|DSB at the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Concert|
Any visitor to Cardiff bay area in 2013 would enjoy an area of beauty and modernity: restaurants; bars and cafés as well as arts’ centre and the Welsh Assembly. It is a far cry from the bay in 1937, but a far more significant event took place then than anything comparable nowadays.
Then known as Tiger Bay and home to thousands of working class families it was a slice of red-light district and gambling dens between Cardiff's city centre and its docks, and home to a rich mix of multi-racial communities: it had a powerful character of its own.
On 8 January 1937, Shirley Veronica Bassey was born to a Welsh mother and Nigerian father. She was raised in poverty, her father having been jailed and then deported when she was just a year old and attended the local primary school where her teachers first noticed her vocal power, although they did not welcome it or encourage her. She was often told to sing more quietly and was placed further and further away from the rest of the choir before being banned from it altogether.
She left school at 14 and worked in a local factory. Her outlet was the working men’s clubs where she sang at the weekends and at family parties where she was often put on the table and surrounded by passers-by, drawn in by the strength and maturity of her voice. She left Cardiff in the 50s and joined a theatre troupe which toured all over the UK, returning for a short period during the birth of her first daughter, Sharon. However, talent will shine out and she was spotted and given a starring role in London where she was eventually signed to Philips who released her first single: Burn My Candle. A little known fact is that she was banned by the BBC for the alleged suggestive lyrics of the song but soon had her first hit with: The Banana Boat Song. In 1959, she had her first No1 with As I Love You and she was on her way to stardom.
The 1960s and 1970s were filled with hits and in 1965 her place in music and cinema history was sealed when she was asked to sing the theme for the new James Bond film, Goldfinger. This iconic song has been sung on thousands of occasions since at her concerts and TV appearances and often opens the show. She is also the only artist to have recorded the theme to three James Bond films with the equally popular, Diamonds are Forever and Moonraker. It is interesting to note she was also asked to sing at both the Golden and Diamond Jubilee, with the obvious choices for songs. Moonraker was originally penned for Matt Munro but he was unable to perform it and DSB stepped in at the last minute. She never regarded the song as her own, however, as she had taken on the arrangement which had been for Munro, not that anyone listening to it today would either notice or care!
Having had 18 hit albums in the 1970s alone, the 1980s saw a move away from traditional recording and club appearances. DSB moved in to concert tours in major venues and arenas. Her sixtieth birthday in 1997 saw her own wonderful ‘diamond’ tour with audiences singing “Happy Birthday” to her en masse at the end of each concert. Since 2006, she has concentrated more on one-off appearances and charity work. However, a resurgence in interest in he studio work led to the album, The Living Tree being released to mark her 50 years in the Charts. In 2009 a new generation of fans were won with the critically acclaimed album, The Performance which saw modern artists such as Gary Barlow and the Kaiser Chiefs writing songs for her to perform. This led to a BBC special as part of the Electric Proms.
Throughout her career, DSB has beaten expectations in order to maintain her position as the most successful and prolific female singer in the UK. She has entertained millions with her incredible voice, range and sheer presence. On stage, there is no equal and a solid two-hour set, with the occasional pause for a boa change, passes in minutes.
Happy birthday, DSB, and thank you for the years!