Dame Vera Margaret Lynn, CH DBE OStJ (née Welch; born 20 March 1917), widely known as "the Forces' Sweetheart", is an English singer of traditional pop, songwriter and actress, whose musical recordings and performances were enormously popular during the Second World War.
CH DBE OStJ
Lynn at the War and Peace Show, July 2009
|Birth name||Vera Margaret Welch|
20 March 1917 |
East Ham, Essex, England
|Labels||Decca (London for export), MGM, HMV, Columbia (EMI), EMI, Pye|
During the war she toured Egypt, India, and Burma as part of ENSA, giving outdoor concerts for the troops. The songs most associated with her are "We'll Meet Again", "The White Cliffs of Dover", "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square" and "There'll Always Be an England".
She remained popular after the war, appearing on radio and television in the UK and the US and recording such hits as "Auf Wiederseh'n Sweetheart" and her UK Number one single "My Son, My Son". Her last single, "I Love This Land", was released to mark the end of the Falklands War. In 2009, at age 92, she became the oldest living artist to top the UK Albums Chart, with We'll Meet Again: The Very Best of Vera Lynn. She released the album Vera Lynn 100 in 2017, to commemorate her centennial year, and it was a number 3 hit, making her the oldest recording artist in the world and first centenarian performer to have an album in the charts.
She has devoted much time and energy to charity work connected with ex-servicemen, disabled children, and breast cancer. She is held in great affection by veterans of the Second World War to this day and in 2000 was named the Briton who best exemplified the spirit of the 20th century.
She began performing publicly at the age of seven and adopted her maternal grandmother's maiden name, Margaret Lynn, as her stage name when she was eleven. Her first radio broadcast, with the Joe Loss Orchestra, was in 1935. At this point she was being featured on records released by dance bands including those of Loss and of Charlie Kunz.
In 1936 her first solo record was released on the Crown label, "Up the Wooden Hill to Bedfordshire". This label was absorbed by Decca Records in 1938. After a short stint with Loss she stayed with Kunz for a few years during which she recorded several standard musical pieces. In 1937 she moved to the aristocrat of British dance bands, Bert Ambrose.
She is best known for her 1939 recording of the popular song "We'll Meet Again", written by Ross Parker and Hughie Charles; the nostalgic lyrics ("We'll meet again, don't know where, don't know when, but I know we'll meet again some sunny day") were very popular during the war and made the song one of its emblematic hits. During the Phoney War, the Daily Express asked British servicemen to name their favourite musical performers: Vera Lynn came out on top and as a result became known as "the Forces' Sweetheart".
In 1941, during the darkest days of the Second World War, Lynn began her own radio programme, Sincerely Yours, sending messages to British troops serving abroad. She and her quartet performed songs most requested by the soldiers. Lynn also visited hospitals to interview new mothers and send personal messages to their husbands overseas. Her other great wartime hit was "The White Cliffs of Dover", words by Nat Burton, music by Walter Kent.
In 1943 she appeared in the film We'll Meet Again. Contrary to later reports, she neither sang nor recorded "Rose of England" during this time and it was only in 1966 when her producer, David Gooch, selected it for her album More Hits of the Blitz that she became familiar with it. The album itself was a follow-up to Hits of the Blitz produced by Norman Newell.
In March 1944 she went to Shamshernagar airfield in Bengal to entertain the troops before the Battle of Kohima. Her host and lifelong friend Captain Bernard Holden recalled "her courage and her contribution to morale". In 1985 it was announced that she would receive the Burma Star for entertaining British guerrilla units in Japanese-occupied Burma.
Lynn's "Auf Wiederseh'n Sweetheart" in 1952 became the first record by a British performer to top the charts in the United States, remaining there for nine weeks. She also appeared regularly for a time on Tallulah Bankhead's US radio programme The Big Show. "Auf Wiederseh'n Sweetheart", along with "The Homing Waltz" and "Forget-Me-Not", gave Lynn a remarkable three entries on the first UK Singles Chart, a top 12 (which actually contained 15 songs owing to tied positions).
