talents in 1981, releasing the single Mel Smith's Greatest Hits, and in 1987 when he teamed up with Kim Wilde for the Comic Relief song Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree which reached the top five.
Smith worked with Jones again on a sketch show for BBC One only last year.
Date of Birth: 17 July 1950, Baltimore, Maryland, US
Birth Name: Otis Robert Harris
Nicknames: Damon Harris
Damon Harris, was the silken-voiced lead singer with the Temptations, one of Motown’s most commercially-successful groups, and sang on their biggest hit single in the 1970s.
Originally formed in Detroit in 1962, the Temptations had mutated throughout the 1960s, with multiple changes in the line-up. Harris joined in 1971 shortly after the departure of Eddie Kendricks, one of the original lead singers. With the arrival of Harris and another new recruit, Richard Street, the group’s producer, Norman Whitfield, steered them away from ballads to a more upbeat style, while retaining the military precision of their choreography and finely-tuned harmonies.
Performing in the soaring falsetto register he had greatly admired in Kendricks, Harris took the lead on his third recording for the Temptations, Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone, which topped the American pop charts in 1972 and went on to win three Grammy awards. Harris also led on Love Woke Me Up
This Morning, from their 1972 All Directions album, and featured on another, The Temptations Live in Japan (1975), now a collector’s item.
On Grammy award-winning hits such as Cloud Nine and Psychedelic Shack in the early 1970s, Harris proved such an effective replacement for Kendricks that many record-buyers did not realise that it was he taking the lead. Michael Jackson called him simply “The Voice”.
His four-year tenure with the group ended abruptly in 1975. According to Otis Williams, the group’s founder, Harris was fired for making inappropriate statements that affected the public’s perception of the group.
Otis Robert Harris was born on July 17 1950 in Baltimore, Maryland. As a teenager he was a fan of the Temptations, and in particular Kendricks.
Modelling himself on his hero, Harris and three high school friends formed a Temptations tribute band called The Young Tempts, but were obliged to change the name to The Young Vandals when Motown Records objected to the obvious reference to their own stars.
Harris later chose to go to college rather than pursue a career in the music business. But in April 1971 he was persuaded by a friend to audition for the genuine Temptations, who were appearing in nearby Washington, DC. The group had just replaced Kendricks with Ricky Owens, from The Vibrations, but the newcomer was proving uneven and they were again looking for a replacement.
The group’s leader, Otis Williams, hesitated before taking on Harris, who at 20 was nearly a decade younger than the others. But Harris made his stage debut with them a few weeks later as first tenor and falsetto . On joining the band, he changed his name to Damon Harris because “the group already had an Otis”.
On his departure in 1975, Harris re-formed The Young Vandals, renaming the group Impact. They made several minor soul and disco hits, including Happy Man and Give a Broken Heart a Break, which climbed to No 5 in the US disco charts.
When their album Impact flopped in 1976 the group signed with Fantasy Records and released a second album, The Pac is Back, which also sold slowly. The group disbanded and Harris moved to Reno, Nevada, to complete his college education, recording a few solo singles, including It’s Music (1978) and the album Silk. He re-released the album in 1995.
He returned to music in the 1990s and began touring, sometimes billing himself as “The Temptations Review starring Damon Harris”. Occasionally he would appear with another ex-Temptation, Richard Street, until Street formed his own Temptations tribute band. Harris also briefly toured with three other former Temptations, David Ruffin, Kendricks and Dennis Edwards, before Ruffin and Kendricks died.
Harris, who had been suffering from prostate cancer , started the Damon Harris Cancer Foundation dedicated to promoting awareness, diagnosis, and treatment of the disease.
