Cilla Black OBE (born Priscilla Maria Veronica White on 27 May, 1943) is an English singer-songwriter and television personality, born to a Protestant father and a Catholic mother in the British city of Liverpool.
In the early 1960s, determined to break into show business, she got a part-time job as a cloakroom attendant at the famous Cavern Club in Liverpool, where The Beatles regularly played. Ideally placed to promote herself to local musicians, she impressed the Beatles and others with her talent and began her stage career with impromptu performances at the Cavern. She became a guest singer with Merseybeat bands Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, Kingsize Taylor and the Dominoes, and later The Big Three. During this period she also worked as a waitress at the Zodiac coffee lounge, where she met her future husband Bobby Willis.
Brian Epstein had a stable of artists drawn from the local music scene, headed by the Beatles. Initially, he showed little interest in Cilla, often billed as Swinging Cilla, or Cilla White. She was introduced to Epstein by John Lennon who persuaded him to audition her. Her first audition was a failure, partly because of nerves, and partly because the Beatles (who backed her) played the songs in their vocal key rather than re-pitching them for Cilla's voice. In her autobiography What's It All About? (Ebury Press ISBN 0-09-189036-5) she wrote:
I'd chosen to do "Summertime", but at the very last moment I wished I hadn't. I adored this song, and had sung it when I came to Birkenhead with the Big Three, but I hadn't rehearsed it with the Beatles and it had just occurred to me that they would play it in the wrong key. It was too late for second thoughts, though. With one last wicked wink at me, John set the group off playing. I'd been right to worry. The music was not in my key and any adjustments that the boys were now trying to make were too late to save me. My voice sounded awful. Destroyed — and wanting to die — I struggled on to the end.
But after seeing her at a later date, at the Blue Angel jazz club, Epstein signed Cilla up as his only female client on 6 September, 1963. The local music paper Mersey Beat misprinted her name as Cilla Black, but Epstein liked the sound of it.
Epstein introduced Cilla to George Martin who signed her to Parlophone Records and produced her debut single, "Love of the Loved" (written by Lennon and McCartney), which was released only three weeks after she signed with Epstein. The single peaked at a modest number 35, a failure compared to debut releases of Epstein's other artists.
Her second single, released at the beginning of 1964, was the Burt Bacharach-Hal David composition "Anyone Who Had a Heart". In the United States, it was a new single destined to be a hit for Dionne Warwick where it peaked at #8 while Cilla's version shot to #1 in Britain, where it remains to this day the top selling single of all time by a British female artist. Her second UK #1 hit, You're My World, was an English-language reading of the Italian popular song Il Mio Mondo. She also enjoyed chart success with the song in Australia, New Zealand, Europe, South Africa and Canada. This was followed by another Lennon-McCartney composition, It's For You. Paul McCartney played piano at the recording session and the song proved to be another major international success for Black.
Cilla Black belonged to a generation of British female singers which included Dusty Springfield, Sandie Shaw, and Lulu. These artists were not singer-songwriters but interpreters of Sixties contemporary pop song writers/producers. Cilla Black recorded a great range of material during this time, including songs written by Phil Spector, Randy Newman, Tim Hardin, and Burt Bacharach. All were produced by George Martin at Abbey Road Studios. Cilla has unfairly been dubbed the "Queen of covers". Statistics prove that this is quite untrue. Of the 21 hit singles Cilla has had in the UK, only 2 were covers — "Anyone Who Had A Heart" and "You've Lost That Loving Feeling" — and both of these were major chart successes for Cilla in the UK and internationally.
Cilla's version of "...Loving Feeling" held the number 2 spot in the UK and was held back from hitting #1 by the original version of the same song by The Righteous Brothers. This marks the only occasion in the history of the British Top 40 where the same song but by two different artists has simultaneously held the top 2 spots. This is further testimony to the popularity and record buying power that Cilla had with the British public at this time.
Being so closely associated with Beatles, Cilla became the first artist to cover many Lennon-McCartney compositions. Her recordings of "Yesterday", "For No One" and "Across The Universe" were critically acclaimed and became radio favourites. McCartney also went on record stating that Cilla's 1972 interpretation of "The Long And Winding Road" represented for him how he always intended the song to be sung.
Black's career in the United States, although launched enthusiastically by Epstein and his PR team - was limited to a handful of television appearances (the Ed Sullivan Show among them), a 1965 cabaret season at the Plaza Hotel in New York, and a hit with You're My World which reached #26 on the Billboard charts. The song was to be her only Stateside chart success, and Elvis Presley had a copy on his personal jukebox at his Graceland home. Cilla herself recognised that to achieve popular status in the USA she would need to devote a lot of time to touring there. But she was plagued by homesickness and a sense of loneliness and returned to the UK just as she was starting to make an impression on American consciousness.
