Born on November 15, 1932, in Epsom, England; married Claude Wolff, June 1961; children: Barra, Kate, Patrick. Addresses: Management--John Ashby Associates, P.O. Box 288, Woking, Surrey, GU22 0YN, England. Fan club (U.S.)--The International Petula Clark Society, Bonnie Miller, Representative for the Americas, 50 Railroad Dr., Madison, CT. Fan club (International)--International Petula Clark Society, Terry Young-IPCS President, 8 Dumpton Park Rd., Ramsgate, Kent CT11 7JP, England. Website--Petula Clark Official Website: http://www.petulaclark.net.

First gaining prominence in Great Britain as a child radio and film star during World War II, Petula Clark was considered England's answer to Shirley Temple, performing on radio and for British armed forces audiences before she was nine years old, and eventually performing at Great Britain's World War II victory celebration at Trafalgar Square. She made her film debut in 1944, and was one of Britain's first television stars in the late 1940s. In 1949 she launched a recording career with "Music, Music, Music," and continued with such songs for children as "Where Did My Snowman Go" in 1952 and "The Little Shoemaker" in 1954. She went on to international stardom in the 1960s through a succession of recordings that included the Grammy Award-winning hits "Downtown," "I Know a Place," "Don't Sleep in the Subway," "Color My World," and "My Love."

Born on November 15, 1932, in Epsom, England, Clark was trained to sing by her mother. When she was seven, she appeared onstage, becoming a contemporary of child stars Anthony Newley and Julie Andrews, who entertained the British military during World War II. It is estimated that Clark performed more than 200 shows for British troops before she was nine years old. When she was eleven, Clark hosted the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) radio program Pet's Parlour, on which she performed patriotic songs. In 1944 she starred in the patriotic film A Medal for the General, the first of more than 20 films she made throughout the decade.

After the war, Clark became one of Britain's first television stars. While she was admired throughout the country for her singing on radio, film, and television, Clark surprisingly didn't begin a recording career until 1949, when she released her first single, "Music, Music, Music" (a major United States hit single for Theresa Brewer). She continued to record singles in the 1950s, but achieved success only with songs for children. Several of these, however, were successful, including "The Little Shoemaker." She worked to overcome the public's perception of her as a child star through the remainder of the 1950s and early 1960s by performing more rock-oriented material, including "Sailor" and "My Friend the Sea." She was invited to perform at the Olympia Theatre in France in 1957, and began to expand her appeal outside England and throughout Europe. Her 1961 single, "Romeo," was a million seller.

In 1961 Clark married Frenchman Claude Wolff, who convinced her to move to France to embark on a recording career there. She became a French sensation, rivaling Edith Piaf as the country's favorite popular recording star with such hit singles as "Ya-Ya Twist," "Chariot," and "Monsieur." The release of these singles also signaled a new approach to Clark's recording and performing that featured higher production values, more sophisticated songs, and a greater emphasis on her range as a soprano. She ambitiously recorded songs in Italian and German, becoming one of Europe's most recognized and better-loved performers. Rather than simply recording covers of her previous hits in different languages--an approach that was successful for such acts as the Beatles--Clark insisted on recording songs unique to the language and country in which they were released.

By 1964 the international musical landscape had changed, and British acts were having tremendous success in America during what was called the British Invasion. The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Dave Clark Five, Freddy and the Dreamers, Gerry and the Pacemakers, and the Animals were selling more records abroad than they were in Europe. Clark orchestrated her own American invasion with her 1964 recording of the Tony Hatch composition, "Downtown." Released in the United States, it became a number-one hit, appealing to audiences of all ages; the song's upbeat message rendered in Clark's pure and earnest tones was immensely popular. This was the first collaboration between Clark and Hatch, and the pair begged comparisons to the American songwriting team of Burt Bacharach and Hal David with singer Dionne Warwick. Future collaborations also included "Don't Sleep in the Subway" and "I Know a Place." Each of these songs made excellent use of Clark's warm, crystalline soprano and focused on positive themes of interpersonal connection.

During this period of enormous international popularity, she continued to host her own British television series as well as American television specials. For her 1968 NBC special, she refused to capitulate to the network's Southern affiliates, who demanded that a segment featuring African-American singer and activist Harry Belafonte be removed for broadcast. In the late 1960s she resumed her film career, starring with Fred Astaire in the Francis Ford Coppola-directed musical Finian's Rainbow. She also starred opposite Peter O'Toole in a remake of Goodbye Mr. Chips.

Clark's string of hits ended abruptly in the 1970s, but she continued to perform on European television, hosted two television variety programs for the BBC, and made personal appearances in the States, Canada, and France. In the 1980s she recorded a top-ten country single, "Natural Love." She also appeared in a London West End revival of the Sound of Music (1981), wrote the music for her starring role in the musical play Someone Like You (1990), and made her Broadway debut in 1993 in Blood Brothers with Shaun and David Cassidy; in September of 2000 she starred as Norma Desmond in Andrew Lloyd Webber's stage musical version of the film Sunset Boulevard.

More than 50 years after her career began, Clark remained the top-selling English female recording artist in the world with an estimated 68 million records sold; this included 15 songs in the American top 40 (including two number-one hits), and top-40 hits in a variety of countries a record 159 times. She received the Commander of the Order of the British Empire Award from Queen Elizabeth II in 1998 for "bringing so much joy over the years."

by Bruce Walker

Petula Clark's Career

Hosted Pet's Parlour radio series at age eleven, 1943; made film debut in A Medal for a General, 1944; had first top-20 single, "The Little Shoemaker," 1954; had first number-one single, "Sailor," 1960; relocated to France, 1961; had first U.S. number-one single, "Downtown," 1964; starred in Finian's Rainbow, 1968; starred in Goodbye, Mr. Chips, 1969; appeared as Norma Desmond in Andrew Lloyd Webber's Sunset Boulevard, 2000.

Petula Clark's Awards

Silver Microphone, Daily Mail, 1950; Grand Prix National du Disque Français, Académie du Disque Français (French record industry), Most Successful Singer, 1962; Grand Prix National du Disque Français for two-million selling "Monsieur," 1963; Grammy Award, Best Rock Record for "Downtown," 1964; Grammy Award, Best Female Vocal Performance for "I Know a Place," 1965; International Award for Outstanding World Record Sales by a European Artist, 1966; Le Medaille de vermeil de la ville de Paris (City of Paris gold medal), 1970; Commander of the Order of the British Empire, 1998.

Famous Works

Further Reading

Sources

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Visitor Comments Add a comment…

over 8 years ago

After going through Immigration after my arrival in New York on 5th March, it was such a lovely experience to find Petula Clark standing in front of my friend & myself. So nice chatting with her. wish we had had a few minutes more. Such a lovely lady. Would love to go to one of her concerts. Helen Norris, Brighton East Sussex