Following the Dame Vera Lynn ball earlier this month, we take a look into the legendary singer’s extraordinary history.
Dame Vera Lynn, DBE (born Vera Margaret Welch on 20 March 1917)
Widely known as “The Forces’ Sweetheart” is an English singer, songwriter and actress whose musical recordings and performances were enormously popular during the Second World War.
During the war she toured Egypt, India and Burma, giving outdoor concerts for the troops. The songs most associated with her are “We’ll Meet Again”, “The White Cliffs of Dover”, “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” and “There’ll Always Be an England”.
She remained popular after the war, appearing on radio and television in the UK and the United States and recording such hits as “Auf Wiederseh’n Sweetheart” and her UK Number one single “My Son, My Son”.
In 2009 she became the oldest living artist to make it to No. 1 on the British album chart, at the age of 92. She has devoted much time and energy to charity work connected with ex-servicemen, disabled children and breast cancer. She is still held in great affection by veterans of the Second World War and in 2000 was named the Briton who best exemplified the spirit of the twentieth century.
Lynn’s Auf Wiederseh’n Sweetheart became the first record by a British performer to top the charts in the United States, remaining there for nine weeks. She also appeared regularly for a time on Tallulah Bankhead’s U.S. radio programme, The Big Show. ”Auf Wiederseh’n Sweetheart”, along with “The Homing Waltz” and “Forget-Me-Not”, gave Lynn a remarkable three entries on the first UK Singles Chart, a top 12 (which actually contained 15 songs owing to tied positions).
Her popularity continued in the 1950s, peaking with “My Son, My Son”, a number-one hit in 1954 which she co-wrote with Gordon Melville Rees. In 1960 she left Decca Records after nearly 25 years, and joined EMI. She recorded for EMI’s Columbia, MGM and HMV labels. In 1967, she recorded “It Hurts To Say Goodbye”, a song which hit the top 10 on the Billboard Easy Listening chart.”
Vera Lynn was the subject of This Is Your Life on two occasions, in October 1957 when she was surprised by Eamonn Andrews at the BBC Television Theatre, and in December 1978, for an episode which was broadcast on 1 January 1979, when Andrews surprised her at the Cafe Royal, London.
She hosted her own variety series on BBC1 in the late 1960s and early 1970s and was a frequent guest on other variety shows, notably The 1972 Morecambe & Wise Christmas Show. In 1972 she was a key performer in the BBC anniversary programme Fifty Years Of Music. In 1976 she hosted the BBC’s A Jubilee Of Music, celebrating the pop music hits of the period 1952-1976 to commemorate the start of Queen Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee year. For ITV she presented a 1977 TV special to launch her album Vera Lynn in Nashville, which included pop songs of the 1960s and country songs.
The Royal Variety Performance included appearances by Vera Lynn on four occasions: 1960, 1975, 1986 and 1990.Lynn was also interviewed about her role in entertaining the troops in the India Burma Theatre, for The World at War series in 1974.
Lynn is also notable for being the only artist to have a chart span on the British single and album charts reaching from the chart’s inception to the 21st century — in 1952 having three singles in the first ever singles chart, complied by New Musical Express, and most recently having a #1 album with We’ll Meet Again — The Very Best Of Vera Lynn.
The Vera Lynn Charity Breast Cancer Research Trust was founded in 1976, with Lynn its chairperson and later its president.
In 2002 Lynn became president of the cerebral palsy charity The Dame Vera Lynn Trust for Children with Cerebral Palsy, and hosted a celebrity concert on its behalf at Queen Elizabeth Hall in London.
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