Cilla Black

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Cilla Black
Cilla Black (1970).jpg
Black in 1970
Background information
Birth name Priscilla Maria Veronica White
Born (1943-05-27)27 May 1943
Vauxhall, Liverpool, England
Died 1 August 2015(2015-08-01) (aged 72)
Estepona, Málaga, Spain
  • Singer
  • television presenter
  • actress
Instruments Vocals
Years active 1963–2015
Associated acts

Priscilla Maria Veronica White OBE (27 May 1943 – 1 August 2015), known by her stage name Cilla Black, was an English singer, television presenter and actress.

Championed by her friends the Beatles, she began her career as a singer in 1963, and her singles "Anyone Who Had a Heart" and "You're My World" both reached number one in the UK in 1964. Black had eleven Top Ten hits on the British charts between then and 1971. In May 2010, new research published by BBC Radio 2 showed that her version of "Anyone Who Had a Heart" was the UK's biggest selling single by a female artist in the 1960s.[1] "You're My World" was also a modest hit in the US, peaking at No. 26 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Along with a successful recording career in the 1960s and early 1970s, Black hosted her own variety show, Cilla, for the BBC between 1968 and 1976. After a brief time as a comedy actress in the mid-1970s, she became a prominent television presenter in the 1980s and 1990s, hosting hit entertainment shows such as Blind Date (1985–2003) and Surprise Surprise (1984–2001).

In 2013, Black celebrated her 50 years in show business. British television network ITV honoured this milestone with a one-off entertainment special which aired on 16 October 2013. The show, called The One & Only Cilla Black, featured Black herself and was hosted by Paul O'Grady.[2]

Cilla Black died on 1 August 2015 after a fall in her villa in Estepona, Spain. The day after her funeral, the compilation album The Very Best of Cilla Black went to number one on the UK Albums Chart; it was her first number one album.

Early life[edit]

Priscilla White was born in Liverpool, England, on 27 May 1943 and grew up in the Scotland Road area of the city. Her parents were John Patrick White (1904–1971) and Priscilla Blythen (1911–1996). She had a Welsh grandfather, Joseph Henry Blythen (1883–1966), who was born in Wrexham, and Irish great-grandparents on both her father's and mother's sides of the family.[3][4] She was raised in a Roman Catholic household, and attended St. Anthony's School,[5] situated behind St. Anthony's Church in Scotland Road,[6] and Anfield Commercial College, where she learnt office skills.[5][7]

Determined to become an entertainer, Cilla White gained a part-time job as a cloakroom attendant at Liverpool's Cavern Club, best known for its connection with the Beatles. Her impromptu performances impressed the Beatles and others. She was encouraged to begin singing by a Liverpool promoter, Sam Leach, who booked her first gig at the Casanova Club, on London Road, where she appeared as "Swinging Cilla". She became a guest singer with the Merseybeat bands Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, Kingsize Taylor and the Dominoes and, later, with the Big Three. Meanwhile, she worked as a waitress at the Zodiac coffee lounge, where she later met her future husband Bobby Willis. She was featured in an article in the first edition of the local music newspaper Mersey Beat by the paper's publisher, Bill Harry, who mistakenly referred to her as Cilla Black, rather than her real surname, White. She then took the name Black as part of her stage name.[8]

Music career[edit]

Before August 1967[edit]

Black signed her first contract with long-time friend and neighbour, Terry McCann, but this contract was never honoured as it was made when she was under age (the age of majority was then 21) and her father subsequently signed her with Brian Epstein.[7]

She was introduced to Epstein by John Lennon, who persuaded him to audition her. John was encouraged by his Aunt Mimi to introduce Cilla to Epstein. Epstein had a portfolio of local artists but initially showed little interest in her. Her first audition was a failure, partly because of nerves, and partly because the Beatles (who supported her) played the songs in their usual vocal key rather than re-pitching them for Black's voice.[9] In her autobiography What's It All About? she wrote:[10]

I'd chosen to do "Summertime", but at the very last moment I wished I hadn't. I adored this song, and had sung it when I came to Birkenhead with the Big Three, but I hadn't rehearsed it with the Beatles and it had just occurred to me that they would play it in the wrong key. It was too late for second thoughts, though. With one last wicked wink at me, John set the group off playing. I'd been right to worry. The music was not in my key and any adjustments that the boys were now trying to make were too late to save me. My voice sounded awful. Destroyed—and wanting to die—I struggled on to the end.

