Shirley Bassey Early Life
Shirley Bassey was born on January 8, 1937, in Cardiff, Wales. A singer since childhood, Bassey’s bold voice, along with her perseverance, helped her move beyond her impoverished upbringing. Of mixed-race heritage (with an English mother and a Nigerian father), Bassey reached a level of international acclaim that few other black British performers had seen before her. She recorded numerous hits throughout her career, including the theme songs for three James Bond films: Goldfinger, Diamonds Are Forever and Moonraker.
Booking agent Michael Sullivan spotted her talent and put her forward for her first major shows, leading to the release of a first single, ‘Burn My Candle (At Both Ends)’, recorded when Shirley was just 19. A string of hits followed as the young star was paraded on both sides of the Atlantic, scoring the first number one single by a Welsh artist, ‘Hands Across the Sea’, in 1959.
The singer is also no stranger to personal tragedy. In 1967 her first husband and manager, Kenneth Hume, died of an ‘incautious overdose’ two years after their divorce. Shirley’s second daughter, Samantha, was born during the marriage (but was not fathered by Hume, who was later allegedly gay), but she too died, tragically, aged 21. The circumstances surrounding her death are unclear; Bassey has always belived emphatically that it was not a suicide. After Samantha’s death, Dame Shirley sold off several of her houses and has auctioned many of her jewels and gowns, raising £250,000 at a charity sale in 2003.
Who is Shirley Veronica Bassey?
Shirley Veronica Bassey was born in the Tiger Bay section of Cardiff, Wales, on January 8, 1937. She was the youngest daughter of seven children born to a Yorkshire mother and Nigerian father. Bassey’s mixed-race heritage (her mother was English, while her father was Nigerian) made her stand out there.
Dame Shirley Bassey career began when she was 15, singing in pubs and clubs around the Tiger Bay district of Cardiff, where she grew up. Bassey struggled to get attention in the large family, who were baffled by her powerful voice and often told her to stop singing. At 16, she became pregnant with a daughter, Sharon, who was raised by her sister as Shirley’s career took off.
In 1952, Bassey left school to work in a factory. She also sang in pubs, and, at 16, was cast in a musical revue. Those performances came to an end when she got pregnant. But, after giving birth and leaving her daughter Sharon in the care of a sister, Bassey soon started to perform again.
Shirley Bassey’s Family
Unfortunately, Shirley Bassey’s family life wasn’t as successful as her career. It wasn’t until Bassey’s daughter Sharon was nine years old that she learned Bassey was her mother. In 1963, Bassey gave birth to another daughter, Samantha. Just as with her first child, she wouldn’t name Samantha’s father. Bassey married twice, to Kenneth Hume and Sergio Novak, but both marriages ended in divorce. She was also estranged from her adopted son, Mark, for several years.
The most difficult blow for Bassey was the death of her daughter, Samantha, in 1985. The death was considered an accidental drowning, but, in a 2009 interview, Bassey admitted she had doubts about that conclusion. After receiving information that a convicted killer had stated he was involved with Bassey’s daughter, the police reinvestigated Samantha’s death in 2010, but found no evidence of criminal involvement.
Agent Mike Sullivan
When agent Mike Sullivan heard Shirley Bassey singing, he was impressed enough with her powerfully expressive voice to begin managing her career. It was at this time that Bassey started to adopt the cleavage-baring tops and gowns that would become her signature look.
Bassey released her first single, “Burn My Candle,” when she was 19 years old. In 1957, she had her first hit with “Banana Boat Song.” Her worldwide popularity took off when she sang “Goldfinger” for the 1964 James Bond movie of the same name.
She also sang the theme songs for two other Bond films, Diamonds Are Forever and Moonraker. These Bond songs, along with her interpretations of numbers like “Big Spender” and “I Am What I Am,” made Bassey’s career an unmitigated success.
Shirley Bassey Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire
Shirley Bassey was made a dame commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2000. It was another mark of distinction in a career that has seen her sell over 135 million records. Her iconic voice has the power to sell out tours and performances, and her persona stills embodies the essence of the true diva.
Bassey continues to be lauded for her unforgettable voice, and for her sex appeal. She even received a standing ovation at the 2013 Academy Awards for her performance of “Goldfinger.” Bassey has truly come a long way from her humble beginnings.
In her own words, Shirley Veronica Bassey will be only be truly happy again when she retires from the limelight.
Dame Shirley Veronica Bassey Biography and Profile