26 May 2012

Engelbert Humperdinck

Ultrasmooth Engelbert Humperdinck (1936) is best known for his shaggy sideburns and flamboyant leather jumpsuits, and of course for number one hits like Release Me. The British heartthrob also appeared in a few films. Tonight Humperdinck represents the United Kingdom in the final of the Eurovision Song Contest 2012 in Baku, Azerbaijan. He's our no. 1.

 Engelbert Humperdinck
Dutch postcard, no 769.

Engelbert Humperdinck was born as Arnold George Dorsey in Madras, British India (now Chennai, India) in 1936. He was one of the ten children born of British Army NCO Mervyn Dorsey and his wife Olive, of Indian heritage. His family moved to Leicester, England, when he was ten. He soon showed an interest in music and began learning the saxophone. By the early 1950’s he was playing saxophone in nightclubs. When he was seventeen, friends coaxed him into entering a pub contest as a singer. His impression of Jerry Lewis prompted friends to begin calling him ‘Gerry Dorsey’, a name he worked under for almost a decade. Humperdinck's music career was interrupted by his national service in the British Army Royal Corps of Signals during the mid-1950’s. In 1958, after his discharge, he got his first chance to record with Decca Records. His first single, I'll Never Fall in Love Again, was not a hit, but Humperdinck would record for the same company almost a decade later with very different results. Humperdinck continued working the nightclubs until 1961, when he was stricken with tuberculosis. He regained his health and returned to nightclub work, but with little success. In 1964 Humperdinck married showjumper Patricia Healey. They are still married, and have four children and nine grandchildren. In 1965, Humperdinck teamed up with his former roommate, ex-singer Gordon Mills, who had become a music impresario and the manager of Tom Jones. Aware that Humperdinck had been struggling for several years to become successful in the music industry, Mills suggested a name-change to the more arresting Engelbert Humperdinck, borrowed from the German 19th-century composer of such operas as Hansel and Gretel. Mills also arranged a new deal for him with Decca Records.

The Beatles
Dutch postcard by Rembrandt N.V., Amsterdam. Sent by mail in 1964.

Smooth and Easy-going
Engelbert Humperdinck enjoyed first real success during July 1966 in Belgium, where he and four others represented England in the annual Knokke song contest. Humperdinck also made a mark on the Belgian charts with Dommage, Dommage and an early music video was filmed, with him in the harbour of Zeebrugge. In early 1967 the changes paid off when Humperdinck's version of Release Me, recorded in a smooth ballad style with a full chorus joining him on the third refrain, made the top ten on both sides of the Atlantic and number one in Britain, keeping The Beatles' adventurous Strawberry Fields Forever/Penny Lane from the top slot in the UK. Another groundbreaking video showed Engelbert tied up with a lasso. Release Me spent 56 weeks in the Top 50 in a single chart run. Release Me was believed to have sold 85,000 copies a day at the height of its popularity, and for years, it was the best known of his songs. Humperdinck's easygoing style and good looks, a contrast to Tom Jones' energetic and overtly sexual style, earned Humperdinck a large following, particularly among women, including the young Princess Anne. Release Me was succeeded by two more hit ballads, There Goes My Everything and The Last Waltz earning him a reputation as a crooner. In 1968 the single A Man Without Love reached number two in the UK Singles Chart and the album of the same name reached number three. He recorded a number of successful albums that would form the bedrock of his fame, such as Release Me, The Last Waltz, A Man Without Love, and Engelbert Humperdinck. His own television programme, The Engelbert Humperdinck Show, was less successful, being cancelled after six months.

Engelbert Humperdinck
Dutch postcard by 't Sticht, Utrecht, no. 6890. Photo: Decca.

the Eurovision Song Contest 2012
In the 1970’s, Engelbert Humperdinck’s kind of balladry became less popular. He adopted some Broadway influences, and concentrated on selling albums and on live performances. He developed lavish stage presentations that made him a natural for Las Vegas and similar venues. In 1976, Humperdinck recorded After the Lovin', a ballad produced by Joel Diamond and released by CBS subsidiary Epic. The song became a top ten hit in the US, and marked another peak in his career. He was nominated for a Grammy Award, the song went Gold, and won the ‘most played juke box record of the year’ award. Diamond went on to produce a series of albums recorded by Humperdinck for Epic. As his career moved on, Humperdinck gained more creative freedom, and his albums accordingly brought several kinds of songs into his reach beyond syrupy ballads. At AllMusic, Steve Huey writes: “Despite the strange name and the latter-day ads hawking his music on late-night TV, Humperdinck was one of the finest middle-of-the-road balladeers around, a sensitive lyric interpreter with excellent vocal technique and a three-and-a-half-octave vocal range.”He kept romance at the core of his music however, and his fans still tag him as ‘the King of Romance. As an actor he appeared in popular TV series like The Love Boat (1983), Fantasy Island (1983) and Hotel (1984). He also made incidental film appearances, like in the French comedy Chambre à part/Separate Bedrooms (1989, Jacky Cukier) with Jacques Dutronc, and the TV film Sherlock Holmes and the Leading Lady (1991, Peter Sasdy) starring Christopher Lee. In 1996 he performed the song Lesbian Seagull for Beavis and Butt-head Do America (1996, Mike Judge). In this animation film, the song is sung by one of Beavis and Butt-head's teachers, Mr. Van Driessen. In 2000 Humperdinck hit the top five of the British album charts with Engelbert At His Very Best. Four years later he returned to the top five, after he appeared in a John Smith's TV-advertisement. In 2003, Humperdinck collaborated with Grammy Award-Winning artist-producer Art Greenhaw to record the roots gospel album Always Hear the Harmony: The Gospel Sessions. The critically acclaimed album was nominated for a Grammy for ‘Best Southern, Country or Bluegrass Gospel Album of the Year’. His worldwide record sales - counting both albums and singles - eventually totaled well over 100 million. His son, Scott Dorsey, now manages him. And tonight the 76-years-old Humperdinck represents the United Kingdom in the final of the Eurovision Song Contest 2012, to be staged in Baku, Azerbaijan. (And he is not the oldest participant!) Humperdinck sings Love Will Set You Free, a song produced by Grammy award-winning producer Martin Terefe and co-written by Sacha Skarbek. His wonderful interpretation of this song gives me goose bumps. Mr. Humperdinck, I wish you a grand come-back tonight!

Engelbert Humperdinck sings Love Will Set You Free. Source: Eurovision Song Contest (YouTube).

Sources: Steve Huey (AllMusic), Engelbert.com, Wikipedia and IMDb.


Snap said...

Engelbert Humperdinck ... now that's a name and person I remember! What a voice!

Paul van Yperen said...

He has still that voice, but not in the higher regions. I wasn't overwhelmed by his performance last night, like I was when I saw the clip. Sweden was the right winner!