Cilla Black

Cilla Black
Cilla Black
Birth name Priscilla Maria Veronica White
Born 27 May 1943 (1943-05-27) (age 68)
Origin Liverpool, England
Genres Pop, Merseybeat, Soul, Adult contemporary
Occupations Singer, television presenter, actress
Instruments Vocal
Years active 1963–Present
Labels Parlophone, EMI, Towerbell, Columbia, Virgin
Associated acts Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, The Big Three, Dusty Springfield, Cliff Richard, Barry Manilow, The Beatles

Cilla Black OBE (born Priscilla Maria Veronica White, 27 May 1943) is an English singer, actress, entertainer and media personality, who has been consistently popular as a light entertainment figure since 1963. She is most famous for her singles Anyone Who Had A Heart, You're My World, and Alfie. After a successful recording career and a brief time as a comedy actress, she became the best paid female presenter in British television history. In September 2009, Black's 45 years in showbusiness were celebrated by EMI (the record label which launched her career in 1963) with the release of a new CD/DVD set alongside an album of club remixes (aka Cilla All Mixed Up). In May 2010, new research published by BBC Radio 2 claimed that Cilla Black's version of Anyone Who Had a Heart was the UK's biggest selling single by a female artist in the 1960s.[1]


Early life and career

Priscilla White was born in Liverpool, England to a Protestant father and a Catholic mother.[citation needed]. Determined to become an entertainer, she got a part-time job as a cloakroom attendant at Liverpool's Cavern Club, best known for its association with The Beatles. Impromptu performances impressed The Beatles and others. She was encouraged to start singing by Liverpool promoter, Sam Leach,who gave her her first gig at the Cassanova Club, where she appeared as "Swinging Cilla". She became a guest singer with the Merseybeat bands Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, Kingsize Taylor and the Dominoes and, later, with The Big Three. She was also, meantime, a waitress at the Zodiac coffee lounge, where she was to meet her future husband Bobby Willis. She was featured in an article in the first edition of the local music newspaper Mersey Beat; the paper's publisher, Bill Harry, mistakenly referred to her as Cilla Black, rather than White, and she decided she liked the name, and took it as a stage name.[2]

She originally signed her first contract with long time friend and neighbour, Terry McCann, but this contract was never honoured because it was signed when she was under-age, and her father signed her with Brian Epstein.

Brian 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 writes:

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 debut single, Love of the Loved (written by Lennon and McCartney), which was released only three weeks after she contracted 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 a cover of the Burt Bacharach-Hal David composition Anyone Who Had a Heart which had been written for Dionne Warwick. The single scored #1 in Britain and sold 800,000 copies there.[3] Her second UK #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 in Australia, New Zealand, Europe, South Africa and Canada. Both songs sold over one million copies, and were awarded gold discs.[4]

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.

Black belonged to a generation of British female singers which included Dusty Springfield, Petula Clark, Sandie Shaw, and Lulu. These artists were not singer-songwriters but interpreters of 1960s contemporary popular music song writers/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 Loving Feeling" reached no. 2 in the UK charts and was stopped from going to no. 1 by the original version of the same song, performed by The Righteous Brothers. 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.

Being so closely associated with The Beatles, Black became the first artist to cover many Lennon-McCartney compositions. Her recordings of Yesterday, For No One and Across The Universe were acclaimed critically and 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 begun enthusiastically 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 a success with "You're My World", which made it to #26 on the Billboard chart. The song was to be her only stateside 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 US 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 just as she was starting to become popular in the US.

During 1966, Black recorded the Bacharach-David song "Alfie", inspired by the film, Alfie. While the song was not included on the UK film version, Cher sang "Alfie" on the closing credits of the US version. Alfie went on to become a success for Dionne Warwick in the States and it was a major success for Black in the UK, scoring #9 on the British charts. 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..." [5]

By the end of 1966, Black 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 EndWay 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 make Black a film actress were less successful. A brief appearance in the "beat" film Ferry Cross the Mersey and a leading role alongside David Warner in the 1968 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 during 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 during the year prior to his death, due largely to the fact that Epstein was not paying her enough attention, and due partly to his 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 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 association continued. At a Cannes Film Festival during the 1970s, Black joined George Harrison, Ringo Starr and popular music star Marc Bolan to attend a screening of the John Lennon-Yoko Ono experimental film Erection. She also holidayed with them on a 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 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 re-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; during 1993 Black released 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 popular music history Awopbopaloobop Alopbamboom, the rock music 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.

Black was one of the best-selling female recording artists in Britain during the 1960s. To date, she has released 15 studio albums and 37 singles. During 2006–2007, 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 as European 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.[6][7][8][9]

On 7 September 2009, a total of 13 original studio albums (the first seven produced by Sir George Martin) recorded by Black between 1963 and 2003 were released for digital download. These albums were all digitally re-mastered and 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)".[10]

For the winter 2010 pantomime season, Black appeared in Cinderella at the Aylesbury Waterside Theatre in Buckinghamshire.[11]

Television career


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. The two popular 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. Henry Mancini, Ringo Starr, Donovan, Georgie Fame and Dusty Springfield were among the artistes who appeared in the first series of Cilla. But many programmes were later wiped. Her BBC show was relatively successful and paved the way for a lengthy television career which continued intermittently 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 live on the show broadcast across Europe and BBC1, on December 31, 1969. Black recorded her performance for this show separately, in a different studio without an audience, although she did sing live.[12]

Like so many of her contemporaries, during the 1970s her musical career declined, although she toured often. Increasingly thought of as a television "personality", she found herself experimenting with situation comedy for ITV. Her BBC series, Cilla, continued successfully until 1976, recessing during 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 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 was originally asked to sing for the UK in 1968 and was asked again for the 1970 contest, but declined because she was pregnant at the time.

