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Shirley Bassey - Biography

She is a Welsh singer born in 1937 in Cardiff, best known for singing several Bond standards such as 'Diamonds Are Forever' and 'Goldfinger'

Dame Shirley Bassey attends the 65th Evening Standard Theatre Awards in association with Michael Kors at the London Coliseum on November 24, 2019 in London, England© Getty Images
Ahad Sanwari
Ahad Sanwari - New York
Senior WriterNew York
Updated: June 29, 2023
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Who is Shirley Bassey?

Shirley Veronica Bassey was born Tiger Bay, a dockside region of Cardiff, Wales, on January 8, 1937, where she was raised. The mixed race artist was "painfully shy" as a youngster, the last of seven children born to a white mother and a Nigerian father Henry, whom Shirley never knew. 

Shirley Bassey's Rise to Fame and Success

Two years after dropping out of school aged 14, the aspiring performer launched her career in the variety show Memories Of Jolson, a musical celebration of the life of Lithuanian-American actor Al Jolson. She devoted the next few years of her life to traveling and taking her talents on the road, performing at various shows in Wales.

She appeared in a handful of other shows that toured around England and, after returning home in 1955, recorded her first single, 'Burn My Candle' the following year, which she featured in the West End show Such Is Life

Compared often with the likes of Eartha Kitt, Lena Horne, and Judy Garland Shirley scored the first of a string of hits with the 'The Banana Boat Song' in 1957. But her global popularity skyrocketed when she was the voice of the 007 theme song, 'Goldfinger,' in 1964, bringing her voice to the American market like never before after establishing herself as a standard in the UK. She would later also sing the Bond classics 'Diamonds Are Forever' and 'Moonraker,' making her a household name.

Following her Bond-girl golden days and a prosperous decade in the '70s, she entered semi-retirement and worked on compilation albums while training her voice. In 1999, she reentered the UK Top 40 with 'History Repeating,' a collaboration with Propellerheads, after being absent from the charts for nearly 25 years. Her influence, career success and iconic stature led her to be named Dame of the British Empire by the Queen in 1999. Her most recent album (as of writing) is 2020's I Owe It All To You.

Shirley Bassey's Personal Life

Her career hit rocky shores in the Sixties when it was discovered that her elder daughter Sharon, born when Shirley was a teenager, was raised by Shirley's sister for the first nine years of her life. Also during that time, first husband Kenneth, whom she married in 1961 and divorced four years later, committed suicide. Her second marriage, to Italian producer Sergio Novak, also ended in divorce. 

And in 1985, soon after Shirley went into semi-retirement in Switzerland, one of her three children, daughter Samantha, was found dead aged 22 in a river near a Bristol bridge. The cause of her death remains a mystery, which Shirley to this day criticises and challenges. Her surviving children are daughter Sharon and son Mark, who was originally her grand-nephew whom she adopted while married to Novak. Shirley is now a doting grandmother and great grandmother.

And yet the show-stopper continues on. Upon hitting her 74 year old milestone and celebrating over 50 years in music, Dame Shirley announced that she was releasing a new album - her first new work in over a decade - an album titled I Owe It All To You

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