Date of Birth: 3 July 1940, St. Louis, Missouri, US
Birth Name: Fontella Bass
Rescue Me has been described as the best record Aretha Franklin never made. This is a somewhat backhanded compliment to Fontella Bass, whose insistent gospel-tinged vocals graced the 1965 single. As none of her other records emulated Rescue Me's commercial success, Bass, who has died of complications from a heart attack aged 72, was sometimes regarded as a one-hit wonder. However, she embraced a wide range of music during her career, including sacred songs and the politically and artistically radical free jazz of the Art Ensemble of Chicago.
She was born in St Louis, Missouri, into a highly musical family. Both her mother, Martha, and her grandmother were professional gospel singers. From an early age, Fontella sang in public and learned piano and organ. She toured with Martha who was a featured soloist with the Clara Ward Singers, one of the most respected groups on the gospel music circuit.
As a teenager, Bass felt the pull of the secular sounds of jazz and R&B. After graduating from Soldan high school in St Louis, she took her first professional jobs with the bands of Little Milton and Oliver Sain. Among her colleagues was the trumpeter Lester Bowie, whom Bass married in 1969.
A duet that she recorded with Bobby McClure, Don't Mess Up a Good Thing, led to a solo recording session for Chess Records in Chicago. The final song of the session was Rescue Me. The arrangement was improvised on the spot by the producer Billy Davis and the musicians. The bass guitar player Louis Satterfield came up with the hypnotic figure that opens the track, while Davis created the memorable ending in which each instrumentalist drops out in turn, leaving Bass to complete the song a capella.
Rescue Me rose quickly to No 4 in the American charts. In the UK, an appearance by Bass on ‘Ready Steady Go!’ helped the record reach No 11 in 1965. Another single, Recovery, also sold well the following year, but only made No 32 in the UK. Bass became embroiled in an argument about money with the record company and unsuccessfully sought to be recognised as the co-writer of Rescue Me. In the early 1990s, she had more luck in challenging the use of the recording without her permission in an American Express commercial.
In 1969, Bowie and what would become known as the Art Ensemble of Chicago decided to move to Paris to seek a European audience. Bass joined them, adding piano and vocals to the group's performance art approach to collective improvisation. She is featured on two albums made by the ensemble in France in 1970.
When they returned to St Louis the following year, Bass made further soul records before devoting herself to raising her four children. She later returned to the stage, playing gospel shows and R&B events. She recorded occasionally with Bowie and in 1980 released an album of religious music, From the Root to the Source, recorded with her mother and her younger brother, the soul and gospel singer David Peaston. Her 1995 album No Ways Tired was nominated for a Grammy.
Bass remained popular in Europe, where she toured occasionally, and she made a memorable appearance at the Womad festival in the UK in 2001. She was also sought out by young producers such as Jason Swinscoe of the electro-jazz group Cinematic Orchestra. When Swinscoe travelled to St Louis in 2007 to record vocals by Bass, he found her in poor health, having suffered a series of strokes.
Date of Birth: 3 December 1927, Wall Lake, Iowa, US
Birth Name: Howard Andrew
Nicknames: Andy Williams
Through the popularity of his television show and his mellifluous tenor voice, Andy Williams, who has died aged 84 after suffering from bladder cancer, was one of the best-loved figures in American popular culture. In a career that spanned eight decades, he sold more than 100m albums. Ronald Reagan described Williams's distinctive voice as a "national treasure".
The Andy Williams Show was also a favourite on British television and he had numerous UK hits in the 1960s and 70s. Among the biggest were Can't Get Used to Losing You (1963), Can't Help Falling in Love (1970) and Where Do I Begin (1971), the theme from the 1970 film Love Story.
Williams's British career was revived in 1998 when his 30-year-old hit Can't Take My Eyes Off You was used in a commercial for Peugeot cars. Soon, a Fiat advertisement revived Music to Watch Girls By, and The Most Wonderful Time of the Year (from one of his eight Christmas albums) was chosen for a Marks & Spencer Christmas campaign in 2002. He even appeared in an episode of Strictly Come Dancing in 2009 to sing Moon River.
