Priscilla Maria Veronica White OBE (27 May 1943 – 2 August 2015), known by her stage name Cilla Black, was an English singer, actress, entertainer and media personality.
Championed by The Beatles, she began her career as a singer in 1963, and her singles "Anyone Who Had a Heart" (1964) and "You're My World" (1964) both reached number one. Black had eleven Top Ten hits on the British charts between 1964 and 1971. In May 2010 new research published by BBC Radio 2 showed that her version of "Anyone Who Had a Heart" was the UK's biggest selling single by a female artist in the 1960s. "You're My World" was also a modest hit in the US, peaking at No. 26 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Along with a successful recording career in the 1960s and early 1970s, Black hosted her own eponymous variety show, Cilla, for the BBC between 1968 and 1976. After a brief time as a comedy actress in the mid-1970s, she became a prominent television presenter in the 1980s and 1990s, hosting hit entertainment shows such as Blind Date (1985–2003) and Surprise Surprise (1984–2001).
In 2013, Black celebrated her 50 years in show business. British television network ITVhonoured this milestone with a one-off Entertainment special which aired on 16 October 2013. The show, called The One & Only Cilla Black, featured Black herself and was hosted by Paul O'Grady.
Black was born in Liverpool, England, on 27 May 1943 and grew up in the Scotland Roadarea of the city. Her parents were John Patrick White and Priscilla Blythen. Black had a Welsh grandfather, Joseph Henry Blythen, who was born in Wrexham, Wales, and Irish great grandparents on her father's and mother's side of the family. She was raised in a Roman Catholic household, and attended St. Anthony's School. which was behind St. Anthony's Church in Scotland Road, and Anfield Commercial College, where she studied Shipping Management.
Determined to become an entertainer, Black gained a part-time job as a cloakroom attendant at Liverpool's Cavern Club, best known for its connection with the Beatles. Her impromptu performances impressed the Beatles and others. She was encouraged to begin singing by a Liverpool promoter, Sam Leach, who booked her first gig at the Casanova Club, where she appeared as "Swinging Cilla".
Black became a guest singer with the Merseybeat bands Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, Kingsize Taylor and the Dominoes and, later, with the Big Three. Meanwhile, she worked as a waitress at the Zodiac coffee lounge, where she later met her future husband Bobby Willis. Black was featured in an article in the first edition of the local music newspaper Mersey Beat by the paper's publisher, Bill Harry, who mistakenly referred to her as Cilla Black. She liked the name more, and took it as her stage name.
Music careerBefore August 1967
Black signed her first contract with long-time friend and neighbour, Terry McCann, but this contract was never honoured as it was signed when she was under age (the age of majority was then 21) and her father subsequently signed her with Brian Epstein.
Epstein had a portfolio of local artists. At first, he showed little interest in Black. 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 supported her) played the songs in their vocal key rather than re-pitching them for Black's voice. In her autobiography What's It All About? 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 another day, at the Blue Angel jazz club, Epstein contracted with Black as his only female client on 6 September 1963. Epstein introduced Black to George Martin who signed her to Parlophone Records and produced her début single, "Love of the Loved" (written by Lennon and McCartney), which was released only three weeks after she contracted with Epstein. Despite an appearance on ABC-TV's popular Thank Your Lucky Stars, the single peaked at a modest No.35 in the UK, a relative failure compared to début releases of Epstein's most successful artists (the Beatles, Gerry and the Pacemakers and Billy J. Kramer & the Dakotas).
Black's second single, released at the beginning of 1964, was a cover of the Burt Bacharach–Hal David composition "Anyone Who Had a Heart", which had been written for Dionne Warwick. The single beat Warwick's recording into the UK charts and rose to No.1 in Britain in February 1964 (spending 3 weeks there), selling 800,000 copies in the UK in the process. Her second UK No.1 success, "You're My World", was an English language rendition of the Italian popular song "Il Mio Mondo". She also enjoyed chart success with the song inAustralia, New Zealand, Europe, South Africa and Canada. Both songs sold over one million copies worldwide, and were awarded gold discs.
Black's two No. 1 successes were followed by the release of another Lennon–McCartney composition, "It's for You", as her fourth UK single. Paul McCartney played piano at the recording session and the song proved to be another major international success for Black, peaking at No. 7 on the UK charts.
