Petula Clark - Biography

By Nick Castro


Petula Clark is a British singer and actress. She is the most successful, in terms of record sales, female singer of her country and had a huge career in the 1960's, but had been acting in her home country since the early forties, when she was still a child, and was often labeled as the British answer to Shirley Temple. She is famous, internationally, for songs like, "Color My World", "Downtown", "Don't Sleep in the Subway" and "I Know a Place". She has continued to perform, write and record throughout her career and is still an iconic figure with a popular draw at her live appearances.


Clark was born in 1932, in Surrey, England, as Petula Sally Olwen Clark. She began her career as a child actress and radio personality, during the second World War. Her popularity rivaled fellow child stars, Julie Andrews and Anthony Newley, and Clark would often perform live for the troops.  She also worked for BBC as a child, hosting her own radio show called Pet's Parlour. It was on this show that she got her first public exposure, singing patriotic songs to embolden the troops. She also was in a film, at age 12, called A Medal for the General. This was the first movie that she was in, which was followed by a long series of them throughout her career. Once the war ended, television was becoming extremely popular in England and she was one the first bona fide television stars. Clark also continued to star in a series of films, such as I Know Where I'm Going, London Town, which was a musical and one of England's first technicolor movie, and Here Come the Huggetts, by director Ken Annakin, who would later a make a series of Disney films. It was at the end of the decade that Clark was recorded her first record. In 1949 she released the single, "Music, Music, Music", which was a hit in the United States for jazz singer Teresa Brewer.


Once the 50's came, Clark had to deal with the mountainous task of breaking out of her typecast as a child star. She turned out to be one of the few child actors who went on to have more fame as adults then as children. Unfortunately, Clark's inital career maneuvers in the 50's did not her in this cause at all as she recorded and released many records of children songs, such as "The Little Shoemaker", which turned out to be her only hits in this period of her career. By the late 50's, Clark was making a move toward rock oriented material and this marked the newest phase of her career. Some of their first rock releases were the song, "My Friend the Sea". She also released her first full length LP, which was not just a repackage of previous singles, You Are My Lucky Star (1957 - Pye), which was not a rock and roll record, but rather was a collection of songs based around the theme of Hollywood musicals. Her voice is nice on the recording, and still youthful, especially on songs like, "Zing Went the Strings of My Heart" and "I'll be Seeing You". Her performance of the song, "As Time Goes By", sounds a bit forced, but is a good performance as Clark makes an attempt at an almost sexy tone. The record did not do very well, either in England or the US. It was around this time that Clark also began to record songs in other languages, especially Italian and German. These foreign language albums helped to solidify her position in the eyes of the media and record buying public.


By the early 60's, music tastes began to rapidly change and Clark was forced to change with it. This provided her the catalyst she needed to reinvigorate her career and reinvent herself as a pop rock singer. By 1964, the year that many British acts crossed the pond to the US, Clark made her move to conquer America. She released the album Downtown (1964 - Warner Bros), which scored Clark a hit with the song, "Downtown", written by Tony Hatch, which she had just had a hit with, in several countries around the world. The album was a quickly compiled collection of previously released singles and as a result, sounds a bit disjointed. It was filled out with a few current songs though, which featured electric piano and electric guitars. Her version of the song, "In Love", also hinted at her style to come. This album earned her a Grammy nomination.


Soon, Clark began her working relationship with Hatch, just after the song, "Downtown", and together, they would prove to be a hit machine for the remainder of the sixties. Together, they created the songs, "I Know a Place" and "Don't Sleep in the Subway". During this time, Clark was also hosting a television show in England, and did a number of television specials in the US. Altogether, Clark would have many hits throughout the remainder of the decade, and was one of the most famous singers, worldwide. She made a television for NBC which featured Harry Belafonte, much to the dismay of the network's southern affiliates, and Clark performed her anti-war song, which was written with Belafonte, "On the Path of Glory". During the song, Clark touched the arm of Belafonte and the network did their best edit it out before airing the episode. Clark refused and the show went on air as it was. It became a huge success and was the first time in American television that a white woman touched a black man on television.


When the next musical change came, in the 70's, Clark quickly faded into obscurity and her hits dried up. She did, however, remain active in the club circuit, especially in casinos. in the 80's, Clark had a hit on the country charst, with the song, "Natural Love". She also kept appearing in films throughout the remainder of her career. She has sold nearly 70 million records in her life. Clark can still be seen in her live performances all over the world, though she is now over 75 years old.






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