Williams grew up in Wall Lake, Iowa, the second youngest of six children, to Jay and Florence Williams. His father, a railway worker, arranged for Andy and his three elder brothers, Bob, Don and Dick, to be the choir at the town's Presbyterian church. The quality of their harmonising inspired Jay to train the quartet for a professional career, beginning with performances at weddings and socials. His ambition for the boys led the family to move to Des Moines in 1936 to seek a regular radio show. There, Jay's perfectionism hardened into an obsession: Andy was to claim that his self-confidence was deeply dented by Jay's edict that "you have to practise harder because you're not as good as others out there".
The Williams Brothers were eventually awarded their own 15-minute show on a station where Reagan was a sports reporter. But the family were still not well off, and when the youngest child died of spinal meningitis, the only way the family could pay the funeral costs was for the brothers to sing hymns at the funeral parlour after school for several months.
There were further moves to Chicago and Cincinnati so that the Williams Brothers could perform on more prestigious radio stations, and in 1944 the family uprooted again to Los Angeles. There, Jay Williams, by now his sons' full-time manager, negotiated a studio contract with MGM, which gave the quartet cameo roles in several B movies. He also persuaded Bing Crosby to employ them as backing singers on his hit record Swinging on a Star.
The group broke up as each brother was called up for second world war service – the 17-year-old Andy was briefly in the merchant navy and did not re-form until 1947. They next performed as a cabaret act, appearing in Las Vegas and the Café de Paris in London before splitting up in 1953. The actor and choreographer Kay Thompson then launched Andy on a solo career, which ignited when he landed a job as resident vocalist on Steve Allen's late night television show on NBC (1954-56).
In 1956 he signed a recording contract with Cadence, and the following year had a No 1 hit in both the US and Britain with Butterfly. Although Williams studied Elvis Presley's recordings, he avoided rock'n'roll and had four more top 10 hits with ballads. In 1961 CBS offered him a lucrative record deal.
The 1960s were to be his golden decade. The Andy Williams Show ran on NBC from 1962 to 1971, with consistently high ratings, and he had at least one album in the US top 10 in every year, aided by his musical director, the acclaimed jazz pianist Dave Grusin. The essential blandness of the show was reassuring to middle America, but it introduced new singers, notably the Osmonds, whom Jay Williams had spotted performing at Disneyland, and the fledgling Jackson Five, featuring a seven-year-old Michael.
The popularity of the show kept the crooning Williams afloat during the tidal wave of pop in the 1960s. Also, while contemporaries such as Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett were baritones, Williams, a tenor, shared his vocal range with the Beatles and Beach Boys.
All his albums of the 1960s sold more than one million copies each, with Moon River and Days of Wine and Roses each selling almost 2m. The latter was No 1 in the album charts for 16 weeks in 1963. When his contract with CBS came up for renewal in 1966, his manager, Alan Bernard, negotiated an unprecedented guarantee against royalties of £0.93m. In return, Williams agreed to record 15 albums over the next five years.
The formula for his albums was carefully calculated to attract fans of the television show. Williams seldom recorded new or unknown songs. Instead, he chose a mix of titles from successful movies, Broadway shows and versions of recent pop hits. Williams and his producer, Bob Mersey, were careful to include material by songwriters of the rock era, albeit their most melodic numbers. Thus, he recorded songs from the pens of Lennon and McCartney (Michelle), Burt Bacharach (Don't You Believe It) and Jim Webb (McArthur Park).
On one occasion, he decided to experiment with a "concept" album of songs by the arranger Mason Williams (no relation), depicting existence from birth to death. Clive Davis, the head of CBS Records, warned him that sales would suffer. After some haggling, the concept songs took up one side of the LP Bridge Over Troubled Water. Davis was proved right and the album sold only half a million copies.