Black belonged to a generation of British female singers which included Dusty Springfield, Helen Shapiro, Petula Clark, Sandie Shaw andLulu. These artists (other than Petula Clark) were not singer-songwriters but interpreters of 1960s contemporary popular music by song writers and producers. Black recorded much 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.
Black's version of "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'" (1965) reached No. 2 on the UK charts in the same week that the Righteous Brothers's original version of the same song went to No. 1 there (week of 4 February 1965). This was the first of only three occasions in the history of the British Top 40 where the same song, recorded by two different artists, held the top two positions in the chart in the same week. George Martin's and Parlophone's attempts to pull off the same trick that they had succeeded at with "Anyone Who Had a Heart", taking a strong song released by an American artist hitherto unknown to British audiences and giving it to Cilla, did not succeed in the same successful fashion in February 1965 as it had twelve months earlier.
Being so closely associated with the Beatles, Black became one of a select group of artists in the 1964-65 period (the others in the same position being Billy J. Kramer & the Dakotas and Peter and Gordon) to record more than one Lennon–McCartney composition. Black continued to record Lennon-McCartney compositions throughout the period (1963–1973) that she was under contract to EMI's Parlophone; Black's recordings of "Yesterday", "For No One" and "Across the Universe" became radio favourites. McCartney said Black'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 enthusiastically supported by Epstein and his PR team, was limited to a few television appearances (The Ed Sullivan Show among them), a 1965 cabaret season at the Plaza Hotel in New York, and success with "You're My World", which made it to No. 26 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song was to be her only American chart success, and Elvis Presley had a copy on his personal jukebox at his Graceland home. Black herself recognised that to achieve popular status in the USA she would need to devote much time to touring there. But she was plagued by homesickness and a sense of loneliness and returned to the UK.
During 1966, Black recorded the Bacharach-David song "Alfie", written as the signature song to the 1966 feature film, Alfie. While Chersang "Alfie" on the closing credits of the American release of the film and Millicent Martin on the UK version, Black was the first and only artist to have a hit with the song in the UK (No.9). "Alfie" went on to become a success for both Cher (in 1966) and Dionne Warwick (in 1967) in the States. Black'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 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, who 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, Black had been a guest 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 appearances on The Eamonn Andrews Show and starred in the television special Cilla at the Savoy, which was made in colour, then a rarity in the UK.
Epstein's attempts to make Black a film actress were less successful. A brief appearance in the "beat" film Ferry 'Cross the Mersey (1965) and a leading role alongside David Warner in the psychedelic comedy Work Is a Four-Letter Word (1968) were largely ignored by film critics. In a 1997 interview with Record Collector magazine, Black revealed she was asked to appear in the film The Italian Job (1969), playing the part of Michael Caine's girlfriend, but negotiations fell through between producers and her management over her fee.
Epstein died of an accidental drug overdose in August 1967, not long after negotiating a contract with the BBC for Black to appear in a television series of her own. Relations between Epstein and Black had somewhat soured during the year prior to his death, due largely to the fact that Epstein was not paying her career enough attention and the fact that Black's singles "A Fool Am I" (UK No.13, 1966) and "What Good Am I?" (UK No.24, 1967) were not big successes. Apparently Black was also unhappy with Epstein's public admission that he had taken LSD. In her autobiography, Black claimed 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 Epstein
Black's boyfriend and songwriter Bobby Willis assumed management responsibilities after Epstein died. After the relatively disappointing performance of "I Only Live to Love You" (UK No. 26, 1967), Black hit a new purple patch in her recording career, starting with "Step Inside Love" in 1968 (UK No. 8), which McCartney wrote especially for her as the theme for her new weekly BBC-TV variety series. Other successes followed in 1969: "Conversations" (UK No. 7), "Surround Yourself With Sorrow" (UK No. 3), "If I Thought You'd Ever Change Your Mind" (No. 20). Black had a further big hit with "Something Tells Me (Something's Gonna Happen Tonight)" (UK No. 3) in 1971.
Black's association with the Beatles continued. At a Cannes Film Festival during the 1970s, she joined George Harrison, Ringo Starr and singer Marc Bolan to attend a screening of the John Lennon-Yoko Ono experimental film Erection. She also holidayed with Harrison and Starr on a trip aboard a yacht chartered by Starr. "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 Black: "The Light that has Lighted the World" and "I'll Still Love You (When Every Song is Sung)". The latter she recorded during 1974 with her then producer David Mackay, but it was not heard publicly until 2003 when it was included on a retrospective collection entitled Cilla: The Best of 1963–78.