But after seeing her another day, at the Blue Angel jazz club, Epstein contracted with Black as his only female client on 6 September 1963.[11] Epstein introduced Black to George Martin who signed her to Parlophone Records and produced her début single, "Love of the Loved" (written by Lennon and McCartney), which was released only three weeks after she joined Epstein. Despite an appearance on ABC Television's popular Thank Your Lucky Stars, the single peaked at a modest No. 35 in the UK, a relative failure compared to the débuts of Epstein's most successful artists (the Beatles, Gerry and the Pacemakers and Billy J. Kramer & the Dakotas).[12]

Black's second single, released at the beginning of 1964, was a cover of the Burt BacharachHal David composition "Anyone Who Had a Heart", which had been written for Dionne Warwick. The single beat Warwick's recording into the UK charts and rose to No. 1 in Britain in February 1964 (spending three weeks there), selling 800,000 UK copies in the process.[13] Her second UK No. 1 success, "You're My World", was an English-language rendition of the Italian popular song "Il Mio Mondo" by composer Umberto Bindi. She also enjoyed chart success with the song in Australia, New Zealand, Europe, South Africa and Canada. Both songs sold over one million copies worldwide, and were awarded gold discs.[14]

Black's two No. 1 successes were followed by the release of another Lennon–McCartney composition, "It's for You", as her fourth UK single. Paul McCartney played piano at the recording session and the song proved to be another success for Black, peaking at No. 7 on the UK charts.[15]

Black belonged to a generation of British female singers which included Dusty Springfield, Helen Shapiro, Petula Clark, Sandie Shaw and Lulu. These artists (other than Petula Clark) were not singer-songwriters but interpreters of 1960s contemporary popular music by song writers and producers. Black recorded much material during this time, including songs written by Phil Spector, Randy Newman, Tim Hardin and Burt Bacharach. All were produced by George Martin at Abbey Road Studios.[16]

Black's version of "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'" (1965) reached No. 2 on the UK charts in the same week that the Righteous Brothers' original version of the same song went to No. 1 there (week of 4 February 1965). This was the first of only three occasions in the history of the British Top 40 where the same song, recorded by two different artists, held the top two positions in the chart in the same week. The single wasn't critically well received, however; the Rolling Stones' manager Andrew Loog Oldham took out an advert in the Melody Maker to deride Cilla's efforts compared with the original.[17]

Being so closely associated with the Beatles, Black became one of a select group of artists in the 1964–65 period (the others being Billy J. Kramer & the Dakotas and Peter and Gordon) to record more than one Lennon–McCartney composition.[7] Black continued to record Lennon–McCartney compositions throughout her time with Parlophone (1963–1973) and her recordings of "Yesterday", "For No One" and "Across the Universe" became radio favourites. McCartney said Black's 1972 interpretation of "The Long and Winding Road" was the definitive version of the song.[9]

Black's career in the United States, although enthusiastically supported by Epstein and his PR team, was limited to a few television appearances (The Ed Sullivan Show among them), a 1965 cabaret season at the Plaza Hotel in New York, and success with "You're My World", which made it to No. 26 on the Billboard Hot 100.[18] The song was to be her only American Top 30 chart success, and Elvis Presley had a copy on his personal jukebox at his Graceland home. Black herself recognised that to achieve popular status in the USA she would need to devote much time to touring there. But she was plagued by homesickness and a sense of loneliness and returned to the UK.[19]

During 1966 Black recorded the Bacharach-David song "Alfie", written as the signature song to the 1966 feature film of the same name. While Cher sang "Alfie" on the closing credits of the American release of the film and Millicent Martin on the UK version, Black was the first and only artist to have a hit with the song in the UK (No. 9). "Alfie" went on to become a success for both Cher (in 1966) and Dionne Warwick (in 1967) in the US. Black's version of "Alfie" was arranged and conducted by Bacharach himself at the recording session at Abbey Road. Bacharach insisted on 31 separate takes, and Black cited the session as one of the most demanding of her recording career.[20] For Bacharach's part, he said "... there weren't too many white singers around, who could convey the emotion that I felt in many of the songs I wrote but that changed with people like Cilla Black".[21]

