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Women's History Month: We Celebrate Dame Shirley Bassey

HISTORY-MAKER: Dame Shirley Bassey

BORN IN January 1937 in Tiger Bay, Cardiff, Wales, Dame Shirley Bassey was the youngest of seven children.

Her parents, a Nigerian sailor and an English woman, divorced before she was three years old, but they kept the family together for the most part, and Shirley was able to sing duets with her brother at family get-togethers.

After finishing school, she found a job at a local factory, and earned extra money singing at men’s clubs after-hours.

Bassey travelled around the country in revues during the early ‘50s, and made her big breakout in 1955 at a London Christmas show given by comedian Al Read (though it was promoted by bandleader Jack Hylton, who had caught Bassey’s act at the nearby Albany Club).

Soon after, Shirley began appearing in Read’s revue, Such Is Life. The show ran for over a year, and gained her a recording contract for Philips Records.

A 1962 pairing with arranger Nelson Riddle increased her prestige in America, and a vaunted live show gained her headlining spots in both New York and Las Vegas during the early ‘60s.

Popular recognition in the United States came in early 1965, when Goldfinger hit number eight in the American charts, instantly becoming her signature song across the Atlantic. Strangely though, it missed even the Top 20 in Great Britain.

Bassey’s hits in the UK continued into the mid-’70s, led by Top 10 entries such as Something, For All We Know and Never Never Never.

A mother and grandmother with a self-confessed love of glamour, Dame Shirley still returns to Wales for occasional performances – she topped the bill at the opening of the Welsh Assembly in 1999, and performed the anthem World In Union with Bryn Terfel for the Rugby World Cup in 2000.

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