The loss of his television show led to falling record sales for Williams in the early 1970s. However, his celebrity enabled him to play lucrative concerts and cabaret engagements throughout the US and Europe. In 1992 he opened his own Moon River theatre in Branson, Missouri, where he appeared for several months each year.
Although he was a lifelong Republican, Williams became a close friend of Robert and Ethel Kennedy in the mid-60s. He was present when Kennedy was assassinated in Los Angeles during the 1968 campaign for the presidential nomination. Williams sang The Battle Hymn of the Republic at the funeral and voted for George McGovern at the Democratic party convention, having been nominated as a delegate by Kennedy. More in keeping with his political convictions was his outspoken criticism of Barack Obama, and he allowed the rightwing radio commentator Rush Limbaugh to broadcast his recording of Born Free with added gunshot sounds. Sony Music (now the owner of CBS Records) forced Limbaugh to remove it.
Williams was married twice. He had three children, Noelle, Christian and Bobby, named after Robert Kennedy, with his first wife, the singer and dancer Claudine Longet. After their divorce, he was publicly supportive when, following the death of her new partner in a shooting incident, she was found guilty of criminally negligent homicide in 1977. He is survived by his second wife, Debbie Haas, and his children.
Date of Birth: 16 October 1922, Rotherhithe, London, England, UK
Birth Name: Walter William Bygraves
Nicknames: Max Bygraves
Max Bygraves was a singer and comedian who became famous for his stage performances, notably in 19 Royal Variety Performances, and went on to lead the market in the kind of foot-tapping nostalgia which characterised his “Singalongamax” recordings.
Millions were charmed by his disarmingly homely delivery of catchphrases such as “I wanna tell you a story”, “I’ve arrived’, “dollar lolly”, and “Big ’Ead” though to many observers, including most press critics, his repartee often seemed insipid and predictable, and the scale of his enduring appeal remained enigmatic.
The ease with which he combined Danny Kaye’s style of intimate yet polite comic delivery with frequent reference to his own deprived childhood in East London, made his stardom seem universally attainable; and the fact that some of his jokes were familiar or mediocre only enhanced this effect. He was, as one critic said, “The boy next door writ large”.
Bygraves was still a soprano when he appeared in Tony Gerrard’s “Go as you Please” talent contest at the New Cross Empire. His rendition of It’s My Mother’s Birthday Today, given while clutching a half-starved mongrel dog whose level of house-training proved unequal to the testing demands of live Variety, was irresistible to the Empire audience.
This success led to Sandy Powell impressions, and precocious performances of songs such as Melancholy Baby. He later observed that audiences “liked nothing more than a kid singing grown-up words”, a formula he was to invert, with great success, with songs like You’re a Pink Toothbrush, I’m a Blue Toothbrush, I’ll Take the Legs From Some Old Table, and Gilly, Gilly, Ossenfeffer, Katzenellen Bogen by the Sea.
He was born Walter William Bygraves in Rotherhithe on October 16th 1922, the son of a professional flyweight boxer who then worked on the Surrey Commercial Docks. “Wally” was one of six children brought up in a two-bedroom flat. He would acquire his stage name during the war as a result of his Max Miller impressions, performed in RAF reviews.
In his early teens he supplemented the family income by repairing footwear, and went into the business on his own account during the summer holidays, an early indication of an acute business sense not always found in showbusiness types. Lionel Bart, for instance, sold Bygraves his Oliver score for £350; Bygraves resold the rights for £156,756.65 .
Despite his early success at the New Cross Empire, when he left St Joseph’s School, Paradise Street, it was to become a messenger for WS Crawford’s advertising agency, running copy up and down Fleet Street. He spent the war as a fitter in the RAF, and in 1945 went to work as a carpenter in East Ham. A chance meeting with an RAF contact outside the London Palladium secured an appearance in the BBC variety show They’re Out.
