Although she was an aspiring entertainer, in the early 60’s Cilla was working as a typist, a waitress, and as a hat check girl at the Cavern in Liverpoool, the same venue where the Beatles were performing and beginning to draw attention at that time. She performed at times with some local Liverpool bands including Rory Storm and the Hurricanes and The Big Three, and received encouragement from her friends in the Beatles. An article in the local music newspaper Mersey Beat mis-identifed her as Cilla Black, and Cilla liked the name and decided to keep it as a stage name. She was signed to a recording contract by Brian Epstein, then went to the Parlophone label, where her records were produced by George Martin. Her first single was written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney and titled Love Of The Loved. It made it to number 35 on the UK chart.
She was still raw as a singer and producer George Martin initially had his doubts, but he worked with her and she worked hard to become a good singer, with a strong voice. In February of 1964 Cilla’s recording of Anyone Who Had A Heart, a song written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, became her first smash hit, reaching number 1 in the UK. (It didn’t even make the top forty in the US however, due to the recording by Dionne Warwick of the same song, which made the US top ten.)
In the summer of that same year, which some might say was the most competitive year ever in the history of British pop, Cilla came up with her second number one hit in the UK with You’re My World. This was to be her only top forty hit in the US, moving to number 26. She continued to sell many, many records in the UK throughout the 60’s. Included in these were recordings that she made at Abbey Road Studios such as Alfie, the Lennon-McCartney composition It’s For You, Love’s Just A Broken Heart, Don’t Answer Me, Surround Yourself With Sorrow, Something Tells Me (Something’s Gonna Happen Tonight), and Randy Newman’s I’ve Been Wrong Before.
Cilla actually went on to become the second-largest selling recording artist to come out of Liverpool, and her version of Anyone Who Had A Heart remains as the biggest selling single of the 60’s by a British female singer.
Cilla moved into British television in the late 60’s, hosting her own show on the BBC with a theme song written by Paul McCartney, Step Inside Love. Her work in television seemed to polarize the public — many loved her, while others rejected her. She had a girl-next-door image. Her final hit on the British chart came in 1974 with Baby We Can’t Go Wrong, but her career as an entertainer continued into the twenty-first century. All of Cilla’s chart hits are contained on the album Best of Cilla Black; her best album ever may be Cilla Sings A Rainbow, from 1966.
Cilla had a brief career as a comedy actress in the 70’s, and hosted her own BBC television program beginning in 1968 and lasting for nearly a decade. The show was quite popular and featured many of the biggest stars of the time. Eventually she was managed by songwriter Bobby Willis, whom she married. The marriage produced four children and lasted for over thirty years until Willis’ death in 1999.
Although her days of selling records had fallen into decline, Cilla performed in concert and on the cabaret circuit for a time, and remained a popular television personality for decades, at times hosting game shows.
On August 1, 2015 Cilla fell at her villa near Estepona, Spain, suffered a stroke, and died. She was 72.