Dame Shirley Bassey
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.
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.
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 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.
Although she has a reputation as a 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.”