By the end of 1966, Black had been a guest on Peter Cook and Dudley Moore's show Not Only... But Also, had appeared on The Eamonn Andrews Show, and in a Ray GaltonAlan Simpson revue in London's West EndWay Out in Piccadilly—alongside Frankie Howerd, and had starred in the television special Cilla at the Savoy, which was one of the most watched music specials of the 1960s.[22]

Epstein's attempts to make Black a film actress were less successful. A brief appearance in the "beat" film Ferry 'Cross the Mersey (1965) and a leading role alongside David Warner in the psychedelic comedy Work Is a Four-Letter Word (1968) were largely ignored by film critics. In a 1997 interview with Record Collector magazine, Black revealed she was asked to appear in the film The Italian Job (1969), playing the part of Michael Caine's girlfriend, but negotiations fell through between producers and her management over her fee.[19]

Epstein died of an accidental drug overdose in August 1967, not long after negotiating a contract with the BBC for Black to appear in a television series of her own. Relations between Epstein and Black had somewhat soured during the year prior to his death, largely because he was not paying her career enough attention and the fact that her singles "A Fool Am I" (UK No. 13, 1966) and "What Good Am I?" (UK No. 24, 1967) were not big successes. Apparently Black was also unhappy with Epstein's public admission that he had taken LSD. In her autobiography, Black claimed that Epstein had tried to pacify her by negotiating a deal that would see her representing the UK in the 1968 Eurovision Song Contest. However, Black refused on the basis that Sandie Shaw had won the previous year's contest, and that the chances of another British female artist winning were improbable.[23]

After Epstein[edit]

Black's boyfriend and songwriter Bobby Willis assumed management responsibilities after Epstein died. After the relatively disappointing performance of "I Only Live to Love You" (UK No. 26, 1967), Black hit a new purple patch in her recording career, starting with "Step Inside Love" in 1968 (UK No. 8), which McCartney wrote especially for her as the theme for her new weekly BBC television variety series.[24] Other successes followed in 1969: "Conversations" (UK No. 7), "Surround Yourself With Sorrow" (written by Bill Martin, Phil Coulter, UK No. 3), "If I Thought You'd Ever Change Your Mind" (No. 20). Black had a further big hit with "Something Tells Me (Something's Gonna Happen Tonight)" (UK No. 3) in 1971.[15]

Black's association with the Beatles continued. At the 1971 Cannes Film Festival she joined George Harrison, Ringo Starr and singer Marc Bolan to attend a screening of the John LennonYoko Ono experimental film Erection. She also holidayed with Harrison and Starr on a trip aboard a yacht chartered by Starr. "Photograph" was written on this trip—originally intended for Black—but Starr decided to record it himself. George Harrison also wrote two songs for Black: "The Light that has Lighted the World" and "I'll Still Love You (When Every Song is Sung)". The latter she recorded during 1974 with her then producer David Mackay, but it was not heard publicly until 2003 when it was included on a retrospective collection entitled Cilla: The Best of 1963–78.[25]

Writing in 1969, the rock music journalist Nik Cohn wrote:

...she makes people glow. In her time, she will grow into a pop Gracie Fields, much loved entertainer, and she'll become institutionalised.[16]

Later music career[edit]

In 1993 she released Through the Years, an album of new material featuring duets with Dusty Springfield, Cliff Richard and Barry Manilow. Ten years later, she released the album Beginnings ... Greatest Hits and New Songs.[26]

