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This article is about the singer named Alma Cogan. For the Gordon Burn novel, see Alma Cogan (novel).

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Alma Cogan
Alma Cogan, Tel Aviv, 1963
Alma Cogan, Tel Aviv, 1963
Background information
Birth nameAlma Angela Cohen
Born(1932-05-19)19 May 1932
Whitechapel, East London, England
Died26 October 1966(1966-10-26) (aged 34)
London, England
GenresTraditional pop
Years active1952–1966
LabelsHMV, EMI Columbia
WebsiteAlma Cogan International Fan Club

Alma Angela Cohen (19 May 1932 – 26 October 1966), known professionally as Alma Cogan, was an English singer of traditional pop music in the 1950s and early 1960s. Dubbed the "Girl with the Giggle in Her Voice", she was the highest paid British female entertainer of her era.

Childhood and early musical career[]

She was born on 19 May 1932[1] in Whitechapel, London, of Russian-Romanian Jewish descent.[2] Her father's family, the Kogins, arrived in Britain from Russia, while her mother's family were refugees from Romania.[3] Cogan's parents, Mark and Fay Cohen, had another daughter, the actress Sandra Caron,[4] and one son, Ivor Cogan. Mark's work as a haberdasher entailed frequent moves. One of Cogan's early homes was over his shop in Worthing, Sussex.

Although Jewish, she attended St Joseph's Convent School in Reading.[5] Her father was a singer, but it was Cogan's mother who had show business aspirations for both her daughters (she had named Cogan after silent screen star Alma Taylor). Cogan first performed in public at a charity show at the Palace Theatre in Reading, and at eleven, competed in the "Sussex Queen of Song" contest held at a Brighton hotel, winning a prize of £5.

Aged 14, she was recommended by Vera Lynn for a variety show at the Grand Theatre in Brighton. At 16 she was told by bandleader Ted Heath "You've got a good voice, but you're far too young for this business. Come back in five years' time." Heath would later say: "'Letting her go was one of the biggest mistakes of my life."[6] But Cogan found work singing at tea dances, while also studying dress design at Worthing Art College, and was soon appearing in the musical High Button Shoes and a revue, Sauce Tartare.[7] In 1949 she became resident singer at the Cumberland Hotel, where she was spotted by Walter Ridley of HMV, who became her coach.

'Girl with the giggle'[]

Cogan's first release was "To Be Worthy of You" / "Would You", recorded on her 20th birthday.[citation needed] This led to her appearing regularly on the BBC's radio show Gently Bentley, and then becoming the vocalist for Take It From Here, a British radio comedy programme broadcast by the BBC between 1948 and 1960.

In 1953, while recording "If I Had a Golden Umbrella", she broke into a giggle; she then played up the effect on later recordings. Soon she was dubbed the "Girl with the giggle in her voice" (‘Giggle’ has sometimes been quoted as ‘chuckle’.)[8]

Many of her recordings would be covers of U.S. hits, especially those recorded by Rosemary Clooney, Teresa Brewer, Georgia Gibbs, Joni James and Dinah Shore. Her voice was often compared with Doris Day's. One of these covers, "Bell Bottom Blues", became her first hit, reaching no. 4 on 3 April 1954.[9] Cogan would appear in the UK Singles Chart eighteen times in the 1950s, with "Dreamboat" reaching no. 1. Other hits from this period include "I Can't Tell a Waltz from a Tango", "Why Do Fools Fall in Love", "Sugartime" and "The Story of My Life". Cogan's first album, I Love to Sing, was released in 1958.

Cogan was one of the first UK record artists to appear frequently on television, where her powerful voice could be showcased along with her bubbly personality and dramatic costumes. Her hooped skirts with sequins and figure-hugging tops were reputedly designed by herself and never worn twice. Cliff Richard recalls: "My first impression of her was definitely frocks – I kept thinking, how many can this woman have? Almost every song had a different costume. The skirts seemed to be so wide – I don't know where they hung them up!"[10][11] Cogan topped the annual NME reader's poll as "Outstanding British Female Singer" four times between 1956 and 1960.[12]

Too square for the 1960s[]

File:ALMA COGAN WITH ILANA ROVINA,.jpg

Cogan (right) with Israeli singer, Ilana Rovina, Tel Aviv, 1963

The UK musical revolution of the 1960s, symbolised by the rise of the Beatles, suddenly made Cogan unfashionable; in the 1991 BBC documentary Alma Cogan: The Girl with the Giggle in Her Voice, Lionel Blair said she was perceived as 'square'. Her highest 1960s chart ranking in UK would be no. 26 with "We Got Love", and most of her successes at this time were abroad, notably in Sweden and Japan, as she was good at singing in foreign languages. She was especially disappointed that her 1963 cover of the Exciters' US hit "Tell Him" did not return her to the UK charts, according to singer Eddie Grassham. In 1964 Tennessee Waltz was recorded in a rock and roll ballad style by Cogan; this version was no. 1 in Sweden for five weeks and also reached the top 20 in Denmark while a German language rendering reached no. 10 in Germany. She had another number one hit in Sweden in 1965, "The birds and the bees".

Cogan also wrote some of her own songs. She co-wrote her 1963 record "Just Once More" (under the pseudonym of "Al Western") with her long-time pianist Stan Foster; her 1964 record "It's You" was also a Cogan-Foster collaboration, although this time she was credited under her own name. "Just Once More" peaked at no. 10 in the Swedish Voting Chart "Tio i Topp" in October 1963.