In 1966, Black recorded the Bacharach-David song "Alfie", inspired by the film, Alfie. While the song wasn't included on the UK film version, Cher sang "Alfie" on the closing credits of the US version. Also, Alfie became a hit for Dionne Warwick in the States, but it was a major hit for Black in the UK, reaching #9 on the British charts. Cilla's version of "Alfie" was arranged and conducted by Bacharach himself at the recording session at Abbey Road. Bacharach insisted on several takes, and Black cited the Alfie recording session as one of the most demanding of her recording career. For Bacharach's part, he said "...there weren't too many white singers around which could convey the emotion that I felt in many of the songs I wrote but that changed with people like Cilla Black..."
By the end of 1966, Cilla Black was showing all the hallmarks of an all-round entertainer. That year she had guested on Peter Cook and Dudley Moore's Not Only... But Also, appeared in a Ray Galton-Alan Simpson revue in London's West End — Way Out In Piccadilly — alongside Frankie Howerd, made notable appearances on The Eamonn Andrews Show, and starred in her own television special (the first of its kind to be shown in colour), Cilla at the Savoy.
Brian Epstein's attempts to move Cilla Black into films were less successful. A brief appearance in the beat film Ferry Cross the Mersey and a leading role alongside David Warner in the 1967 psychedelic comedy Work Is a Four-Letter Word were largely ignored by film critics. In a 1997 interview with Record Collector magazine, Black revealed she was asked to appear in the 1969 film The Italian Job, playing the part of Michael Caine's girlfriend, but negotiations fell through between producers and her management over her fee.
Brian Epstein died of an accidental drug overdose in August 1967, after negotiating a contract with the BBC for his only female artist to appear in a series of her own. Relations between Epstein and Black had somewhat soured in the year prior to his death, largely due to the fact that Epstein was not paying her enough attention, and partly due to his public admission that he had taken LSD. In her autobiography, Cilla claims that Epstein had tried to pacify her by negotiating a deal that would see her representing the UK in the 1968 Eurovision Song Contest. However, Black refused on the basis that Sandie Shaw had won the previous year's contest, and that the chances of another British female artist winning were improbable.
After the death of Epstein, her boyfriend and songwriter Bobby Willis assumed management duties. Further recording successes followed: Conversations, Surround Yourself With Sorrow, If I Thought You'd Ever Change Your Mind (all 1969), Something Tells Me (Somethings Gonna Happen Tonight) (1971) and Baby We Can't Go Wrong (1974).
The Beatles connection continued. At a Cannes Film Festival during the 1970s, Cilla joined George Harrison, Ringo Starr and glam-rock pop star Marc Bolan to attend a screening of the John Lennon-Yoko Ono experimental film Erection. She also holidayed with them on this trip aboard a yacht chartered by Ringo. Photograph was written on this trip — originally intended for Black to record — but Starr decided to record it himself. George Harrison also wrote two songs for Cilla: The Light That Has Lighted The World and I'll Still Love You (When Every Song Is Sung). The latter she recorded in 1974, but it was not heard publicly until 2003, when it surfaced on a retrospective collection entitled Cilla: The Best of 1963-78.
She shows an increasing reluctance to sing nowadays, though there have been two returns to the recording studio in recent times; 1993 saw Black releasing Through the Years, an album of new material featuring a number of duets with Dusty Springfield, Cliff Richard, and Barry Manilow. Ten years later she released the album Beginnings... Greatest Hits and New Songs.
In his 1969 study of pop history Awopbopaloobop Alopbamboom, the rock journalist Nik Cohn wrote prophetically:
It’s true — the British don’t like their girl singers to be too good, they think it smacks of emancipation, and Cilla at least seemed safe. Obviously, she was quite a nice girl. Also, she was respectable and reliable, very clean and quite unsexy, and she played daughter or maybe kid sister, steady date or fiancée, but she played nobody’s mistress at all. She wasn’t like that. Everyone patronized her like hell, waiting for her to fall, but then she didn’t fall after all, she floated instead and she’s still up there now. She won’t ever come down either — she doesn't sing much, she still comes on like a schoolgirl but she’s liked like that and she can’t go wrong. Genuinely, she’s warm and she makes people glow. In her time, she will grow into a pop Gracie Fields, much loved entertainer, and she’ll become institutionalized.
Cilla Black outsold all other female recording artists in Britain during the 60s and was second most successful act after the Beatles to emerge out of the 60s Liverpool Merseybeat boom. She has released 15 studio albums and 37 singles (many of which have charted world-wide).