During 2006–07, Black's 1971 single "Something Tells Me (Something's Gonna Happen Tonight)" was used as the soundtrack to a new British advertising campaign for Ferrero Rocher chocolates.[27] During the 2008–09 pantomime season, Black returned to live musical performance in the pantomime Cinderella, appearing as the Fairy Godmother. Black was part of an all-Scouse cast assembled in this three-hour stage spectacular to mark the end of Liverpool's year as European Capital of Culture. The show incorporated a number of Black's successes, which she performed live, including "You're My World", "Something Tells Me", "Step Inside Love" and "I Can Sing a Rainbow". Black received rave reviews for her singing and overall performance.[28][29][30][31]

On 7 September 2009, a total of 13 original studio albums (the first seven produced by George Martin) recorded by Black between 1963 and 2003 were released for digital download. These albums featured an array of musical genres. Also released by EMI at the same time was a double album and DVD set, The Definitive Collection (A Life in Music), featuring rare BBC video footage; a digital download album of specially commissioned re-mixes Cilla All Mixed Up; a remixed single on digital download of "Something Tells Me".[32]

For the 2010 winter pantomime season, Black appeared in Cinderella at the Waterside Theatre in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire.[33]

In October 2013, Parlophone (the record label which launched her career in 1963) released the career-spanning CD The Very Best of Cilla Black—containing all 19 of her UK Top 40 singles, new club remixes plus a bonus DVD of her 1966 TV music special Cilla at the Savoy.[34]

Black was the best-selling British female recording artist in the UK during the 1960s, releasing a total of 15 studio albums and 37 singles.[9]

Television career[edit]


Black was offered her own show on the BBC by Bill Cotton, then Assistant Head of Light Entertainment. The first series of Cilla was broadcast on Tuesday 30 January 1968. On the first show, her guest was Tom Jones and the two music stars sang a duet together. Paul McCartney (without Lennon) wrote the theme tune entitled "Step Inside Love", which became another chart success for Black. This song was later covered by Madeline Bell. The series featured guest appearances by many stars of the era, including Henry Mancini, Johnny Mathis, Andy Williams, Charles Aznavour, Matt Monro, Sacha Distel, Donovan, Georgie Fame, Ethel Merman, the Shadows and Phil Everly.

This success paved the way for a lengthy television career which continued until 2003. Black began the 1970s by appearing on the BBC's highly rated review of the sixties music scene Pop Go The Sixties, performing "Anyone Who Had a Heart" on the show broadcast across Europe and BBC1, on 31 December 1969.[35]

Like many of her contemporaries, during the 1970s, Black's musical career declined. She toured often but became increasingly thought of as a television personality. Her BBC series Cilla ran for almost a decade, racking up eight seasons between January 1968 and April 1976.[36] The theme songs from the Cilla series were also successful. Step Inside Love opened the series for the runs in 1968 and 1969 and reached number 8 in the UK singles chart on its release.[15] Something Tells Me (Something's Gonna Happen Tonight) was the theme for the 1971 and 1973 shows, reaching number 3 and becoming Black's last top ten success. "Baby, We Can't Go Wrong" was used for the 1974 series and was a minor success, reaching number 36, Black's last UK chart song until 1993.[15]

The UK's Eurovision Song Contest entry selection process was part of the Cilla show in both 1968 and 1973, when her close friend Cliff Richard was the featured artist performing all the songs shortlisted in the A Song For Europe segment.[37] Black had been asked to sing for the 1968 contest and was asked again for the 1970 event, but declined because she was pregnant at the time, and because she thought it unlikely that another British female vocalist would win, after Sandie Shaw who had won the previous year.[36]

In 2006, Black took part in the BBC Wales programme Coming Home about her Welsh family history, with roots in Wrexham and Holywell.[38][39]


On 15 January 1975 Black performed as the main entertainer of the first of six half-hour situation comedy plays. The series, broadcast by ITV, was entitled Cilla's Comedy Six[40] and was written by Ronnie Taylor. During May 1975 the Writers' Guild of Great Britain named Black as Britain's Top Female Comedy Star.[41] The following year, ATV was commissioned to film six more plays as the initial series had accrued healthy viewing figures and remained constantly among the highest-scoring three shows of the week. During August 1976 Black reprised her role as a comedy actress in Cilla's World of Comedy[42] which featured her theme song and new single "Easy in Your Company".

