Dame Shirley Bassey The Girl from Tiger Bay

Dame Shirley performing in 2006
Dame Shirley performing in 2006

The Welsh are famous for their beautiful singing voices. Wales has been the birthplace of many great singers. Some have been members of choirs.

Of course there has only ever been, or will only ever be, one Shirley Bassey.

Shirley Bassey was born in Tiger Bay, Cardiff, Wales in January 1937. This means that Our Shirl celebrated her 73rd birthday in January 2010. Amazing when you look at the image, at the right, which shows her performing just 4 years ago. She is as glamorous as ever with the same great voice.

Dame Shirley, as she has been since 1999, found fame in the late 50s and has become something of a British Institution.

A young Shirley Bassey
A young Shirley Bassey
Dramatic performer
Dramatic performer
Glamorous even in those boots
Glamorous even in those boots
At a Royal Variet performance with the Queen
At a Royal Variet performance with the Queen

Shirley was the seventh and last child of Henry and Eliza Bassey. As a mixed race child, growing up in the UK, in the 40s and 50s, would have been hard.

Shirley spent her early years in a working class district of Cardiff. After singing in the choir whilst at school she took a packing job in a local factory, when she left school at the age of fifteen.

Shirley's nights and weekends were spent singing in local pubs and clubs. By 1953 she had secured her first proper musical work. After various appearances in two different shows her music career was halted. Shirley was pregnant aged just 16.

Within a couple of years though her talent was spotted again and/ this time/ her music career really took off.

Various hit records were to follow and there was a time when Shirley was rarely away from British television screens. Variety shows, such as Sunday Night at the London Palladium, were very popular and Shirley was often the top of the bill act.

As a child I would watch my Dad as he was entertained by Shirley's performances. Dad loved her. Our Shirl he would call her. She was a very good looking woman, with a powerful voice and her own individual style. She would dress in long glitzy gowns and throw her arms dramatically around as she sang.

Shirley appeared on shows such as Morecambe and Wise in the UK and was not afraid to be seen in a funny light. One of my favourite performances of hers was in a glitzy gown wearing hobnail boots. How she kept a straight face I will never know. A YouTube clip is below.

Current fashions, in TV entertainment, mean that there are seldom opportunities for artists such as Dame Shirley to perform on TV. However we see and hear her now and then. She has been classed as semi retired since the late 80s but still performs and has a large fan base.

Shirley was also the voice behind so many great Bond film soundtracks such as:-

  • Moonraker
  • Diamonds are Forever
  • Goldfinger.

Yes now you know who I mean, don't you?


Dame Shirley's latest release was The Performance, which was released on Geffen Records in November 2009. It was her first Studio album for over 20 years. All the tracks were written by musicians, especially for this album. The track listing is:-

  1. Almost There [Tom Baxter]
  2. Apartment [Rufus Wainwright]
  3. This Time [Gary Barlow]
  4. I Love You Now [Nick Hodgeson]
  5. Our Time Is Now [John Barry/Don Black]
  6. As God Is My Witness [David Arnold/David McAlmont]
  7. No Good About Goodbye [David Arnold/Don Black]
  8. The Girl From Tiger Bay [Manic Street Preachers]
  9. Nice Men [KT Tunstall]
  10. After The Rain [Richard Hawley]
  11. The Performance Of My Life [Pet Shop Boys

Shirley has certainly lived a full life. Like so many performers she has had more than her fair share of troubles. These days Shirley lives in Monte Carlo. This is a far cry from her early days in Tiger Bay, Wales but she has certainly earned this bit of luxury.

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Comments 9 comments

ethel smith profile image

ethel smith 6 years ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull Author

RM I watch John Wayne films like that with Hubby. Usually the ones he hasn't seen have been viewed by him a million times.

Oo Eileen perhaps you can see her

Eileen Hughes profile image

Eileen Hughes 6 years ago from Northam Western Australia

ethel , yes a great woman with a big voice. I always love to listen and watch her in her movies, I have good memories of her and she is(don't here if I remember right to Oz. good article

rmcrayne profile image

rmcrayne 6 years ago from San Antonio Texas

I thought I would not like the first clip, too slapstick, but I actually enjoyed both clips. What a good sport Shirley was.

We rarely went to the movies as a family at the theater when I was young, but we always watched the Bond films when they came to network TV. Mom didn't care for them, so she would always find something else to do. No matter which one was televised, by dad would always declare he needed to see it, because "that's the one I never saw before". Same with Clint Eastwood movies. I watched many of these movies he never saw before with him mulitiple times each.

ethel smith profile image

ethel smith 6 years ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull Author

Thanks Ralph. A very powerful voice

Ralph Deeds profile image

Ralph Deeds 6 years ago

I remeber her "Goldfinger" which perfectly captured the mood. What an edge to her voice. Thanks.

ethel smith profile image

ethel smith 6 years ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull Author

Thank you all. She is still a fabulous woman

BkCreative profile image

BkCreative 6 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

Shirley Bassey had quite a big following here in the US. I tried to copy her many times singing 'This is a lovely way, to spend an evening...' but when she hit those powerful high notes wow!

Then my cousin was a big fan so when I visited him in England we packed up and took the sleeper train out to Cardiff - where on the tour bus they talked about Shirley Bassey, and in the streets, and everywhere else but first my cousin had gone to her concert there at Albert Hall (I think) in London.

Then my cousin had me read her autobiography - what a fun, down to earth woman.

Thanks for this hub - I will bookmark it and share it with my cousin!

Hello, hello, profile image

Hello, hello, 6 years ago from London, UK

Thank you for your lovely tribute to Shirley Bassey. She certainly is a great lady and a fantastic voice.

meteoboy profile image

meteoboy 6 years ago from GREECE

Pretty nice job!!! I love this singer.Thank you for sharing. Greetings from Hellas

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