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Helen Shapiro

Helen Shapiro was a singer from my childhood and many around my age will remember 'WALKING BACK TO HAPPINESS.'

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Helen Shaporo was born at Bethnal Green Hospital in the East End district of Bethnal Green, London on 28 September 1946. (age 74)

Her early childhood was spent in a Clapton council flat 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 and 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 occasionally sang with her brother Ron in the skiffle group of his youth club. She had a deep timbre to her voice, unusual in a girl not yet in her teens; school friends nicknamed her "Foghorn".

At the age of ten, Shapiro was a singer with "Susie and the Hula Hoops" (together with her cousin, 1960s 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 included John Schroeder, a young songwriter and A&R man of EMI's Columbia Records, who recorded a demo of Shapiro singing "Birth of the Blues" and, motivated by her singing, signed her to the label.

Early career

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. Both singles sold over a million copies, earning Helen Shapiro two gold discs.

Her next single release, "Tell Me What He Said", peaked at No. 2, 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 - recording studios used by The Beatles. 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 and early spring of 1963, was as one of her supporting acts.

During the course of the tour, the Beatles had their own first hit single, and John Lennon and Paul McCartney wrote the song "Misery" for her; but Shapiro's producer, Norrie Paramor, turned it down, and she 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 It's Trad, Dad! (which co-starred another early '60s hitmaker, Craig Douglas).

On 31 December 1969, Shapiro appeared in the BBC-ZDF co-production, Pop Go The Sixties, singing "Walkin' Back to Happiness".

By the time she was in her late teens, Shapiro's 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 era of the 1950s. 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 musical theatre and jazz, one of her musical interests.

Later career

Shapiro 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. Shapiro also played the part of Sally Bowles in Cabaret and starred in Seesaw to great critical acclaim.

Between 1984 and 2001, she toured extensively with the 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.

Her autobiography, published in 1993, is 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.

Since around 2015, she has played in a trio called Hebron with Chrissy Rodgers and Simon Elman. They are promoted via Shapiro's ministry umbrella, Manna Music.

Personal life

Shapiro, having been with him since 1982, married John Judd (real name John Williams) on 31 August 1988.

Judd is an actor with numerous roles in British television and cinema. In 1987, she became a believer in Jesus, a Messianic Jew. She temporarily retired from show business in 2002.



If anyone should happen to know Helen, do say Hi and let her know she is remembered with affection all these decades later. John Bellamy

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