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Bassey, Shirley (1937– )

One of the most popular female vocalists in Britain during the last half of the twentieth century, Dame Shirley Veronica Bassey is a Welsh singer best known for recording the theme song to three James Bond movies: Goldfinger, Diamonds Are Forever, and Moonraker. Born the youngest child to Nigerian Henry Bassey and Englishwoman Eliza Jane Start on January 8, 1937, in Cardiff, Wales, her career began in the mid-1950s.

From a young age, her strong voice was noticed, but she received very little encouragement. Bassey found employment at a factory while singing in public houses and clubs after leaving school at the age of fourteen because of her family’s poverty. After she signed her first professional contract in 1953, she sang in Memories of Joslin and later in Hot from Harlem. Pregnant at age sixteen, Bassey returned to waiting tables in Cardiff, Wales.

In 1955 she toured various theatres where impresario Jack Hylton noticed her and invited her to appear in the film Such Is Life. She was spotted by producer Johnny Franz who offered her a recording deal which led to her first single at nineteen, titled “Burn My Candle,” released in February 1956. Even though it was banned by BBC, the recording sold well and by February 1957, her next hit, “The Banana Boat Song,” reached number eight in the UK Singles Chart. Upon making her American debut in Las Vegas, Nevada in 1958, she recorded two singles, “As I Love You” and “Hands Across the Sea.” A few months later, Bassey signed with Columbia Records, beginning the second phase of her career. She recorded the theme for the movie Goldfinger in 1964 with Columbia.

Despite her success with the theme from Goldfinger, her career declined. For two years between 1968 and 1970 she was a tax exile from Great Britain and unable to work. Her comeback in 1970 in the United Kingdom led to one of the most successful periods of her career with a BBC special titled, The Young Generation Meets Shirley Bassey, and a record-breaking performance at a Talk of the Town nightclub. Between 1970