She couldnt go on for ever and now shes gone: Cilla Black has died at the age of 72. She was a star for just over half-a-century, but what was the basis of her success? Some will say that it was her normality, her girl-next-door ordinariness at the beginning of her career, then her motherly and grandmotherly warmth on television. But no-one can deny that she was extraordinary in at least one way. Although she didn’t write her own songs, she sang them with rare power and feeling. After you’ve heard Cilla perform “Anyone Who Ever Had a Heart” or “Step Inside Love”, the song will stay with you as the definitive version.
And Paul McCartney said that her interpretation of “The Long and Winding Road”, originally released on the Beatles’ Let It Be album, was just as he intended the song to be sung. The Beatles are, of course, central to Cilla’s story. She was a cloakroom attendant at the Cavern Club, the “cellar full of noise” in Liverpool where Beatles began their climb to global fame in the 1960s. But she didn’t get the job there by chance: Cilla knew it would give her a chance at stardom.
She was right: her impromptu singing was praised by the Beatles and eventually she was signed up by their manager Brian Epstein. She had to struggle for success at first, but in the end her determination and honesty won through. She’d got what she wanted: a chance to sing her heart out for the nation. Lennon and McCartney wrote many of the songs she took into the charts, but the song she’s most associated with – “Anyone Who Ever Had a Heart” – was written by the Americans Burt Bacharach and Hal David. Her interpretation, appropriately enough, was from the heart: raw, pleading and instantly appealing. There was no falseness with Cilla. She didn’t pretend and she didn’t want to put her personal life in second place to her career.
That’s why she wasn’t prepared to put in the months away from home that were needed for her to break America. Instead, she stayed at home and became first the nation’s daughter, then mum, then grandma. Singing remained her first love, but she began to work increasingly in television as the 1960s drew to a close. Her BBC show, entitled simply Cilla, ran for eight years. Then she switched to ITV and enjoyed nearly two decades of success with Blind Date and Surprise Surprise. Some of her TV fans would have been too young to have seen her early career as a singer, but the same audience-pleasing skills and the same down-to-earth Cilla were there. On her TV shows she didn’t put on an act: she played herself using the same words and accent as she’d always used.
Audiences had a “lorra laffs” and a lorra fun with our Cilla, and when she retired from hosting her own shows, she continued to appear regularly as a guest or panellist on shows like Loose Women. She never left the public eye and never lost the public’s affection. Her fans saw her as almost another member of their own families. I think that’s why, although millions of people will be saddened to hear of her passing, they’ll also be glad that she went in the way she herself wanted: quickly and without a long illness or decline into helpless old age. She made the world a better place as long as she could and wanted to leave it before she couldn’t. That’s what she did. She leaves her fans some wonderful songs and fifty years of happy memories. Could any performer ask for anything more?