Yvonne Elliman

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Yvonne Elliman
Elliman on tour with Eric Clapton in San Bernardino, California, August 15, 1975
Elliman on tour with Eric Clapton in San Bernardino, California, August 15, 1975
Background information
Birth nameYvonne Marianne Elliman
Born (1951-12-29) December 29, 1951 (age 72)
Honolulu, Hawaii Territory, U.S.
GenresBroadway, disco, Rock, pop
Occupation(s)Singer, songwriter, actress
Instrument(s)Vocals, piano, guitar
Years active1969–1980, 2004–present[1]
LabelsPurple Records, RSO Records, Polydor Records, Umgd Records, Umvd Import, Polygram Records, Taragon Records

Yvonne Marianne Elliman (born December 29, 1951)[1] is an American singer, songwriter, and actress who performed for four years in the first cast of the stage musical Jesus Christ Superstar. She scored a number of hits in the 1970s and achieved a US #1 hit with "If I Can't Have You". The song also reached #9 on the Adult Contemporary chart and number 4 in the UK Chart. Her cover of Barbara Lewis's "Hello Stranger" went to #1 on the Adult Contemporary chart, and "Love Me" was #5; at the time she had 3 top 10 singles. After a long hiatus in the 1980s and 1990s, during which time she left music to be with her family, she made a comeback album as a singer-songwriter in 2004.


Early years[edit]

Elliman was born and raised in the Manoa neighborhood of Honolulu, Hawaii. Her mother was of Japanese and Chinese ancestries [2] and her father, a salesman for Best Foods, was of Irish descent.[3] Elliman showed interest in music from an early age, playing the ukulele by age four and taking piano lessons at age seven. While attending President Theodore Roosevelt High School, Elliman performed in the school band on standup bass and violin. However, she became most proficient on the guitar and performed as a singer and guitarist in a folk music band named We Folk, which she formed with schoolmates. The band fared well competing in local talent shows.[4][5]

According to Elliman, she was truant during her senior year at high school but graduated owing to the intervention of Peter Wilcox, the school's British-born band teacher, who persuaded her teachers to allow her to pass. He encouraged 17-year-old Elliman to relocate to London and pursue a musical career, which she did shortly after graduating.[6][7]

London years, Jesus Christ Superstar[edit]

Elliman with Ted Neeley in the 1973 feature film Jesus Christ Superstar

Elliman's singing career began in 1969 in London, performing in bars and clubs. At the time she did not like what she was singing. "I hated the music then", she recalled in a 1973 interview,[8] adding, "I did it for the bread. I was into drugs and all that, and thought Grace Slick and the Jefferson Airplane was it". While still an unknown,[9] she was discovered by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber, who asked her to sing Mary Magdalene's part for the original audio recording of Jesus Christ Superstar. Ian Gillan was featured singing as Jesus. After its release as an album in 1970, they invited her to join the stage show's traveling cast, which she did for four years.[7]

She had her first Billboard Hot 100 hit single in 1971 with the ballad "I Don't Know How to Love Him" from Jesus Christ Superstar. Her original version was not issued as a single until a cover version by Helen Reddy started moving up the U.S. charts; appearing concurrently on the charts (a rare event, not common since the 1950s, when different releases played in different parts of the United States), Elliman's original peaked at #28, while Reddy's cover peaked at #13.[1] In the end Elliman performed on the 1970 concept album, in the original Broadway cast (1971), and in the 1973 film.[10] She and Barry Dennen were the only cast members that performed on the original record, original Broadway production, and the film.[8] Her performance in the film as Mary Magdalene led to her being nominated for a 1974 Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Motion Picture Comedy or Musical.[1]

New York and disco[edit]

In 1971, aged 19, Elliman moved to New York City for the Broadway production of Jesus Christ, Superstar, where she met her first husband,[11] Bill Oakes, who was president of Robert Stigwood's RSO Records. Before moving she was signed to Purple Records, singing on Jon Lord's album Gemini Suite in 1971 and releasing her second solo album Food of Love in 1973. She was asked to sing backing vocals on Eric Clapton's version of the Bob Marley song "I Shot the Sheriff" in 1974. She then went on tour as part of Clapton's band, and soon afterwards got her own recording contract with RSO Records. She continued to work with Clapton, performing on his albums from 1974-77, including 461 Ocean Boulevard, There's One in Every Crowd, E. C. Was Here, No Reason to Cry, and Slowhand. A first album for the RSO label (her third in all), Rising Sun, produced by Steve Cropper, produced no hit singles, but her next album, Love Me, produced by Freddie Perren, gave her two top-20 hits, "Love Me" (written by Barry and Robin Gibb), and a Barbara Lewis cover song, "Hello Stranger".[7] "Hello Stranger" topped the U.S. Easy Listening chart for four weeks, and was also a No. 15 pop hit in 1977; "Love Me" was a No. 14 pop hit in late 1976/early 1977.[1]

Also in 1977, the Bee Gees were working on Saturday Night Fever and wrote "How Deep Is Your Love" for her, but Stigwood wanted the Bee Gees to perform it. Instead, she sang "If I Can't Have You".[12] The song became a number-one hit on the Billboard Hot 100;[1] it is generally considered the high point of her recording career.[13]

A few minor top 40 hits followed in 1979, including the title theme song from the film Moment by Moment and another disco track, "Love Pains", which was a major club success. She appeared in Hawaii Five-O in a two-part episode ("Number One with a Bullet", 1978) as an aspiring singer, performing the song "I Can't Get You Outa My Mind" with fellow guest performer James Darren. The single "Savannah" was also a minor hit.

