by Ellen Defrin
With a voice that cuts to the heart of a song like a finely honed saber and a sensual presence that has cast a spell over audiences for decades, Shirley Bassey is, indeed, an international superstar of major proportions.
Born in Tiger Bay, Cardiff, Wales on January 8, 1937, to a West Indian seaman and a Welsh mother, Bassey began her singing career by default. As a teenager, she really aspired to a career as a model, an air hostess or a nurse, but, found when she left school in her early teens, she could not get a job in any of these fields.
But she had, as she says, "this voice."
Shirley Bassey began singing -- performing at local clubs in Wales on weekends while supporting herself by working at a factory during the day. She was discovered, at the "ripe old age of sixteen" when she left home to tour the United Kingdom in various shows and revues and to try her luck in show business.
Her big career break occured in 1955 when, producer Jack Hylton heard her sing and cast her in Lancashire comedian Al Read's Christmas show at London's Adelphi Theatre. This was followed by a performance in Such a Life, a revue which ran in London for a year.
Soon after, Shirley Bassey had her first hit record, an authentic calypso-based rendition of "The Banana Boat Song," released in 1957 when she was just twenty years of age. Other hits soon followed -- "As I Love You" in 1959, and "Kiss Me Honey, Honey, Kiss Me" a huge hit for her that same year.
But it wasn't until 1960 that the mature, adult, sophisticated style which was to become Shirley Bassey's vocal signature began to be displayed to her audience in earnest. It was with the release of her version of Lionel bart's classic tune, "As Long As He Needs Me," from his musical Oliver that Shirley Bassey really began to come into her own.
Many hits in England and Europe followed, but her big break in the United States occured with the release of her recording of the title song of James Bond's "Goldfinger". Who can forget the electrifying blare of the opening horns followed by Bassey's vocal blast: "Gold-finggg-ahhhh!"
From then on, her career was unstoppable. Shirley Bassey's laser-beam voice, with its distinctive biting phrasing and power drill-like vibrato, has been thrilling audiences around the world. Her incomparable renditions of the sixteen songs on this CD breathe new energy into songs which were already classics before she recorded them.
Unforgettable show tunes like "Who Can I Turn To?," "Everything's Coming Up Roses," "he Loves Me," "People," "Somewhere," "I Could Have Danced All Night," "If Ever I Would Leave You," "Something Wonderful," "A Lot Of Livin' To Do," and "As Long As He Needs Me" are given new life and vitality when touched with the Bassey magic. And classic film themes like "The Look Of Love," "The Second Time Around" and, of course, the masterful "Goldfinger," all sparkle with a renewed effervescense. And Shirley Bassey's renditions of "The First Time (Ever I Saw You Face)" and "What Now My Love" brings to these familiar ballads a new depth which makes them sound beautifully fresh and new.
Shirley Bassey is a charter member of the pop elite -- a group whose ranks include her musical heroes -- stars like Judy Garland, Ella Fitzgerald, Lena Horne and Edith Piaf. Like them she is a unique performer who brings a special grace and style to everything she performs. And like them, she makes a truly indelible musical presence.