Monday, March 20, 2017

Dame Vera Lynn Turns 100

Most Americans when asked the question, "Who was the first British artist to top the American singles charts?", would probably reply "The Beatles." They would also happen to be wrong. That honour would go to Dame Vera Lynn, who topped the Billboard singles chart on July 12 1952 with "Auf Wiederseh'n Sweetheart"  nearly eleven years before The Beatles arrived in the United States. It remained at the top of the chart for nine weeks.

There should be little wonder that Dame Vera Lynn would be the first British artist to top the American charts, as she is easily one of the most popular British recording artists of all time. Her first single, The General's Fast Asleep", was released in 1935. It was in 1939 that her recording of  "We'll Meet Again" made her a superstar. It proved to be one of the most popular songs of the World War II era and perhaps the song most associated with Dame Vera Lynn. Later Dame Vera Lynn's recording of the song would be used as the closing song of the classic film Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964).  By 1941 Dame Vera Lynn had her own radio show, Sincerely Yours. During World War II she toured Egypt, India, and Burma, entertaining the troops.

Although she is now strongly identified with World War II, Dame Vera Lynn continued to be successful well after the war. When the New Music Express compiled the first ever British singles chart in 1952, Dame Vera Lynn had no less than three entries in the top twelve for the year: "The Homing Waltz", "Auf Wiederseh'n Sweetheart", and  "Forget Me Not". Her song "My Son, My Son" became her first number one on the British singles chart in 1954. In 1967  "It Hurts To Say Goodbye" proved to be a hit for Dame Vera Lynn in several countries, including the United States.

Ultimately Dame Vera Lynn would be the only artist to have hits on the British singles and album charts since their very beginning in 1952 into the 21st Century. She is also the oldest living artist to have a hit on the British album chart. The greatest hits album We'll Meet Again: The Very Best of Vera Lynn topped the chart in September 2009, when Dame Vera Lynn was 92. Her new album, Vera Lynn 100, is currently burning up the British album chart, so that ultimately Dame Vera Lynn might break her own record.

Of course, Dame Vera Lynn is not only revered by the British public for her success as a recording star. She entertained British troops during World War II. In 1958 she formed a charity for The Stars Organisation for Cerebral Palsy. In 1976 she founded the Vera Lynn Charity Breast Cancer Research Trust. She has also dedicated time to charities for ex-servicemen and disabled children. Between her success as a recording star and her considerable charity work, Dame Vera Lynn was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in the 1975 Birthday Honours. In 2000 Dame Vera Lynn topped a poll of Brits who best exemplified the spirit of the 20th century.

At 100 years old Dame Vera Lynn definitely has the one of the longest careers of any singer anywhere. And as demonstrated by the success of her current album, she is still extremely popular. Indeed, short of perhaps The Beatles or The Rolling Stones, it would be difficult to find any British recording star who has had the success of Dame Vera Lynn.

In honour of Dame Vera Lynn's 100th birthday, here is perhaps her most famous song, "We'll Meet Again".

1 comment:

Caftan Woman said...

She has a golden voice. We saw Dame Vera live at the Canadian National Exhibition in the early 80s. She held the audience in the palm of her hand. It was wonderful.