Hiatus and return[edit]

After spending a decade pursuing her career, Elliman went on hiatus; she had two children at home.[citation needed]

In 2004, Elliman reappeared on the music scene when she released her album titled Simple Needs, with all songs written by Elliman. She then re-released the album globally in 2007.

Elliman has continued performing at music festivals, benefits, and concerts throughout the country and around the world. She also performed on a PBS special on '70s soul music in 2004, singing "If I Can't Have You." In 2014 she reunited with Ted Neeley and Barry Dennen in Verona for a special Jesus Christ Superstar event.[14] She is featured on the 2014 Ted Neeley EP Rock Opera performing a duet with Neeley in "Up Where We Belong". In summer 2018 she joined in 45th anniversary Superstar film screenings events in Los Angeles sharing the experience with fans on Facebook.[15]

Personal life[edit]

Elliman was married to RSO Records executive Bill Oakes from 1972 to 1980.[16] She married songwriter Wade Hyman in 1981[17] and they had two children, Sage (born in 1982) and Ben (born in 1986).[2] They later separated and divorced. She married Allen Alexander in January 2016.[18]

On August 16, 2017, Elliman was slated to sing for a Catholic school charity in Guam when she was stopped by customs for possession of marijuana and methamphetamine. After spending a night in jail, she and her husband pleaded guilty to possession of a controlled substance, continued with the planned concert, and were allowed to return to Hawaii on probation until their March 2018 sentencing. They were ordered to perform community service and serve the remainder of a two-week sentence, Billboard magazine said, "by observing courtroom proceedings of a drug offender probation program in Honolulu."[19][20][21]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f "Biography by Stephen Thomas Erlewine". Allmusic.com. Retrieved July 17, 2009.
  2. ^ a b Wayne Harada. Honolulu Advertiser: "Reinvigorated Elliman may invest in rock future", February 17, 2002.
  3. ^ Rasa Fournier. Midweek Kaui: "Yvonne Elliman: Still Rockin' - While walking in her Manoa neighborhood, Yvonne Elliman talks candidly about her roller coaster trip to stardom in the 1970s when she was performing with the likes of Eric Clapton" Archived April 6, 2015, at the Wayback Machine, midweek.com. May 11, 2007.
  4. ^ Larkin, Colin (2002). The Virgin encyclopedia of 70s music. Virgin. p. 122. ISBN 978-1-85227-947-9.
  5. ^ "That '70s show". Retrieved March 22, 2016.
  6. ^ "Online People02". Retrieved March 22, 2016.
  7. ^ a b c Bronson, Fred (2003). The Billboard book of number 1 hits. Billboard Books. p. 490. ISBN 978-0-8230-7677-2.
  8. ^ a b Tony Ortega (May 19, 2011). "In the Desert With 'Jesus Christ Superstar'". Village Voice. Retrieved March 22, 2016.
  9. ^ Snelson, John (2009). Andrew Lloyd Webber. Yale UP. p. 7. ISBN 978-0-300-15113-8.
  10. ^ Hischak, Thomas S. (2008). The Oxford companion to the American musical: theatre, film, and television. Oxford UP. p. 874. ISBN 978-0-19-533533-0.
  11. ^ "Yvonne Elliman: Still Rockin'". Careerkokua (Hawaii Careers Information website). May 16, 2007. Retrieved September 26, 2012.
  12. ^ Bilyeu, Melinda; Hector Cook; Andrew Môn Hughes (2004). The Bee Gees: tales of the brothers Gibb. Omnibus. p. 412. ISBN 978-1-84449-057-8.
  13. ^ Simpson, Paul (2003). The Rough Guide to Cult Pop. Rough Guides. p. 141. ISBN 978-1-84353-229-3.
  14. ^ "Celebration day, in Arena i 40 anni di Jesus Christ Superstar". Verona In (in Italian). October 15, 2014. Retrieved July 5, 2018.
  15. ^ "The Real Yvonne Elliman". www.facebook.com. Retrieved July 11, 2019.
  16. ^ "Bill Oakes". IMDb. Retrieved July 11, 2019.
  17. ^ Hawaii Pacific University newspaper: "Superstar Yvonne Elliman back in Hawaii" by Agge Sjobom; retrieved April 6, 2015.
  18. ^ "Yvonne Elliman-Alexander's Husband Allen Alexander (Bio, Wiki)". DailyEntertainmentNews.com. August 18, 2017. Retrieved July 11, 2019.
  19. ^ Carrera, Janela (August 15, 2017). "Yvonne Elliman and husband arrested for alleged drug possession". PNC News. Retrieved July 11, 2019.
  20. ^ Toves, Jolene (August 31, 2017). "Grammy award singer admits to occasional drug use to "get through" performances". PNC News. Retrieved July 11, 2019.
  21. ^ "Grammy Winner Yvonne Elliman to Serve Drug Sentence in Hawaii". Billboard. Retrieved July 11, 2019.

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