Childhood & Early Life
Cilla Black was born Priscilla Maria Veronica White, on May 27, 1943, in Vauxhall, Liverpool, to John Patrick White and Priscilla Blythen. She had Irish roots from both her parents’ families. She inherited Welsh genes from her maternal grandfather, Joseph Henry Blythen, who was from Wrexham.
Black spent her childhood in a highly religious household and studied at ‘St. Anthony’s School.’ She attended the ‘Anfield Commercial College,’ where she gained the knowledge of office skills.
She always wanted to become a musician and showed glimpses of her talent when she started working at Liverpool’s ‘Cavern Club.’ She worked part-time in the club’s cloakroom. The club was famous for its association with ‘The Beatles,’ and during one her shows, she managed to impress the band’s members.
She got her first chance to sing professionally at the ‘Casanova Club,’ located on London Road. Liverpool-based promoter Sam Leach booked her first show, which was a success. She also performed at a few more venues and slowly gained fame with her stunning performances.
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She worked as a guest singer with bands such as ‘Rory Storm and the Hurricanes’ and ‘The Big Three.’ At the same time, in the early 1960s, she worked as a waitress at the ‘Zodiac Coffee Lounge,’ where she met Bobby Willis, who later became her husband.
Black signed her first contract with Terry McCann, who was her neighbor and a longtime friend. However, this contact was never honored, as it was made when she was a minor. Later, she was introduced to Brian Epstein by John Lennon, who convinced him for an audition. The audition turned out to be a failure.
When Epstein saw her performing at the jazz club known as the ‘Blue Angel,’ he contacted Black in September 1963 and introduced her to George Martin. Her career was launched successfully with her debut single, ‘Love of the Loved,’ which was released 3 weeks after she joined ‘Epstein,’ in 1963. The song peaked at the 35th spot in the UK. This debut success turned out to be a big breakthrough for Cilla.
In 1965, Cilla released her debut self-titled album, ‘Cilla,’ under the label ‘Parlophone Records.’ The album had 12 songs and attained critical and commercial success, reaching the fifth spot on the ‘UK Albums Chart.’ The album was produced by George Martin and had some successful songs, such as ‘Dancing in the Street’ and ‘Love Letters.’
Following the success of her debut album, Cilla started working on her sophomore studio album, ‘Cilla Sings a Rainbow,’ which was released in 1966. This album, too, was a major success and reached the fourth spot on the ‘UK Albums Chart.’ The album saw her collaborate with George Martin yet again. Consisting of 13 songs, the album was a chartbusting success.
Following the success of two albums, Cilla became a national music icon. She started working on her third album, which was ready for release by 1968.
Cilla’s third solo album, ‘Sher-oo!,’ was released in April 1968 and turned out to be yet another success. Following this, she released three more albums: ‘Surround Yourself with Cilla,’ ‘Sweet Inspiration,’ and ‘Images.’ ‘Sweet Inspiration’ and ‘Images’ made their place on the UK charts. ‘Surround Yourself with Cilla’ was her first album recorded in stereo sound format, and yet, it was her first album that failed to appear on the UK charts.
Throughout the 1970s, she remained a successful musician with consecutive releases. However, in the 1980s, she became additionally interested in her TV career and released only two albums: ‘Surprisingly Cilla’ and ‘Especially for You.’
In the 1990s, too, her focus remained on her career as a TV presenter. Thus, her musical endeavors took a backseat. She released two albums in the entire decade: ‘Cilla’s World’ and ‘Through the Years.’
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Her last album, ‘The Very Best of Cilla Black,’ was released in 2013. Following her death in 2015, it attained the top spot on the ‘UK Albums Chart.’ It was her first number one album.
Cilla’s attempts to be an actor were not too successful. She made her film debut with a small appearance in ‘Ferry Cross the Mersey’ in 1965 and then played a lead role in ‘Work is a Four-Letter Word’ in 1968. However, she failed to impress film critics with her performances in both films. Thus, her career in films was short-lived.
In 1968, she made her full-fledged debut as a TV presenter, with the show ‘Cilla,’ which ran between 1968 and 1976. The show was immensely successful. She had also starred in the TV special ‘Cilla at the Savoy’ in 1966.
She performed in a comedy series titled ‘Cilla’s Comedy Six’ in 1975, which turned out to be yet another success. She managed to tickle the funny bones of her fans and won the title of ‘Britain’s Top Female Comedy Star.’ She became a TV regular and later appeared on chat shows such as ‘Parkinson,’ ‘Go Graham Norton,’ and ‘Friday Night with Jonathan Ross.’ She also appeared on shows on ‘ITV and ‘Sky 1.’
She wrote two autobiographies: ‘Step Inside’ (1985) and ‘What's It All About?’ (2003).
She was honored with the ‘Order of the British Empire’ (OBE) in 1997.She was also honored by ‘ITV’ for competing 50 years in the entertainment industry, with a show titled ‘The One and Only Cilla Black,’ aired in 2013. The show starred Cilla Black and was hosted by Paul O’Grady.
Family, Personal life & Death
Cilla Black married her lover and personal manager, Bobby Willis, in 1969 and had three sons with him: Robert, Benjamin, and Jack. Her eldest son, Robert, eventually became her manager.
She also gave birth to a premature daughter in 1975. Her daughter survived only for 2 hours. Cilla and Bobby had named her Ellen. Bobby Willis died due to lung cancer on October 23, 1999.
Cilla was politically active and supported the ‘Conservative Party’ all her life. She displayed her adoration for Margaret Thatcher publicly in 1993. She made a stage appearance in an April 1992 rally of the ‘Conservative Party’ and supported Margaret’s successor, John Major, who later won the elections.
Cilla died on August 1, 2015, after a fall at her villa during a trip to Spain. It was rumored that her body was found 4 hours after her death and that she had died due to a stroke.
Her funeral was held at ‘St. Mary’s Church’ in Liverpool on August 20, 2015.