In his 1969 study of popular music history Awopbopaloobop Alopbamboom, the rock music journalist Nik Cohn wrote:
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 patronised 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 institutionalised.Later music career
In 1993 she released Through the Years, an album of new material featuring a number of duets with Dusty Springfield, Cliff Richard andBarry Manilow. Ten years later, she released the album Beginnings ... Greatest Hits and New Songs.
During 2006–07, Black's 1971 single "Something Tells Me (Something's Gonna Happen Tonight)" was used as the soundtrack to a new British advertising campaign for Ferrero Rocher chocolates.
During the 2008–09 pantomime season, Black returned to live musical performance in the pantomime Cinderella, appearing as the Fairy Godmother. Black was part of an all-Scouse cast assembled in this three-hour stage spectacular to mark the end of Liverpool's year asEuropean Capital of Culture. The show incorporated a number of Black's successes, which she performed live, including "You're My World", "Something Tells Me (Something's Gonna Happen Tonight)", "Step Inside Love" and "Sing a Rainbow". Black received rave reviews for her singing and overall performance.
On 7 September 2009, a total of 13 original studio albums (the first seven produced by George Martin) recorded by Black between 1963 and 2003 were released for digital download. These albums featured an array of musical genres. Also released by EMI at the same time was a double album and DVD set, The Definitive Collection (A Life in Music), featuring rare BBC video footage; a digital download album of specially commissioned re-mixes Cilla All Mixed Up; a remixed single on digital download of "Something Tells Me (Something's Gonna Happen Tonight)".
For the 2010 winter pantomime season, Black appeared in Cinderella at the Waterside Theatre in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire.
In October 2013, Parlophone Records (the record label which launched her career in 1963) released the career-spanning CD The Very Best Of Cilla Black —containing all 19 of her UK Top 40 singles, new club remixes plus a bonus DVD of her 1966 TV music special Cilla at the Savoy.
Black was the best-selling British female recording artist in the UK during the 1960s and released 15 studio albums and 37 singles in total.
Black was offered her own show on the BBC by Bill Cotton, then Assistant Head of Light Entertainment. The first series of Cilla was broadcast on Tuesday 30 January 1968. On the first show, her guest was Tom Jones and the two music stars sang a duet together. Paul McCartney (without Lennon) wrote the theme tune - another chart success for Black - entitled "Step Inside Love". This song was later covered by Madeline Bell. The series featured guest appearances by many stars of the era (including Henry Mancini, Johnny Mathis, Andy Williams, Charles Aznavour, Matt Monro, Sacha Distel, Donovan, Georgie Fame, Ethel Merman, the Shadows, and Phil Everly).
This success paved the way for a lengthy television career which continued until 2003. Black began the 1970s by appearing on the BBC's highly rated review of the sixties music scene Pop Go The Sixties, performing "Anyone Who Had a Heart" on the show broadcast across Europe and BBC1, on 31 December 1969.
Like so many of her contemporaries, during the 1970s, Black's musical career declined, although she toured often. Increasingly thought of as a television personality. Her BBC series, Cilla ran for almost a decade, racking up eight seasons (66 episodes) between January 1968 and April 1976. The theme songs from the Cilla series were also successful. Step Inside Love opened the series for the runs in 1968 and 1969 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 Black's last top ten success. "Baby, We Can't Go Wrong" was used for the 1974 series and was a minor success, reaching number 36, Black's last UK chart song until 1993. "It's Now" was the final theme from the 1976 series and failed to reach the charts, though it was released as a "B" side.
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. Black had been asked to sing for the 1968 contest and was asked again for the 1970 event, but declined because she was pregnant at the time.
In 2007, Black took part in the BBC Wales programme Coming Home about her Welsh family history, with roots in Wrexham andHolywell.Comedy actress
On 15 January 1975, Black performed as the main entertainer of the first of six half-hour situation comedy plays. The series which was broadcast on ITV was entitled Cilla's Comedy Six and written by Ronnie Taylor. During May 1975, the Writers' Guild of Great Britainnamed Black as Britain's Top Female Comedy Star. The following year, ATV was commissioned to film six more plays as the initial series had accrued healthy viewing figures and remained constantly among the best scoring three shows of the week. During August 1976, Black reprised her role as a comedy-actress in Cilla's World of Comedy which featured her theme song and new single "Easy in Your Company".
