Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Godspeed Cilla Black

Cilla Black died on August 1 2015 at the age of 72. The cause was a stroke.

Cilla Black was born Priscilla White in Vauxhall, Liverpool on May 27 1943. She attended St Anthony's Junior and Secondary Schools in Vauxhall. After leaving St. Anthony's she enrolled in courses in office skills at Anfield Commercial College.  Following her graduation she worked as a filing clerk at British Insulated Callenders Cables.

Eager to become a professional singer, she took another job working part time checking coats at the Cavern Club. Eventually she became a guest singer with such Merseybeat bands as Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, Kingsize Taylor and the Dominoes, and the Big Three. It was at the Iron Door Club, which was relatively near the Cavern Club, that she sang with an up and coming band called The Beatles. It was Bill Harry, the publisher of Mersey Beat, who gave Cilla her stage name when he mistakenly called her "Cilla Black" in an article in the paper. Cilla liked the name "Cilla Black" better than her given name and took it for her stage name.

It was in early 1962 that John Lennon of The Beatles introduced her to their manager Brian Epstein. Following an unrehearsed audition in which she sang Gerhwin's "Summertime" at a Beatles concert at the Majestic ballroom in Birkenhead, Brian Epstein turned down the opportunity to manage her. Fortunately he changed his mind a bit later when he saw her perform with John Rubin's modern jazz band at the Blue Angel in Liverpool. She made her first official appearance with The Beatles at the Odeon in Southport on August 30 1963. It was only a week later, on September 6 1963 that Cilla and her father signed a management contract with Brian Epstein. It was shortly afterwards that Brian Epstein introduced Miss Black to The Beatles' producer George Martin, who signed her to Parlophone Records.

Cilla Black's first single, "Loved of the Loved", was written by Paul McCartney (although credited to Lennon–McCartney). Released on September 27 1963, it only managed to reach number 35 on the British singles chart. Fortunately, Cilla Black's next single would prove to be much more successful. "Anyone Who Had A Heart" was written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, and had been recorded by Dionne Warwick in the United States. Cilla Black's cover of the song proved to be a hit in the United Kingdom and actually prevented Miss Warwick's version from going any higher than no. 42 on the British singles chart. As to Cilla Black's version of "Anyone Who Had A Heart", it went to number 1 on the British singles chart and topped the Irish singles chart as well.

Cilla Black's third single, "You're My World", would also go to number 1 on the British singles chart. It also went to number 2 on the Irish singles chart and number 1 on the Australian singles chart. It would be her only hit in the United States, reaching number 26 on the Billboard Hot 100. He following single, "It's for You", reached no. 7 on the British singles chart and no. 17 on the Australian singles chart, but only reached no. 79 in the United States.

Miss Black had several more hit singles in the United Kingdom in the Sixties, including her cover of "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'", "I've Been Wrong Before", "Love's Just a Broken Heart", "Alfie", "Don't Answer Me", "Step Inside Love", "Surround Yourself with Sorrow", and "Conversations". She recorded several albums during the decade. Her debut album, Cilla, was released in 1965 and went to no. 6 on the British album chart. It was followed by Cilla Sings a Rainbow (1966), Sher-oo! (1968), Surround Yourself with Cilla (1969), and Sweet Inspiration (1970).

Throughout the mid to late Sixties Cilla Black appeared on various variety and music shows in the United Kingdom, including  Ready, Steady, Go; Top of the Pops, Juke Box Jury; Thank Your Lucky Stars; Blackpool Night Out; and Five O'Clock Club. In the United States she appeared on Shindig and The Ed Sullivan Show. In 1968 she became the star of her own variety show, Cilla, which ran on and off until 1976. She appeared in the Gerry and the Pacemakers' film Ferry Cross the Mersey (1965).

Cilla's music career declined in the early Seventies. Her last top ten single was "Something Tells Me (Something's Gonna Happen Tonight)", which went to no. 3 on the British singles chart in 1971. Her following single, "The World I Wish for You", only reached no. 51 in 1972. In the Seventies her only other singles to chart were "Baby We Can't Go Wrong", which went to no. 36 on the British singles chart in 1974 and "I'll Have to Say I Love You in a Song", which went to no. 51 in that same year. She released six albums in the Seventies, but none of them charted.

As the Seventies progressed Cilla Black was thought of more as a television personality than a singer. Her variety show Cilla continued to air on the BBC until 1976. In 1975 she starred in a situation comedy anthology series, Cilla's Comedy Six. The following year she starred in a similar situation comedy anthology series, Cilla's World of Comedy. She guest starred in a 1971 edition of The Goodies.

By the early Eighties Cilla Black's career was at low ebb. Fortunately an appearance on Wogan in 1983 would revitalise her career, although it would be as a television personality rather than as a singer. In 1984 she became the presenter on the long running reality show Surprise Surprise. The show ran until 2001. In 1985 she became the presenter on the dating game show Blind Date. It ran until 2003. She appeared on the shows The Keith Harris Show and Blankety Blank. Her song "Surprise, Surprise" (from the TV show) went to 90 in 1985.

In the Nineties Cilla Black continued to host Surprise Surprise and Blind Date. In 1998 she became the presenter on the game show Moment of Truth. It ran until 2001. She appeared in the specials Cilla's Celebration and Cilla's World. She appeared on Mr. Bean, Pebble Mill at One, and Stockton's Fling. Her single "Through the Years" went to no. 54 on the British singles chart. A single with Dusty Springfield, "Heart and Soul", went to no. 75.

In the Naughts she was a judge on the reality competition show Soapstar Superstar and a regular on the panel show Loose Women. She appeared on such shows as  So Graham Norton, Today with Des and Mel, GMTV, Friday Night with Jonathan Ross, Parkinson, and The Paul O' Grady Show.In the Teens she appeared on such shows as Never Mind the Buzzcocks, Your Face Sounds Familiar, and Through the Keyhole. In 2013 she appeared in the special The One and Only Cilla Black.

There can be no doubt that Cilla Black was one of the most memorable singers to emerge from England in the Sixties. She certainly had a distinctive voice. Writing about Miss Black in the Liverpool Echo, David Charters her as having "...a voice to tremble the stars and scare the angels - and enough ambition to fill a cathedral, or two." There can be no doubt that her voice packed a wallop. Her version of "Anyone Who Had a Heart" packed more emotion than Dionne Warwick could ever hope to muster in any song. Although it originated as an Italian song by Umberto Bindi ("Il Mio Mondo") and it would be recorded by others, Cilla Black's version of "My World" was always the best. Cilla Black had a powerful voice and sang with such sincerity that one could nearly believe she had lived the lyrics.

Of course, Cilla Black would later become a television presenter. She had a great deal of success presenting TV shows, to the point that an entire generation in Britain is probably more familiar with her from television than they are her singing career. As a presenter Cilla Black was unashamedly Liverpudlian and clearly working class, and it gave her a charm many other presenters always lacked. As a presenter she displayed the same unabashed honesty as she had in her songs and an incredible sense of humour. In the end Cilla Black was the consummate performer, a singer with an incredible voice and the ability to make any audience happy.

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