Earlier this week, the amazing Dame Shirley Bassey celebrated a birthday. She was born on January 8, 1937, and found fame in the 1950s, singing with a beautiful instrument. By the 1960s, she was best known for singing some of the great movie theme songs out there, from the James Bond films Goldfinger (1964), Diamonds Are Forever (1971), and Moonraker (1979). The supple and rich tone of her voice, coupled with a true exuberance, was often amazing, and never disappointing.
She has often been referred to as the most successful female vocalist in the UK for the 20th century, and some would argue she was the tops for all times. And it would be hard to argue with that, as she has sustained a career for over six decades, and shows no signs of of lessening the glow of her talent. "For services to entertainment", Bassey was created a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) on 31 December 1999 by Queen Elizabeth II. She was awarded France's top honor, the Legion d'Honneur, to signify her popularity and importance in the culture of France.
But all that can take a back seat to what brought such accolades, the voice. Here is a collection of songs Bassey has performed that had their start in a Broadway musical, starting with a little number from a Broadway musical I first saw while on a trip the London back in the 1970s. A Chorus Line opened on Broadway in 1975 to much acclaim. And a great deal of that was given to Marvin Hamlisch, who composed the music with lyricist Edward Kleban. Here is Dame Shirley singing Kiss Today Goodbye from A Chorus Line.
With music by the immortal Jule Styne, and lyrics by the brilliant Bob Merrill, how could a show go wrong? Based on the life and love of singer/comedienne Fanny Brice, Funny Girl opened to rave reviews in 1964. Oh, yes, it had a little-known performer playing Fanny, a Miss Barbra Streisand. And here is Dame Shirley to sing People from Funny Girl.
Well, what can be said about any show that has music and lyrics by the incomparable Stephen Sondheim? Other than to say this song seems just perfect for Bassey, sitting in a luscious spot in her register, and her history certainly adding a layer or two of depth and pain. Dame Shirley sings Send In The Clowns from A Little Night Music.
Bassey can do more than just nail a ballad, that is for sure. In 1966, a little music with musical with music by Cy Coleman, lyrics by Dorothy Fields and book by Neil Simon, opened on Broadway to stellar reviews. It was directed and choreographed by Bob Fosse, and starred Fosse's wife, Gwen Verdon. The show about working girls in Times Square offers Dame Shirley an opportunity to have a bit of fun when she sings the delicious Hey Big Spender from Sweet Charity.