28 September 1946 (age 71)
Bethnal Green, Tower Hamlets, London, England, United Kingdom
Helen Kate Shapiro (born 28 September 1946) is an English pop singer, jazz singer and actress. She is best known for her 1960s UK chart toppers, "You Don't Know" and "Walkin' Back to Happiness".
Shapiro was born at Bethnal Green Hospital in the East End district of Bethnal Green, London. Her early childhood was spent in a Clapton council house in the London borough of Hackney, where she attended Northwold Primary School and Clapton Park Comprehensive School until Christmas 1961. She is the granddaughter of Russian Jewish immigrants; her parents, who were piece-workers in the garment industry, attended Lea Bridge Road Synagogue. The family moved from Clapton to the Victoria Park area of Hackney, on the Parkside Estate, when she was nine. "It was, and remains, a beautiful place," she said in a 2006 interview.
Although too poor to own a record player, Shapiro's parents encouraged music in their home (she had to borrow a neighbour's player to hear her first single). Shapiro played banjolele as a child and sang with her brother Ron occasionally in his youth club skiffle group. She had a deep timbre to her voice, unusual in a girl not yet in her teens: school friends gave her the nickname "Foghorn".
Aged ten, Shapiro was a singer with "Susie and the Hula Hoops," (with her cousin, 60s singer, Susan Singer) a school band which included Marc Bolan (then using his real name of Mark Feld) as guitarist. At 13 she started singing lessons at The Maurice Burman School of Modern Pop Singing, based in London's Baker Street, after the school produced singing star Alma Cogan. "I had always wanted to be a singer. I had no desire to slavishly follow Alma's style, but chose the school merely because of Alma's success", she said in a 1962 interview. Burman's connections eventually led her to a young Columbia Records A&R man named John Schroeder, who recorded a demo of Shapiro singing "Birth of the Blues".
In 1961, aged fourteen, she had a UK No. 3 hit with her first single, "Don't Treat Me Like a Child" and two number one hits in the UK, "You Don't Know" and "Walkin' Back to Happiness". The latter did not top the UK chart until 19 October 1961, by which time Shapiro had reached 15, on 26 September. She had a No. 2 in 1962 with "Tell Me What He Said", achieving her first four single releases in the top three of the UK Singles Chart. Most of her recording sessions were at EMI's studios at Abbey Road in north west London. Her mature voice made her an overnight sensation, as well as the youngest female chart topper in the UK.
Shapiro's final UK Top Ten hit single was with the ballad "Little Miss Lonely", which peaked at No. 8 for two weeks in 1962. Shapiro's recording manager at the time was Norrie Paramor.
Before she was sixteen years old, Shapiro had been voted Britain's "Top Female Singer". The Beatles first national tour of Britain, in the late winter/early spring of 1963, was as one of her supporting acts. During the course of the tour, the Beatles had their first hit single and John Lennon and Paul McCartney wrote the song "Misery" for her, but Shapiro did not record the composition. In 1995, during a This is Your Life highlighting her life and career, Shapiro revealed, "It was actually turned down on my behalf before I ever heard it, actually. I never got to hear it or give an opinion. It's a shame, really." Shapiro lip-synched her then-current single, "Look Who It Is", on the British television programme Ready Steady Go! with three of the Beatles (John Lennon, Ringo Starr and George Harrison).
In 1962, Shapiro appeared as herself in the Billy Fury film Play It Cool, and played the lead female role in Richard Lester's movie, It's Trad, Dad!, which co-starred another early 60s hitmaker, Craig Douglas. On 31 December 1969, Shapiro appeared on the BBC/ZDF co-production Pop Go The Sixties, singing "Walkin' Back to Happiness".
By the time she was in her late teens, her career as a pop singer was on the wane. With the new wave of beat music and newer female singers such as Dusty Springfield, Cilla Black, Sandie Shaw and Lulu, Shapiro appeared old-fashioned and emblematic of the pre-Beatles, 50s era. As her pop career declined, Shapiro turned to cabaret appearances, touring the workingmen's clubs of the North East of England. Her final cabaret show took place at Peterlee's Senate Club on 6 May 1972, where she announced she was giving up touring as she was "travel-weary" and had had enough of "living out of a suitcase". Later, after a change of mind, she branched out as a performer in stage musicals, and jazz (being her first love musically).
She played the role of Nancy in Lionel Bart's musical, Oliver! in London's West End and appeared in a British television soap opera, Albion Market, where she played one of the main characters until it was taken off air in August 1986.
Between 1984 and 2001, she toured extensively with legendary British jazz trumpeter Humphrey Lyttelton and his band, whilst still performing her own jazz and pop concerts. Her one-woman show "Simply Shapiro" ran from 1999 to the end of 2002, when she finally bade farewell to show business.
Her autobiography, published in 1993, was entitled Walking Back to Happiness. She appeared as a guest on BBC Radio 4's 'The Reunion' in August 2012. In March 2013 she appeared on BBC Radio 3's 'Good Morning Sunday'
Helen Shapiro has been married since 31 August 1988 to John Judd (real name, John Williams), an actor with numerous roles in British television and cinema.
Artist descriptions on Last.fm are editable by everyone. Feel free to contribute!
All user-contributed text on this page is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply.