76 year old English singer/composer/actress Petula Clark holds the distinction of being the most successful British female solo recording artist ever, with a career that spans seven decades and that has racked up record sales of over 70 million units. For this feat she has been recognized in the Guinness Book of World Records.
Additionally Clark was honored by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II during an investiture ceremony at Buckingham Palace in 1998 when she was made a CBE (Commander of the British Empire).
Clark, whose number one hits include "Downtown," "My Love" and "This Is My Song," and whose other big hits include "I Know A Place" and "Don't Sleep In The Subway" (video below), made her first public performace singing at age 7 as part of a retail store promotion.
Her professional career began a few years later when the talented young girl became an entertainer on BBC Radio during World War II when she performed an inspired rendition of "Mighty Lak' a Rose." Clark was a few weeks shy of celebrating her tenth birthday. She would go on to perform approximately 500 times in radio programmes designed to entertain the British troops during the War. At this same time she would tour the UK with (fellow child performer) Julie Andrews, earning herself the nickname of "Britain's Shirley Temple."
In 1944 (at age 12) she made her big screen debut in Medal For The General playing the character of Irma in the film. This led to her appearing in a string of films (many B-movies), including Strawberry Roan, I Know Where I'm Going!, London Town, and Here Come the Huggetts. She continued making films, about 30 in all, for the next four decades. It was In 1949 when Clark, who had still to turn seventeen, released her first single and in 1954 scored her first top ten hit, "The Little Shoemaker," which would be the first of string of hits for the artist. 1961's "Sailor" would be her first UK #1 hit and "Downtown" (video below) would be her first US #1 hit single in 1964. The 1960's was her decade, with other Petula Clark hits including "I Know a Place," "My Love," "Colour My World," "A Sign of the Times," and "Don't Sleep in the Subway."
It was also in sixties when Clark made headlines and history in the US at a time when racial barriers were still very much a part of the American social fabric. It was in 1968 when NBC invited Clark to host her own television special during which she performed a duet with guest Harry Belafonte of one of her own compositions, the anti-war song "On the Path of Glory." The anti-war theme was not the cause of the controversy-- controversy was lit because during the song she briefly touched the black performer's arm. This greatly concerned the show's sponsor, Chrysler, who reportedly feared that the incident (slight as it was) would offend Southern viewers. Clark rejected all requests by the auto sponsor to redo the song and substitute a different take with her and Belafonte standing far apart from one another.
Standing her ground, she delivered the finished program to NBC with the touch intact. The show aired as it was and made history by being the first time a man and woman of different races exchanged physical contact on American television.
Petula Clark is distinguished by having the longest span on international pop music charts of any British female artist: fifty five years, from 1954 up until this year, when her latest CD Les Indispensables charted in Belgium's top ten chart. Look for Clark's music at Amoeba. If you don't have any of her records already, best one to start with is Petula Clark The Ultimate Collection.
Petula Clark "Downtown" (on BBC's Top of the Pops, 1964)