Her popularity continued in the 1950s, peaking with "My Son, My Son", a number-one hit in 1954 which she co-wrote with Gordon Melville Rees. In 1960 she left Decca Records (after nearly 25 years) and joined EMI. She recorded for EMI's Columbia, MGM and HMV labels. She also recorded Lionel Bart's song "The Day After Tomorrow" for the 1962 musical Blitz!; she did not appear onstage in the play, but the characters in the play hear the song on the radio while they shelter from the bombs.
Vera Lynn was the subject of This Is Your Life on two occasions, in October 1957 when she was surprised by Eamonn Andrews at the BBC Television Theatre, and in December 1978, for an episode which was broadcast on 1 January 1979, when Andrews surprised her at the Cafe Royal, London.
She hosted her own variety series on BBC1 in the late 1960s and early 1970s and was a frequent guest on other variety shows, notably the 1972 Morecambe & Wise Christmas Show. In 1972 she was a key performer in the BBC anniversary programme Fifty Years of Music. In 1976 she hosted the BBC's A Jubilee of Music, celebrating the pop music hits of the period 1952–1976 to commemorate the start of Queen Elizabeth II's Silver Jubilee year. For ITV she presented a 1977 TV special to launch her album Vera Lynn in Nashville, which included pop songs of the 1960s and country songs.
The Royal Variety Performance included appearances by Vera Lynn on four occasions: 1960, 1975, 1986 and 1990. Lynn was also interviewed about her role in entertaining the troops in the India-Burma Theatre, for The World at War series in 1974.
Lynn is also notable for being the only artist to have a chart span on the British single and album charts reaching from the chart's inception to the 21st century – in 1952 having three singles in the first ever singles chart, compiled by New Musical Express, and most recently having a No. 1 album with We'll Meet Again – The Very Best of Vera Lynn (see below).
She was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 1969 New Year Honours "for services to the Royal Air Forces Association and other charities", and was advanced to Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in the 1975 Birthday Honours for charitable services.
In 1976 she received an honorary doctorate from the Memorial University of Newfoundland. In 1977 She was made an honorary citizen of Nashville, Tennessee. She received the Freedom of the City of London in 1978.
She was made a Commander of the Order of Orange-Nassau in 1985. She was made an Officer of the Order of Saint John (OStJ) in 1998 and, in 2000, Lynn received a special "Spirit of the 20th Century" Award. A street named in her honour, Vera Lynn Close, is situated in Forest Gate, London.
On their 1979 album The Wall, Pink Floyd released a song titled "Vera", referencing Vera Lynn and the song "We'll Meet Again" with the lyrics "Does anybody here remember Vera Lynn? / Remember how she said that / We would meet again / Some sunny day?". "We'll Meet Again" was also used as an intro to the live performances of The Wall in 1980 and '81 (as can be heard on Is There Anybody Out There? The Wall Live 1980–81).
In the TV series called "Gravity Falls", the villain Bill Cipher sings a piece of the song "We'll meet again".
In 1953 Lynn formed the cerebral palsy charity SOS (The Stars Organisation for Spastics) and became its chairperson. The Vera Lynn Charity Breast Cancer Research Trust was founded in 1976, with Lynn its chairperson and later its president.
In 2002 Lynn became president of the cerebral palsy charity The Dame Vera Lynn Trust for Children with Cerebral Palsy, and hosted a celebrity concert on its behalf at Queen Elizabeth Hall in London. In 2008 Lynn became patron of the charitable Forces Literary Organisation Worldwide for ALL.
Lynn sang outside Buckingham Palace in 1995 in a ceremony that marked the golden jubilee of VE Day. This is stated to have been her last known public performance, although she sang again on the evening of the same day in the public concert in Hyde Park.[better source needed]
The United Kingdom's VE Day Diamond Jubilee ceremonies in 2005 included a concert in Trafalgar Square, London, in which Lynn made an unannounced appearance. She made a speech praising the veterans and calling upon the younger generation always to remember their sacrifice, and joined in with a few bars of "We'll Meet Again". Following that year's Royal British Legion Festival of Remembrance Lynn encouraged the Welsh singer Katherine Jenkins to assume the mantle of "Forces' Sweetheart".
In her speech Lynn said: "These boys gave their lives and some came home badly injured, and for some families life would never be the same. We should always remember, we should never forget, and we should teach the children to remember."
Lynn published her autobiography, Some Sunny Day, in 2009. She had written two previous memoirs: Vocal Refrain (1975) and We'll Meet Again (1989).
