Although she has never quite conquered the American market in a consistent way, one of the biggest stars in Great Britain over the past half-century has been Shirley Bassey. Enormously popular in her home country, she remains mostly a mystery to American music fans who only know her as the brassy voice on the familiar theme song from the James Bond film, Goldfinger. But there is a lot more to her story.
Growing up in Cardiff, Wales, as the youngest of seven children born to an English mother and a Nigerian father, Bassey was always musically inclined. Even after she began working in a factory job as a teenager in the 1950s, she found opportunities to sing in after-hours spots, and eventually managed to work her way into area touring shows and revues.
Within a few years she’d grown popular enough to land a recording contract, and found success with tunes like “Banana Boat Song,” and “As I Love You,” which reached number one on British charts. Often called ‘Bassey the Belter’ for her strong and vibrant voice, she continued to do well into the 1960s with another chart-topper, “Reach for the Stars/Climb Every Mountain,” and a new partnership with Nelson Riddle, the first salvo in her assault on the American market.
Over the next few years, Bassey would star in stage shows in New York and Las Vegas, and “Goldfinger” would become her highest-charted record in America (although it didn’t do as well in Great Britain). But even though she would later sell a lot of records with other Bond movie themes like “Diamonds Are Forever” and “Moonraker,” she eventually returned to working mostly in her native land.
In subsequent decades she would remain enormously popular with British fans, winning the Britannia Award for Best Female Solo Singer of the Last 50 Years, and would continue to churn out hits like “Something,” and “For All We Know.” She would also host her own successful TV show, make countless special appearances, and even open her own Cardiff nightclub before finally slowing down a little. But she still tours and performs from time to time — and is still beloved by her many fans.