Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr lead tributes to Cilla Black

Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr have paid tribute to singer and television presenter Cilla Black, who has died at the age of 72.

Black died at her holiday home in Marbella, Spain, reportedly of natural causes.

She was born Priscilla Maria Veronica White in Liverpool on 27 May 1943. She took a part-time job as a cloakroom attendant at the Cavern Club on Mathew Street, but her impromtu performances on stage proved popular and earned her the moniker Swinging Cilla. She performed with groups including Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, Kingsize Taylor and the Dominoes, and the Big Three.

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She also worked as a waitress in Liverpool’s Zodiac coffee house, where she met her future husband and manager, songwriter Bobby Willis (1942-1999). In an article in Mersey Beat newspaper, editor Bill Harry mistakenly named her as Cilla Black, and she adopted the surname for her public performances.

John Lennon persuaded local manager Brian Epstein to audition Black, with musical backing from The Beatles. However, it was not a success. She recounted the experience in her 2003 autobiography:

I’d chosen to do ‘Summertime’, but at the very last moment I wished I hadn’t. I adored this song, and had sung it when I came to Birkenhead with the Big Three, but I hadn’t rehearsed it with The Beatles and it had just occurred to me that they would play it in the wrong key. It was too late for second thoughts, though. With one last wicked wink at me, John set the group off playing. I’d been right to worry. The music was not in my key and any adjustments that the boys were now trying to make were too late to save me. My voice sounded awful. Destroyed – and wanting to die – I struggled on to the end.
Cilla Black
What’s It All About?

Epstein was more impressed after seeing a later performance at the Blue Angel jazz club, and on 6 September 1963 signed her as the only female performer in his NEMS management stable. Beatles producerGeorge Martin signed her to Parlophone Records and her first single, the Lennon-McCartney song ‘Love Of The Loved’, was released on 27 September.

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Her second single was a cover of Bacharach-David’s ‘Anyone Who Had A Heart’, which beat Dionne Warwick’s recording to the UK number one spot in February 1964. It spent three weeks at the top of the chart, selling 800,000 copies. Its follow-up, ‘You’re My World’, was also a chart-topper, and was followed by another Lennon-McCartney song, ‘It’s For You’. Paul McCartney played piano on the recording, which was made at EMI Studios at Abbey Road on 2 July 1964.

Paul was at the recording session when I made ‘Anyone Who Had A Heart’. He said that he liked the composition and he and John would try to produce something similar. Well they came up with this new number, but for my money it’s nothing like the ‘Anyone’ composition. That was some session we had when I made the new recording. John and Paul joined me, and George Martin. We made one track and then everyone had a go at suggesting how they thought it should be recorded. And everyone had different ideas. George said it should be one way, Paul and John another and I just added my suggestions while they were thinking of what else they could do with the composition.
Cilla Black

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Black eventually grew disillusioned with Epstein’s management, feeling he was neglecting her in favour of The Beatles. She also disapproved of his drug use. Following Epstein’s death in August 1967 her partner Bobby Willis became her manager.

Embed from Getty ImagesAlthough she continued to recorded Lennon-McCartney songs until her Parlophone contract expired in 1973, her only other hit single written by them was ‘Step Inside Love’, which was released in 1968. It was written especially for Black’s first BBC TV series, Cilla, which first aired on 30 January 1968.

McCartney had recorded a simple demo of the song in 1967 at his home in Cavendish Avenue, London, featuring vocals and acoustic guitar. Black’s version, meanwhile, peaked in the UK charts at number nine on 10 April 1968.

I ended up writing a few songs for Cilla, actually. ‘Step Inside Love’ was a later one. Cilla Black was getting her first TV show with a guy called Michael Hurll and they came to see me backstage somewhere and asked me, would I write the theme tune for it, so I said yes. I did a little demo of it, with myself double-tracked, up at Cavendish, and that was it. I quite like the song, it’s very cabaret, it suited her voice. It was just a welcoming song for Cilla.
Paul McCartney
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles

McCartney’s early arrangement appeared during the Cilla programme’s earliest episodes, but was later extended to three verses.

All he had given us was one verse and a chorus with him playing on guitar. We played it that way for the first couple of weeks and then decided that we needed a second verse. Paul came over to the BBC Theatre in Shepherd’s Bush and sat with me and Cilla and worked on a second verse. It started off with the line, ‘You look tired, love’, because Cilla was tired after a lot of rehearsing and most of what he wrote related to what was going on that day.
Michael Hurll
A Hard Day’s Write, Steve Turner

During a 16 September 1968 session for the White Album, in which McCartney, Lennon and Starr recorded ‘I Will’, McCartney led the group through a spontaneous run-through of ‘Step Inside Love’. An edited version was included on Anthology 3 in 1996.

Ringo Starr’s hit single ‘Photograph’ was written for Black, but he decided to record it himself. George Harrison also wrote two songs for her, ‘The Light That Has Lighted The World’ and ‘I’ll Still Love You (When Every Song Is Sung)’.

Cilla Black unveiling London plaque for Brian Epstein, 28 September 2010Alongside her recording career, Black hosted the BBC variety show Cilla between 1968 and 1976, with a total of 66 episodes made. After taking some time out to raise a family in the 1970s she returned to television hosting in the 1980s with Surprise Surprise (1984-2001) and Blind Date (1985-2003).

On 28 September 2010 Black unveiled a plaque at Brian Epstein’s former office in Covent Garden, London.

He was a great man, the man that I knew – he was a true gentleman. He believed in me and I certainly believed in him. If he had said ‘you can climb Mount Everest’, I would have said ‘where’s my backpack? I’m off’. I really would, because I believed in him.
Cilla Black
Last updated: 22 September 2021
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