In February 2009 it was reported that Lynn was suing the British National Party (BNP) for using "The White Cliffs of Dover" on an anti-immigration album without her permission. Her lawyer claimed the album seemed to link Lynn, who does not align with any political party, to the party's views by association.
In September 2009, at the age of 92, Lynn became the oldest living artist to make it to number 1 in the British album chart. Her compilation album We'll Meet Again: The Very Best of Vera Lynn entered the chart at number 20 on 30 August, and then climbed to number 2 the following week before reaching the top position, outselling both the Arctic Monkeys and the Beatles. With this achievement, she surpassed Bob Dylan as the oldest artist to have a number one album in the UK.
In August 2014 Lynn was one of 200 public figures who were signatories to a letter to The Guardian opposing Scottish independence in the run-up to September's referendum on that issue. In May 2015 she was unable to attend VE Day 70: A Party to Remember, in London but was interviewed at home by the Daily Mirror.
In February 2017 it was announced that Lynn would be releasing a new LP entitled Vera Lynn 100 through Decca Records, to be released three days before her 100th birthday on 17 March 2017. The album, featuring Lynn's original vocals set to new re-orchestrated versions of her songs, also features several duet partners including Alfie Boe, Alexander Armstrong, Aled Jones and the RAF Squadronaires. Parlophone Records, which owns Lynn's later recordings from the 1960s and 1970s, released a collection of her songs recorded at Abbey Road Studios entitled Her Greatest from Abbey Road on 10 March 2017, featuring five previously unreleased original recordings.
In 1941 Lynn married Harry Lewis, a clarinetist and saxophonist, and fellow member of Ambrose's orchestra whom she had met two years earlier. They had one child, Virginia Penelope Anne Lewis. Her husband died in 1998.
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Vera Lynn made her solo recording debut with the song "The General's Fast Asleep" on 3 October 1935, accompanied by the Rhythm Rascals (A pseudonym for Jay Wilbur's orchestra). The 9" 78 rpm single was issued on the Crown Records label, which went on to release a total of 8 singles recorded by Vera Lynn and Charles Smart on organ. Early recordings include "I'm in the Mood for Love" and "Red Sails in the Sunset".
In 1938 the Decca label took over control of the British Crown label and the UK based Rex label, they had also issued early singles from Lynn in 1937, including "Harbour Lights". In late September 1939 Vera Lynn first recorded a song that continues to be associated with her: "We'll Meet Again" was originally recorded with Arthur Young on the Novachord.
Throughout the 1940s and 1950s the Decca label issued all of Lynn's records, including several recorded with Mantovani and His Orchestra in 1942 and with Robert Farnon, from the late 1940s. Firstly they were only available as 78 rpm singles, which only feature two songs an A and a B-side. In the mid-1950s Decca issued several EP singles, which featured between two and four recordings per side, such as Vera Lynn's Party Sing Song from 1954 and singles were issued on two formats the known 78 rpm 10" and the recently introduced 45 rpm 7" single. In the late 1950s Lynn recorded four albums at Decca, the first; Vera Lynn Concert remains her only live recording ever to be issued on vinyl.
In 1960, after more than 20 years at Decca Records, Lynn signed to the US based MGM Records. In the UK her recordings were distributed by the His Masters Voice label, later EMI Records. Several albums and stand-alone singles were recorded with Geoff Love & His Orchestra. Norman Newell also took over as Lynn's producer in this period and remained with her until her 1976 album Christmas with Vera Lynn. Recording at EMI Records up until 1977, Lynn released thirteen albums with material as diverse as traditional Hymns, pop and country songs, as well as re-recording many of her known songs from the 1940s for the albums Hits of the Blitz (1962), More Hits of the Blitz and Vera Lynn Remembers – The World at War (1974). In the 1980s two albums of contemporary pop songs were recorded at the Pye Records label, both including covers of songs previously recorded by artists such as ABBA and Barry Manilow.
In 1982 Lynn released the stand-alone single "I Love This Land", written by André Previn, to mark the end of the Falklands War. Lynn's last recordings before her retirement were issued on the 1984 album Vera Lynn Remembers, produced by her husband, Harry. The album featured 17 re-recordings of songs known and associated with Lynn over her career.