Comedy actress

On the 15 January 1975, Black performed as 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[13] and written by Ronnie Taylor. During May 1975, the Writer's Guild of Great Britain named 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[14] which featured her theme song and new single "Easy In Your Company".

London Weekend Television

By the beginning of the 1980s, Black was performing mainly in cabaret and concert and absent from television since a 1978 Thames Television special. In 1983, she appeared on the BBC's Wogan programme. Her appearance on this peak-time talk show was a major success, and her career in television was resurrected.

She 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 best-paid female performer on British television.[15]

Her TV appearances have made her spoken mannerisms ("Lorra lorra laughs", for example) and her habit of referring familiarly to her fellow presenters ("Our Graham") well known.

Recent TV work

Notable television performances since her resignation from LWT have 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 recently[when?] guest presented editions of The Paul O'Grady Show and The Friday Night Project for Channel 4.

Black filmed a pilot dating show for Sky One during 2008. The project referred to as Loveland was to be a ten-part "21st century" dating programme for the channel for the next year. Unlike on Blind Date, which Black hosted for 18 years, contestants would not sit in front of a studio audience but would 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.[16]

On 10 October 2009, Black appeared as a guest on Piers Morgan's Life Stories.

In October 2009, Black guest anchored Loose Women and between September 2010 and June 2011, Black made 10 guest panellist appearances.

On 28 November 2009, she appeared on the channel Sky 1 to present TV's Greatest Endings.

She also appeared as herself in the first episode of Series 4 of ITV comedy-drama Benidorm in 2011.[17]

Personal life

She attended St. Anthony's School,[18] which was behind St. Anthony's Church in Scotland Road,[19] and Anfield Commercial College.[18]

She was married to her manager Bobby Willis for more than 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 1974), and Jack (born in 1980). Her daughter, Ellen (born in 1975), was 13 weeks premature and died two hours after birth.[20]

On 4 August 2004, Black became a grandmother when her eldest son, Robert, and his wife, Fiona, had their first child, Max.[citation needed] Her second grandchild, Alana, was born on 6 February 2007.[citation needed]

Black has been a keen supporter of the British Conservative Party. During 1992 she made prominent calls for the party's re-election.[21].She was very supportive of Margaret Thatcher.[citation needed]


Record producers



  1. ^ "Biggest selling chart stars of the '60s". Telegraph News. 1 June 2010. Retrieved 2 June 2010. 
  2. ^ Spitz, Bob (2005). The Beatles: The Biography. New York: Little, Brown and Company. pp. 264–265. ISBN 0-316-80352-9. 
  3. ^ "All Music Guide Cilla Black > Biography". 12 April 2009. Retrieved 9 April 2009. 
  4. ^ Murrells, Joseph (1978). The Book of Golden Discs (2nd ed.). London: Barrie and Jenkins Ltd. pp. 172–173. ISBN 0-214-20512-6. 
  5. ^ "Cilla - What's It All About". Stage & Screen. Lily Savage. 21 December 2003. Archived from the original on 2009-10-26. Retrieved 5 February 2008. 
  6. ^ "Panto: Cinderella's Got The Magic". 17 December 2008. Retrieved 9 January 2009. 
  7. ^ "Cilla & Co In A Scouse Panto Cracker". 16 December 2008. Retrieved 9 January 2009. 
  8. ^ Lee, Veronica (22 December 2008). "Cilla Sparkles In An Evening Of Fabness". The Daily Telegraph (London). Retrieved 9 January 2009. 
  9. ^ "We Love Cilla Black". 5 January 2009. Retrieved 9 January 2009. 
  10. ^ "Cilla Black celebrating her 45th Year (Press Release)". Retrieved 30 July 2009. 
  11. ^ Cilla Black stars in Cinderella at Aylesbury Waterside (From Bucks Free Press)
  12. ^ BFI | Film & TV Database | POP GO THE SIXTIES! (1969)
  13. ^ "IMDb > "Cilla's Comedy Six" (1975)". Retrieved 14 May 2009. 
  14. ^ "IMDb > "Cilla's World of Comedy" (1976)". Retrieved 14 May 2009. 
  15. ^ "Cilla Black to host BBC game show". BBC News. 14 March 2004. Retrieved 20 December 2008. 
  16. ^ "CILLA BLACK - CILLA BLACK RETURNS TO TV WITH ANIMATED DATING SHOW". 6 August 2008. Retrieved 16 August 2008. 
  17. ^ "Video: Cilla Black in 'Benidorm'". Digital Spy. 24 February 2011. Retrieved 24 February 2011. 
  18. ^ a b "What's your name and where d'ya come from?". Local History – Liverpool. BBC. Retrieved 5 February 2008. 
  19. ^ "St. Anthony's Church - Scotland Road". Scotland Road 2003. Scottie Press. Retrieved 5 February 2008. 
  20. ^ "Cilla Black's tears over the death of premature baby girl 'Ellen' 34 years ago". Daily Mail. Associated Newspapers Ltd. 8 October 2009. Retrieved 10 October 2009. 
  21. ^ Smith, Giles (12 October 1993), "The only bird in a beat boy's world", The Independent (London), .

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