Friday, June 19, 2020

The Late Great Dame Vera Lynn

Dame Vera Lynn, who buoyed the spirits of Britain during World War II with her songs, died yesterday, December 18 2020, at the age of 103.

Dame Vera Lynn was born Vera Margaret Welch on March 20 1917 in East Ham, Essex. Her father was a plumber and her mother was a dressmaker. She was only seven years old when she began performing. For her stage name, when she was eleven she took her grandmother Margaret Lynn's maiden name. She made her debut on radio with the Joe Loss Orchestra in 1935. She also appeared on the Joe Loss Orchestra's records. In 1936 her first solo record, "Up the Wooden Hill to Bedfordshire," was released by Crown Records. The Crown label would become part of Decca Records in 1938. She moved form the Joe Loss Orchestra to Charlie Kurtz's band. In 1937 she moved onto Bert Ambrose & His Orchestra. For much of this period she also worked as an administrative assistant to the head of a shipping management company in the East End of London. It was in 1937 that Dame Vera had her first hits with "The Little Boy That Santa Claus Forgot" and "Red Sails in the Sunset."

It was in 1939 that Dame Vera Lynn's signature song, "We'll Meet Again," was released. Not only did the song become a huge hit, but it also became an anthem of hope for the United Kingdom during World War II. It was during the Phoney War (the eight month period at the start of World War II when very little was happening) that British servicemen named Vera Lynn as their favourite performer in a poll conducted by the Daily Express. She was afterwards known as "the Forces' Sweetheart." It was in 1940 that she became a solo act, making her debut as such in Conventry.

It was in 1941 that Dame Vera Lynn received her own radio show, Sincerely Yours. The show proved enormously popular, attracting 20% of the British population and receiving 2000 requests a week, and resonated with Britain's troops abroad. Unfortunately, some blamed sentimental popular music following losses in Southeast Asia and North Africa, claiming that such music was bad for the troops' morale. In 1942 Sincerely Yours was then cancelled 18 months, although Dame Vera Lynn's popularity with the British and their military guaranteed she would return to radio.

Regardless of the cancellation of her radio show, Dame Vera Lynn continued to perform songs requested by servicemen and visited new mothers in hospitals to send messages to their husbands overseas. She joined the e Entertainments National Service Association and entertained the troops abroad, even British guerillas in Japanese-occupied Burma. Her second major hit, "The White Cliffs of Dover," was released in 1943. During the war years, Dame Vera appeared in the movies We'll Meet Again (1943), Rhythm Serenade (1943), and One Exciting Night (1944).

Although Dame Vera Lynn would remain identified with World War II, her career would continue strong after the war. She would become one of the earliest British artists to have hits on the Billboard singles chart. She hit no. 9 on the chart with "You Can't Be True Dear" in 1949. In 1953 she became the first British artist to have a number one record in the United States with "Auf Wiederseh'n, Sweetheart," also a top ten hit in Britain. Her first album, Sincerely Yours, was released in 1949. Throughout the Fifties Dame Vera Lynn continued to have hits, including "Forget-Me-Not," "The Horning Waltz," "My Son, My Son," and "A House with Love in It." She would also hit the Billboard chart in the United States with "Yours (Quiéreme Mucho)," "If You Love Me (Really Love Me)," and "My Son, My Son."

With the arrival of rock 'n' roll, Dame Vera Lynn would no longer have much in the way of hit singles, although she continued to release albums on a regular basis. She would ultimately release over twenty studio albums. Dame Vera retired in the early Nineties, but it would not last long. To mark the 50th anniversary of VE Day she performed outside of Buckingham Palace. She then began performing again. In 2005 she performed at a concert in Trafalgar Square marking the 60th anniversary of VE Day. It was in 2009 that she became the oldest person to have a number 1 album on the UK album chart when her compilation album, We'll Meet Again: The Very Best of Vera Lynn, hit no. 1. In 2010 her final studio album, Unforgettable, was released.  A new compilation album, Vera Lynn 100, was released just three days before her 100th birthday in 2017. She became the first centenarian to have a hit album.

It was in 1975 that Dame Vera Lynn was knighted in the Queen's Birthday Honours. She had also been awarded the War Medal 1939-1945 and the Burma Star. Dame Vera Lynn was devoted to various charities. In 1954 she founded the Stars Organisation for Spastics, originally part of the cerebral palsy charity the National Spastics Society, which was later renamed Scope. In 1976 she founded the Vera Lynn Charity Breast Cancer Research Trust. In 2001 she became president of The Dame Vera Lynn Trust for Children with Cerebral Palsy. She was a patron of the Forces Literary Organisation Worldwide for ALL, the Dover War Memorial Project, and Projects to Support Refugees from Burma/Help 4 Forgotten Allies.

Americans may find it difficult to fully know the importance of Dame Vera Lynn. She was not simply the first British artist to have a number one record in the United States. It is with good reason that in 2000 she was named the Briton who best exemplified the spirit of the 20th Century. Dame Vera Lynn brought hope to the United Kingdom during their darkest hours. Her songs during World War II not only comforted and buoyed the British at home, but their armed forces fighting abroad. Dame Vera Lynn devoted herself to keeping up the troop's morales, even travelling to entertain them in war-torn areas. Dame Vera Lynn was still there for the British on her 103rd birthday, when she once more issued a message of hope for the United Kingdom amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. So strong was the hope that Dame Vera Lynn gave the British that when Her Royal Majesty Queen Elizabeth II addressed the United Kingdom while it was under lockdown, she evoked Dame Vera's signature song, "We'll Meet Again."

There can be little argument that Dame Vera Lynn's songs were overly sentimental, but she delivered them with such sincerity and honesty that all but the greatest cynics could not be moved. Furthermore, she sang with perfect pitch and perfect English enunciation. If Dame Vera Lynn's appeal has lasted for over eighty years, it was because she was not only gifted with a remarkable voice and remarkable talent, but because she had that rare ability to bring hope even when it seemed as if there were none.

1 comment:

Caftan Woman said...

Dame Vera appeared in concerts in Toronto (Canadian National Exhibition) several times in the 1970s and 1980s. We attended at least two of the shows and that clear, beautiful voice rang out in the night delighting the audience.