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|1949||Sincerely Yours||Issued on the Decca label|
|1955||Vera Lynn Concert||Issued on the Decca label |
|1956||If I Am Dreaming||Issued on the Decca label |
|1958||The Wonderful World of Nursery Rhymes||Issued on the Decca label|
|1959||Vera Lynn Sings...Songs of the Tuneful Twenties||Last studio album issued on the Decca label|
|1960||Sing With Vera||First album issued on MGM Records. With the Williams Singers and Geoff Love & His Orchestra|
|1960||Yours||Issued on MGM Records. With the Williams Singers and Geoff Love & His Orchestra|
|1961||As Time Goes By||Issued on MGM Records. With the Williams Singers and Geoff Love & His Orchestra|
|1962||Hits of the Blitz||Issued on EMI's His Master's Voice label. With Tony Osborne & His Orchestra |
|1963||The Wonderful Vera Lynn||Issued on the His Master's Voice label. With Tony Osborne & His Orchestra|
|1964||Among My Souvenirs||Issued on the His Masters Voice label. With Tony Osborne & His Orchestra|
|1966||More Hits of the Blitz||Issued on the His Master's Voice label. With the Sam Fonteyn Orchestra |
|1970||Hits of the 60's-My Way||Issued on EMI's Columbia label. With Alyn Ainsworth and Orchestra |
|1972||Unforgettable Songs by Vera Lynn||Issued on EMI's Columbia label. With Alyn Ainsworth and Orchestra|
|1972||Favourite Sacred Songs||Issued on EMI's Columbia label. With the Mike Sammes Singers|
|1974||Vera Lynn Remembers – The World at War||Issued on the EMI label. With Alyn Ainsworth and Orchestra|
|1976||Christmas with Vera Lynn||Issued on the EMI label. With Alyn Ainsworth and Orchestra |
|1977||Vera Lynn in Nashville||Last album Vera Lynn recorded for EMI |
|1979||Thank You For the Music (I Sing The Songs)||Issued on the Pye label|
|1981||Singing To the World||Second and last album issued on the Pye label|
|1984||Vera Lynn Remembers||Last album recorded by Vera Lynn. Issued by Horatio Nelson label|
|21 November 1981||20 Family Favourites||25|
|9 September 1989||We'll Meet Again||44|
|30 August 2009||We'll Meet Again: The Very Best of Vera Lynn||1|
|30 May 2010||Unforgettable||61|
|8 June 2014||National Treasure – Ultimate Collection||13|
|10 March 2017||Her Greatest from Abbey Road||45|
|17 March 2017||Vera Lynn 100||3|
|2009||We'll Meet Again: The Very Best of Vera Lynn||1||48||8||83||18||8||28||10||21||
|Year||Title||Peak chart positions|
|1948||"You Can't Be True, Dear"||—||9||—||—|
|1952||"Auf Wiederseh'n Sweetheart"||10||1||—||1|
|"The Homing Waltz"||9||—||—||—|
|"Yours (Quiéreme Mucho)"||—||7||—||10|
|1953||"The Windsor Waltz"||11||—||—||—|
|1954||"We'll Meet Again"||—||29||—||—|
|"If You Love Me (Really Love Me)"||—||21||—||5|
|"My Son, My Son"||1||28||—||22|
|1956||"Who Are We"||30||—||—||—|
|"Such a Day"||—||96||—||45|
|"A House with Love in It"||17||—||—||—|
|1957||"The Faithful Hussar (Don't Cry My Love)"||29||55||—||40|
|1967||"It Hurts to Say Goodbye"||—||—||7||—|
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- "Breast Cancer Research Trust". Retrieved 23 October 2009.
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- "Celebrities' open letter to Scotland – full text and list of signatories". theguardian.com. 7 August 2014. Retrieved 26 August 2014.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Vera Lynn.|
- Vera Lynn on IMDb
- Dame Vera Lynn Trust for Children with Cerebral Palsy
- Vera Lynn discography at Discogs.com
- Debrett's People of Today
- 2002 Woman's Hour interview
- Q&A with TIME Magazine in September 2009
- 2010 interview with Nathan Morley on CyBC
- Imperial War Museum Interview
- March 2017 online interview with Lord Ashcroft