- Category : Singer - Popular
- Type : MGE
- Profile : 6/2 - Role Model / Hermit
- Definition : Triple Split
- Incarnation Cross : LAX Duality 1
Cilla Black (born 27 May 1943) is an English singer and television personality.
Born Priscilla Maria Veronica White to a Protestant father and a Catholic mother.
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, a former retail manager from a prominent Jewish family on Merseyside, 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 signed Cilla to Parlophone Records and introduced her to George Martin, who produced her debut single, Love of the Loved (written for her by Lennon and McCartney), which was released only three weeks after she signed with Epstein. The single peaked at a modest #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 the 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 by the uneducated as 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.
Being so closely associated with Beatles, she became the first artist to cover 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" was how the song was meant 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.
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 (but included in re-release prints), Cher sang Alfie on the closing credits of the US version. Once again, Alfie became a hit for Warwick in the States, and a major hit for Black in the UK, reaching #9 on the British charts. Although on the film soundtrack it had been performed by Cher, Cilla's version 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 later admitted to finding Black's voice "strident", describing her as one of only a few "white" singers who could produce a "soul" sound.
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 partner 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) and Something Tells Me (Somethings Gonna Happen Tonight) (1971).
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 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). Cilla Black has been covered by Lulu, Dusty Springfield, Sandie Shaw, Dionne Warwick, Cher, Helen Reddy, Daryl Braithwaite, Guys n' Dolls, The Smiths, Alison Moyet, Emma Bunton, Elvis Costello, Olivia Newton-John, Agnetha Fältskog and Atomic Kitten.
In 2006/7, 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.
The first series of Cilla was broadcast on 30 January, 1968. On the first show her guest was Ringo Starr. The two pop stars sang a duet together. Paul McCartney (without Lennon) wrote the theme tune - another chart hit for Black - entitled "Step Inside Love". Henry Mancini, Tom Jones, Donovan, Georgie Fame and Dusty Springfield were among the artists who appeared in the earlier series of Cilla, however many programmes were later wiped from the BBC's archives. Her BBC show became a phenomenon, and paved the way for a lengthy television career which has continued until the present day.
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 it's 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 due to her pregnancy.
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) and Surprise, Surprise (1984-2001). Both programmes were mainstream ratings winners and consolidated her position as the highest paid female performer on British television.
Her TV appearances have made infamous her strange spoken mannerisms ("Lorra lorra laughs" for example) and her cloying habit of familiarly referring to her fellow presenters ("Our Graham"). This is brought into sharper focus when she is interviewed out of persona, as the real Ms Black is well-spoken and enunciates clearly; any traces of the original Scouse or her strange TV affectation are noticeably absent.
Notable television appearances since her resignation from LWT have included Parkinson, So Graham Norton, Friday Night With Jonathan Ross, Room 101 and The Friday Night Project.
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, she gave birth to a daughter, Helen, who died two hours later.
Cilla (1965, No.5)
Cilla Sings A Rainbow (1966, No. 4)
Sher-oo! (1968, No. 7)
Surround Yourself With Cilla (1969)
Sweet Inspiration (1970, Number 42)
Day By Day with Cilla (1973)
In My Life (1974)
It Makes Me Feel Good (1976)
Modern Priscilla (1978)
Especially For You (1980)
Surprisingly Cilla (1985)
Through The Years (1993, No. 41)
Beginnings: Greatest Hits & New Songs (2003, No. 68)
The Best of Cilla Black (1968, No. 21)
The Very Best Of Cilla Black (1983, No. 20)
Love, Cilla (1993)
The Abbey Road Decade 1963-1973 (3cds) (1997)
The 35th Anniversary Collection (1998)
The Best Of Cilla Black (Special Edition) (2002)
Cilla: The Best Of 1963-78 (3cds) (2003)
Cilla In The 60s (2005)
Cilla In The 70s (2005)
"Love of the Loved" (1963, No. 35)
"Anyone Who Had a Heart" (1964, No. 1)
"You're My World (Il Mio Mondo)" (1964, No. 1)
"It's for You" (1964, No. 7)
"You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'" (1965, Number 2)
"I've Been Wrong Before" (1965, Number 17)
"Love's Just a Broken Heart" (1966, No. 5)
"Alfie" (1966, No. 9)
"Don't Answer Me" (1966, No. 6)
"A Fool Am I (Dimmelo Parlame)" (1966, No. 13)
"What Good Am I?" (1967, No. 24)
"I Only Live to Love You" (1967, No. 26)
"Step Inside Love" (1968, No. 8)
"Where is Tomorrow" (1968, No. 39)
"Surround Yourself With Sorrow" (1969, No. 3)
"Conversations" (1969, No. 7)
"If I Thought You'd Ever Change Your Mind" (1969, Number 20)
"Something Tells Me (Something's Gonna Happen Tonight)" (1971, No. 3)
"Baby We Can't Go Wrong" (1974, No. 36)
"Through the Years" (1993, No. 54)
"Heart and Soul (with Dusty Springfield)" (1993, No. 75)
All chart positions refer to the Official UK Charts.