Between 2013 and 2014 Black was set to co-star in a new BBC sitcom Led Astray, alongside Paul O'Grady - the pilot episode was recorded on 31 October 2013. However the show was shelved when the pair were unable to cope with the long hours of filming.[43]


By the beginning of the 1980s, with Black was performing mainly in cabaret and concerts, television appearances were rare. According to Christopher Biggins's autobiography she "stormed back into the public consciousness with a barnstorming performance as a guest on Wogan in 1983, proving that we can all have second chances" and after her appearance, people were "desperately trying to find her the right comeback vehicle".[44]

Black signed a contract with London Weekend Television, becoming the host of two of the most popular and long-running evening entertainment shows of the 1980s and 1990s—Blind Date (1985–2003) and Surprise Surprise (1984–2001).[41] She also presented the game show The Moment of Truth (1998–2001). All programmes were mainstream ratings winners and consolidated her position as the highest-paid female performer on British television.[45]

Her TV appearances made her spoken mannerisms ("Lorra lorra laughs", for example) and her habit of referring familiarly to her fellow presenters ("Our Graham") well known.[36]

Later television work[edit]

Black's most notable television performances after her resignation from LWT included Parkinson, So Graham Norton, Friday Night with Jonathan Ross, Room 101 twice (once with Paul Merton and once with the current host, Frank Skinner), and a one off show titled Cilla Live! for Living TV. Black was a judge on the first series of the reality TV series Soapstar Superstar,[46] featured in an episode of the series Eating with...[47] and guest presented editions of The Paul O'Grady Show in 2006[48] and The Friday Night Project for Channel 4 in 2007.[49]

In 2008 Black recorded a pilot for the Sky 1 dating show Loveland. The show was to be a ten-part "21st century" dating programme for the following year. Unlike Blind Date, contestants would not sit in front of a studio audience, but would be 'hidden' behind real-time animations as they dated each other. Each episode would conclude with the contestant picking their preferred animated character before meeting the real-life person. Production costs, however, were too high and the show was pulled.[50]

In October 2009 Black guest anchored Loose Women[41] and on 28 November 2009 appeared on Sky 1 to present TV's Greatest Endings.

Between September 2010 and June 2011 she made guest panel list appearances[41] and in 2011 also appeared, as herself, in the first episode of series 4 of ITV's Benidorm.[51]

At the 2001 Royal Variety Performance, Black performed a scene from the musical Gypsy alongside Paul O'Grady (in his role as Lily Savage) and Barbara Windsor, in which she wore an infamous dress that lit up hearts in various places. She reportedly had not told O'Grady (who talked her into doing it) what the dress was going to be, and during the performance, Savage (O'Grady) made the comment: "Mind you, don't singe yourself!"[citation needed] Black replied back, "You said you weren't going to do that, Savage!"

50 years in showbusiness[edit]

ITV honoured Black's 50 years in show business with a one-off entertainment special which aired on 16 October 2013. The show, called The One and Only Cilla Black, starred Black alongside Paul O'Grady, who hosted the show. The show celebrated Black's career and included a special trip back to Black's home city of Liverpool, a host of celebrity friends and some surprise music guests. Black paid homage to Blind Date with the return of its most popular contestants and saw her star in a special edition of Coronation Street.[2]


Year Programme Role
1966 Cilla at the Savoy presenter
1968–76 Cilla[52] presenter
1975 Cilla's Comedy Six[53] actor
1976 Cilla's World of Comedy[54][55] actor
1983 Cilla's Christmas Show presenter
1984–01 Surprise Surprise presenter
1985–03 Blind Date presenter
1993 Cilla's Celebrations special guest/presenter
1998–01 The Moment of Truth presenter
2006 Soapstar Superstar judge
2006-2010 The Paul O'Grady Show guest presenter and guest[48]
2007 The Sunday Night Project guest presenter
2007, 2013 Room 101 guest[56]
2009 TV's Greatest Endings presenter
2009–14 Loose Women regular/guest panellist[41]
2012 Cilla's Unswung Sixties presnter
2011 Benidorm herself[41]
2011 Never Mind the Buzzcocks guest presenter[41]
2013 Your Face Sounds Familiar guest judge[57]
The One & Only Cilla Black special guest[41]

Black ended her TV career in 2014, prior to her death in 2015.