In 2006–2007, Cilla's 1971 single "Something Tells Me (Somethings Gonna Happen Tonight)" was used as the soundtrack to a new British advertising campaign for Ferrero Rocher chocolates.
Like so many of her contemporaries, during the 1970s her musical career was in decline, although her albums sold well and she often toured. Increasingly thought of as a television "personality", she found herself experimenting with situation comedy for ITV in Cilla's World of Comedy and Cilla's Comedy Six. Her BBC series, Cilla, continued successfully until 1976, taking a break in 1970, 1972 and 1975. The theme songs from the Cilla series were also successful. "Step Inside Love" opened the series in both the 1968 and 1969 runs and reached number 8 in the UK singles chart on its release. Something Tells Me (Something's Gonna Happen Tonight) was the theme for the 1971 and 1973 shows, reaching number 3 and becoming Cilla's last top ten hit. "Baby, We Can't Go Wrong" was used for the 1974 series and was a minor hit, reaching number 36, Cilla's last UK chart entry until 1993. "It's Now" was the final theme from the 1976 series and failed to reach the charts.
The UK's Eurovision Song Contest entry selection process was part of the Cilla show in both 1968 and 1973, when her close friend Cliff Richard was the featured artist performing all the songs shortlisted in the A Song For Europe segment. Cilla herself was originally approached to sing for the UK in 1968 and was asked again for the 1970 contest, but declined; she was pregnant at the time.
By the beginning of the 1980s, Cilla Black was performing mainly in cabaret and concert, and had been absent from the small screen since a Thames Television special in 1978. In 1983 she appeared on the BBC's Wogan programme. Her appearance on this peak-time talk show was a major hit, and her career in television was resurrected. She signed a contract with London Weekend Television, which led to her becoming the host of Blind Date (1985–2003), Surprise, Surprise (1984–2001) and The Moment of Truth (1998–2001) . All programmes were mainstream ratings winners and consolidated her position as the highest paid female performer on British television.
Her TV appearances have made her spoken mannerisms ("Lorra lorra laughs" for example) and her habit of familiarly referring to her fellow presenters ("Our Graham") well known. Notable television appearances since her resignation from LWT have included Parkinson, So Graham Norton, Friday Night With Jonathan Ross, Room 101 and Cilla Live! for Living TV. Black was a judge on the first series of the Reality TV series Soapstar Superstar, has featured in an episode of the series Eating with... and has recently guest presented editions of The Paul O'Grady Show and The Friday Night Project for Channel 4.
Cilla Black is returning to TV screens in to front a new dating show for Sky One in 2009. Cilla will present Loveland, a ten-part dating "21st century" dating programme for the channel next year. Unlike on Blind Date, which Black hosted for 18 years, contestants will not sit in front of a studio audience but will be 'hidden' behind real-time animations as they date each other. Each episode concludes with the contestant picking their preferred animated character before meeting that person in real life. Black, 65, said she had been "captivated" by the "modern-day twist on the dating format" of the show, which brought "something new and exciting to the genre". "[The] unique animation may help couples find love and me the perfect hat," she added, referring to the collection of hats she amassed for the Blind Date weddings during her time on the ITV1 show. Richard Woolfe, director of programming for Sky One, Two and Three, said Black was "the undisputed queen of the dating show". "There's been many pretenders to her throne, but she remains in a class of her own," he added. "I'm thrilled she shares my passion for Loveland and for bringing the dating show kicking and screaming into the 21st Century." CILLA BLACK - CILLA BLACK RETURNS TO TV WITH ANIMATED DATING SHOW. contactmusic.com. Retrieved on 2008-08-16..
She attended St. Anthony's School, which was behind St. Anthony's Church in Scotland Road, and Anfield Commercial College.
She was married to her manager Bobby Willis (born 25 January, 1942) for over 30 years until his death from lung cancer on 23 October, 1999. They had three sons, Robert (now her manager, born in 1970), Ben (born in 1973), and Jack (born in 1980).
After Willis's death, Black admitted to suffering a miscarriage in 1972. In 1975, while performing at the Coventry Theatre, she went into premature labour and was rushed to the Walsgrave Hospital where she gave birth to a daughter, Ellen, who died two hours later.
On August 4th, 2004, Cilla became a grandmother for the first time when her eldest son, Robert, and his wife, Fiona, had their first child, Max. Cilla's second grandchild, Alana, was born on February 6th, 2007.
Cilla part owns a website and phone line that offers premium-rate "psychic" advice to callers.
All chart positions refer to the Official UK Charts.
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