Andrew H. Walker, Getty Images Nine days after the deadly tornado that touched…
- Posted on Feb 12th 2010 5:00PM by James Sullivan
Raised in a low-income family in London's East End, Shapiro had a deep, resonant singing voice that made her a distictive performer from a young age. As a schoolgirl she joined a band covering early rock 'n' roll hits with a boy named Mark Feld, who would go on to stardom as Marc Bolan of T. Rex.
The odd depth of her voice earned her the nickname "Foghorn." When Shapiro's demo of 'Birth of the Blues' was brough to the attention of a Columbia Records executive, he asked, "Who's the boy?" Her first single, 'Don't Treat Me Like a Child,' reached No. 3 on the British pop chart. She was 14.
Before her next birthday, Shapiro would have two No. 1 hits. But despite such readymade success, she couldn't make much of a dent on the American pop scene. An appearance on 'The Ed Sullivan Show' nudged one of her British No. 1s, 'Walkin' Back to Happiness,' onto the very bottom of the US charts, taking the No. 100 spot for a single week.
In Britain, her star faded almost as fast. During an early 1963 tour of the country, she was confronted with a damning headline in Melody Maker: "Is Helen Shapiro a 'Has-Been' at 16?" One of her tour mates, a young Liverpudlian named John Lennon, tried to cheer her up. "You don't want to be bothered with that rubbish," he said, insisting she'd have a long and prosperous career.
By the time Lennon and bandmates George Harrison and Ringo Starr appeared with Shapiro in a lip-sync performance on the teen pop TV program 'Ready, Steady, Go!,' her ticket was punched. As soon as her tour with the Beatles ended, their single 'Please Please Me' took over the No. 1 slot, instantly rendering bouffant pop singers passé. Lennon and Paul McCartney tried to help by writing 'Misery' for her, but Shapiro's management rejected the song without auditioning it for her. (She missed another opportunity when her label declined to release her original version of 'It's My Party' in America, where Lesley Gore would soon have a No. 1 hit with it.)
Still, Shapiro left her mark. She starred in a quickie teen feature called 'It's Trad, Dad!,' which gave director Richard Lester a chance to work out some of the ploys he would soon use in the Beatles' 'A Hard Days Night.' And the album she cut with country music producer Owen Bradley, 'Helen in Nashville,' was a clear forerunner of the similarly beehived Dusty Springfield's landmark 'Dusty in Memphis' album.
By the late '60s, officially finished as a teen idol, Shapiro remade herself on the London stage, starring in the musicals 'Oliver!' and 'Cabaret.' In later years she would dabble in disco and her first love, jazz. Since a religious conversion to Christianity, she has made several gospel records. If they called her "a has-been at 16," she had a song for that: 'I Don't Care.'