TV biopic[edit]

Main article: Cilla

In 2014, Black was the subject of a three-part television drama series, Cilla, focusing especially on her rise to fame in 1960s Liverpool and her relationship with Bobby Willis.[58] ITV aired the first instalment on 15 September 2014, starring BAFTA award-winning actress Sheridan Smith.[59][60]

Personal life[edit]

Black was married to her manager, Bobby Willis, for 30 years from 1969 until he died from lung cancer on 23 October 1999. They had three sons: Robert (born 1970, who became her manager), Ben (born 1974) and Jack (born 1980). Their daughter, Ellen (born 1975), was born prematurely and suffered lung complications, living for only two hours.[61]

Black was a staunch supporter of the Conservative Party and publicly voiced her admiration of Margaret Thatcher, stating in 1993 that Thatcher "put the 'great' into Great Britain". In April 1992 she appeared on stage at a Conservative Party rally and made prominent calls for the party's re-election under the leadership of John Major.[62] However, in a 2004 interview with The Guardian, Black claimed that she was "apolitical".[63] The Liverpool Echo also quoted her as saying: "as for the politics thing, I'm not a Conservative."[64]

In August 2014, Black was one of 200 public figures who were signatories to a letter to The Guardian opposing Scottish independence in the run-up to September's referendum on that issue.[65]


Black died at her holiday home near Estepona, Spain, on 1 August 2015, aged 72.[66] A spokesperson for the High Court of Justice in Andalusía suggested that an accident may have been a contributing factor in Black's death.[66] Following the results of a post-mortem examination, her sons confirmed that Black had died from a stroke following a fall in her Spanish villa.[67] The ten-page pathologist's report confirmed that Black had suffered a subarachnoid haemorrhage after falling backwards and hitting her head, it was thought, on a terrace wall. It was believed she had not been found for at least four hours.[68]

In 2014, she had stated that she wanted to die when she reached 75, as her mother, who suffered from progressive osteoporosis, had lived to 84 and her final years were difficult.[69] According to a friend, she had recently said that she was approaching death, complaining of failing eyesight and hearing as well as arthritis.[70] Black had been suffering with rheumatoid arthritis for years and was in "considerable agony" towards the end of her life.[71]

In the days following her death, a book of condolence was opened at the Liverpool Town Hall.[66] UK Prime Minister David Cameron stated, "Cilla Black was a huge talent who made a significant contribution to public life in Britain. My thoughts are with her family."[72] Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Sheridan Smith, Cliff Richard and Paul O'Grady were among friends and colleagues in the entertainment industry who expressed their sorrow at Black's death. Comedian Jimmy Tarbuck, who had been a friend for decades, said, "She was the girl next door that everybody loved and would have loved as a daughter, a daughter-in-law."[73] Songwriter Burt Bacharach said, "It will always be a most special memory for me of recording her on Alfie in Abbey Road Studios in 1965." Broadcaster Noel Edmonds said that she "captured the hearts of the British people" because "she was our Cilla - there were no airs and graces".[74]

Black's funeral service was held on 20 August 2015 at St Mary's Church in Woolton. Tom Williams, the Roman Catholic Auxiliary Bishop of Liverpool, led the service; Black's friend Cliff Richard sang at the service and Paul O'Grady gave a eulogy.[75] Spoken tributes, prayers and readings were made by Black's sons Ben and Robert, Jimmy Tarbuck and Christopher Biggins. The Beatles' song "The Long and Winding Road" was played as the coffin left the church.[76] She was buried in a private ceremony at Allerton Cemetery in Allerton on the same day.[77] On 21 August 2015, the day after her funeral, The Very Best of Cilla Black, a compilation album of her hit songs, went to number one on the UK Albums Chart. It was Black's first number one album.[78]



Black was appointed OBE for services to entertainment in the 1997 New Year Honours.[79]

In 2014, Black was the recipient of the British Academy Television Awards' Special Award and the first Royal Television Society Legends Award in honour of her 50 years in entertainment.[80][81][82]




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