From 2013 to 2014, Black was set to co-star in a new BBC sitcom Led Astray, alongside Paul O'Grady - the pilot episode was recorded on 31 October 2013. However the show was shelved due to the pair being unable to cope with the long hours of filming.LWT
By the beginning of the 1980s, Black was performing mainly in cabaret and concert and television appearances were rare. According toChristopher Biggins in his autobiography, she "stormed back into the public consciousness with a barnstorming performance as a guest onWogan in 1983, proving that we can all have second chances" and after her appearance, people were "desperately trying to find her the right comeback vehicle".
Black signed a contract with London Weekend Television, becoming the host of two of the most popular and long-running evening entertainment shows of the 1980s and 1990s—Blind Date (1985–2003) and Surprise Surprise (1984–2001). She also presented the game show 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 made her spoken mannerisms ("Lorra lorra laughs", for example) and her habit of referring familiarly to her fellow presenters ("Our Graham") well known.Later television work
Black's most notable television performances after her resignation from LWT included Parkinson, So Graham Norton, Friday Night with Jonathan Ross, Room 101 and a one off show titled 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 guest presented editions of The Paul O'Grady Showand The Friday Night Project for Channel 4 in 2006 and 2007 respectively.
In 2008, Black recorded a pilot for a dating show for Sky One. Loveland was to be a ten-part "21st century" dating programme for the channel for the next year. Unlike on Blind Date, contestants would not sit in front of a studio audience, but 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. Production costs, however, were too high and it was terminated.
In October 2009, Black guest anchored Loose Women and between September 2010 and June 2011, she made guest panellist appearances.
On 28 November 2009, Black appeared on Sky1 to present TV's Greatest Endings. She also appeared as herself in the first episode of series 4 of ITV's Benidorm in 2011. She also appeared as the guest host of Never Mind the Buzzcocks on 5 December 2011.50 years in showbusiness
ITV honoured Black's 50 years in show business with a one off entertainment special which aired on 16 October 2013. The show, calledThe One & Only Cilla Black starred Black alongside Paul O'Grady, who hosted the show. The show celebrated Black's career including a special trip back to Black's hometown Liverpool, a host of celebrity friends and some surprise music guests. Black paid homage to Blind Date with the return of its most popular contestants and saw her star in a special edition of Coronation Street.
TV biopic drama
In 2014, Black was the subject of a three-part television drama series, Cilla, focusing especially on her rise to fame in 1960s Liverpool and her relationship with Bobby Willis. ITV aired the first instalment on 15 September 2014, starring BAFTA-award winning actress Sheridan Smith.
Black was married to her manager, Bobby Willis, for more than 30 years until he died from lung cancer on 23 October 1999. They had three sons: Robert (who became her manager, born 1970), Ben (born 1974) and Jack (born 1980). Their daughter, Ellen (born 1975), was born prematurely and suffered lung complications, living for only two hours.Politics
Black was a staunch supporter of the Conservative Party during the 1980s and publicly voiced her admiration of Margaret Thatcher, stating in 1993 that Thatcher "put the Great into Great Britain". In April 1992 she appeared on stage at a Conservative Party rally and made prominent calls for the party's re-election under the leadership of John Major. In later years, Black was no longer a Conservative supporter: she told The Guardian in 2004 that she was "apolitical", and in 2011 the Liverpool Echo quoted her as saying: "[A]s for the politics thing, I'm not a Conservative."
In August 2014, Black was one of 200 public figures who were signatories to a letter to The Guardian opposing Scottish independence in the run-up to September's referendum on that issue.Death
Black died at her holiday home near Marbella, Spain on 2 August 2015. She was 72. Police are awaiting results of a post mortem examination but say that her death was likely to have been from natural causes. Black had previously said that she wanted to die when she reached 75.
- 1963–73: George Martin
- 1974–77: David Mackay
- 1978: Mike Hurst
- 1980: Bruce Welch
- 1985: David Mackay
- 1990: Rod Edwards
- 1993: Charlie Skarbek
- 2003: Ted Carfrae
In 2014, Black was the recipient of the British Academy Television Awards' "Special Award" in honour of her contribution to entertainment for the previous 50 years.
- Step Inside. London: Dent 1985. ISBN 0-460-04695-0.
- What's It All About?. Ebury Press 2003. ISBN 0-09-189036-5.
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