As our regulars know, songbirds — the ladies who sang in the big band era — are often featured on the GMC, and today we’re taking a look at one of the best of the British practitioners of the art. Not the legendary Vera Lynn (who is still around at age 97) but rather the less-remembered Anne Shelton, a much-beloved singer who tirelessly entertained British armed forces during World War II.
Born near London as Patricia Jacqueline Sibley, she was an early bloomer who began singing on the radio at age 12 and had a recording contract while still in her mid-teens. World War II broke out not too long after, and she kept a low profile at first but eventually began tirelessly touring British military bases, building up a lot of goodwill along the way. She became a favorite of soldiers, sailors, and especially flyers, who enjoyed songs like “Coming In on a Wing and a Prayer” and “Silver Wings in the Moonlight.” She also became the first singer to record an English version of the German song, “Lili Marlene” — supposedly Winston Churchill’s idea — when it became popular with servicemen on both sides of the conflict. (Sounds like a good candidate for a future Anatomy of a Song feature.)
Shelton became so popular that she was invited to sing with Glenn Miller, whose Army-Air Force band was doing a series of concerts in England, but she had to turn down his offer to tour across the channel because of prior commitments. (Not too long after, his plane was lost at sea.) She also worked with Bing Crosby, who always praised her singing ability, and had a very popular radio show for several years both during and after the war.
In the post-war years Shelton was able to break into the U.S. market with some of her records and also did a musical tour, but she continued to be most popular in her native land. She finally enjoyed her first #1 record in 1956 with “Lay Down Your Arms,” a song that was very reminiscent of her war-time hits. In subsequent years she continued to entertain and make records, but her popularity gradually went downhill as listeners moved on to modern sounds. Nevertheless, she hung on to a strong core group of fans and continued to entertain them almost up until her death in 1994 at age 70.