The bandleader Jack Payne heard the programme, and this led to a spot in a new show, For the Fun of It, in which Bygraves starred with Donald Peers and a young Frankie Howerd. In 1950 Jack Parnell and Cissie Williams hired him as a replacement for Ted Ray at the Palladium, a role he filled so successfully that he was back in Argyll Street a few weeks later, appearing with Abbott and Costello at the theatre which was to become, for a number of years, his second home.
He gave his first Royal Variety Performance in November 1950, and was invited to join the radio ventriloquist Peter Brough in Educating Archie, the show which “launched”, among others, Tony Hancock; Bygraves’s then scriptwriter, Eric Sykes; and 14-year-old Julie Andrews, who was ousted from her singing spot when Bygraves arrived.
When he accepted an invitation to spend a month supporting Judy Garland at the Palladium, she was sufficiently impressed to ask him to appear with her at the Palace, New York, where together they sang A Couple of Swells. Notices were generally good and, in some sections of the British press, ecstatic. His performances also won praise from Marlene Dietrich.
Bygraves later said that he considered Judy Garland’s act to be “mediocre because of its simplicity”. He was able, nevertheless, to make the trip to Hollywood for The Judy Garland Show, which led to invitations also accepted to meet Clark Gable and James Mason.
During the 1950s there were numerous stage appearances in Britain, notably in Wonderful Time, and in We’re Having a Ball, which also starred the Kaye Sisters and Joan Regan. Bygraves took some time off from having a ball to write You Need Hands, a song which ran for several months in the Top 20.
The show Do Re Mi brought more success, in Manchester and London in 1961, though many considered him less suited to the role of the self-seeking and unprincipled New Yorker Hubie Cram than its American interpreter, Phil Silvers. In another revue from the early Sixties, Round About Piccadilly, he had a 20-minute spot with his son Anthony, though their partnership was never quite the success he had hoped.
With the arrival of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, Bygraves became, seemingly overnight, part of the “Old Guard”. Only two years before the Royal Variety Performance during which he heard John Lennon urge the “expensive seats” to “rattle your jewellery”, he had been appearing in the same event with The Crazy Gang. His response to concentrate on television was typically astute. With writer Spike Mullins, he made Max in 1969, and his relaxed, cosy style adapted well to the small screen, although he still did not convince the serious critics.
At the suggestion of his mother, in 1972 Bygraves recorded an album of songs, including Daisy and If You Were the Only Girl in the World, with relatively sparse arrangements for two pianos and a chorus. Sing Along with Max was an instant success, and the first of a series of recordings which brought him most of his 31 gold discs. By the time the show Singalongamax was produced in London in 1974, the mood was one of wistful reminiscence.
As the youth culture of the Seventies became increasingly unsympathetic to most of Bygraves’s audience, and The Sex Pistols released an irreverent reading of his song You Need Hands, the appeal of such nostalgia only increased.
He continued to appear on television, drawing massive audiences, and in 1983 was appointed OBE. From 1983 to 1985 he hosted the television show Family Fortunes. By the late Eighties, however, there were fewer listeners prepared to “singalongamax”, and his records were banned from peak time broadcasts on the Bournemouth radio station which he partly owned.
He also appeared in several films, including Tom Brown’s Schooldays (1951), Spare the Rod (1961), Charlie Moon (1956) and A Cry From The Streets (1958). His novel, The Milkman’s On His Way, concerned a working boy who became the highest-paid pop star in the world. He saw no essential difference between literary and musical inspiration, as he explained on the book’s publication in 1977: “Dickens and all those people used to do it, almost the same thing as we do. Only, of course, without the songs.”
He published several volumes of memoirs, including I Wanna Tell You A Story (1976), After Thoughts (1988) and In His Own Words (1997).
In 2001 Bygraves recorded an album for the Royal British Legion, and four years later he emigrated to Australia.
His wife Gladys (known as “Blossom”), whom he married in 1942, died in 2011, and he is survived by their son and two daughters. He is said to have fathered three other children by three different women.