She continued to be a popular figure on the UK show-business scene, being offered the part of Nancy in Oliver!, appearing on the teenage hit-show Ready Steady Go!, and headlining at the Talk of the Town.

Personal life[]

Cogan lived with her widowed mother in Kensington High Street (at 44 Stafford Court) in a lavishly decorated ground-floor flat, which became a legendary party venue. Regular visitors included Princess Margaret, Noël Coward, Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn, Michael Caine, Frankie Vaughan, Bruce Forsyth, Roger Moore and a host of other celebrities.[11]

The teenaged John Lennon used to mimic her savagely during his time at the Liverpool College of Art; Lennon's wife Cynthia recalled, "John and I had thought of Alma [as] out of date and unhip." But after Lennon actually met Cogan on the TV pop show Ready Steady Go! in 1964, they became close friends, so much so that Cogan's sister Sandra later claimed[13] that the pair had a serious romance that had to be kept secret because of Alma's family's strict Jewish faith. After Cynthia Lennon died (in 2015), John Lennon's biographer published her previously unreleased quotes regarding Cogan: "John thought I didn’t know anything about him and Alma, and I never let on. Now that I think about it, with all the emotion gone out of it, I can see the attraction. Alma was about eight years older than John and very much the Auntie figure. Don’t forget that Yoko was also older than John by about seven years. Like Yoko in so many ways, Alma was a very compelling woman. You couldn’t really say that either of them was beautiful, could you, not in the conventional sense. When Alma died from ovarian cancer, aged only 34, John was inconsolable."[14]

Cogan was close to the other Beatles as well, especially Paul McCartney, who first played the melody of "Yesterday" on her piano; he also played tambourine on her recording of "I Knew Right Away".[15]

Her last romance was with Brian Morris, who shared her faith. They were engaged to be married.[15]

Illness and early death[]

Cogan tried to update her image by recording some Beatles numbers and a spin-off from The Man from U.N.C.L.E. ("Love Ya Illya"). But by 1965 record producers were becoming dissatisfied with Cogan's work, and it was clear that her health was failing. Her friend and colleague Anne Shelton attributed this decline to some 'highly experimental' injections she took to lose weight, claiming that Cogan was never well again after that.[16]

Cogan embarked on a series of club dates in the North of England in early 1966, but collapsed after two performances and had to be treated for stomach cancer.[11] She made her final TV appearance in August, on the guest-spot of International Cabaret. The following month she collapsed while touring Sweden to promote Hello Baby, recorded exclusively for the Swedish market. She succumbed to ovarian cancer at London's Middlesex Hospital on 26 October, at the age of 34.

In deference to family custom, her death was observed with traditional Hebraic rites, with burial at Bushey Jewish Cemetery in Hertfordshire.

Legacy[]

The novel Alma Cogan by Gordon Burn presents an imaginary middle-aged Cogan looking back on life and fame in the 1980s. It claimed to be based on true events and real people, except for her early death, and won the Whitbread Book Award in 1991. Partly adapted from this novel was the BBC Radio 4 series Stage Mother, Sequinned Daughter (2002) by Annie Caulfield. Cogan's sister Sandra felt that it misrepresented both Cogan and her mother, and tried unsuccessfully to get it banned. Eventually the Broadcasting Standards Commission ruled that the BBC apologise to Sandra for failing to respect the feelings of the surviving family members.[17]

A blue plaque commemorating Cogan was installed by the entrance of her longtime residence, 44 Stafford Court, on 4 November 2001.[18]

Recordings[]

Singles (UK releases)[]

  • 1952 – "To Be Worthy of You" / "Would You"
  • 1952 – "To Be Loved By You" / "The Homing Waltz" (duet with Les Howard)
  • 1952 – "Meet Me on the Corner"
  • 1952 – "Waltz of Paree" / "Pretty Bride"
  • 1952 – "Half as Much" (cover of Rosemary Clooney) / "Blue Tango"
  • 1952 – "I Went to Your Wedding" (cover of Patti Page) / "You Belong to Me" (cover of Jo Stafford)
  • 1952 – "If'n" (duet with Denny Dennis)
  • 1952 – "Take Me in Your Arms and Hold Me" / "Wyoming Lullaby"
  • 1953 – "Till I Waltz Again with You" (cover of Teresa Brewer) / "Happy Valley Sweetheart"
  • 1953 – "If I Had a Penny" / "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me" (cover of Karen Chandler)
  • 1953 – "On The First Warm Day" / (Les Howard solo)
  • 1953 – "Till They've All Gone Home" / "Hug Me A Hug"
  • 1953 – "If I Had a Golden Umbrella" / "Mystery Street"
  • 1953 – "My Love, My Love" (cover of Joni James) / "Wasted Tears"
  • 1953 – "Over and Over Again" / "Isn't Life Wonderful" (duets with Les Howard)
  • 1954 – "Ricochet (Rick-O-Shay)" (cover of Teresa Brewer) / "The Moon Is Blue"
  • 1954 – "Bell Bottom Blues" (cover of Teresa Brewer) / "Love Me Again" – UK No. 4
  • 1954 – "Make Love to Me" (cover of Jo Stafford) / "Said the Little Moment"
  • 1954 – "Little Shoemaker" (cover of The Gaylords) / "Chiqui-Chaqui (Chick-ee Chock-ee)"
  • 1954 – "Jilted" (cover of Teresa Brewer) / "Do, Do, Do, Do, Do, Do It Again" (duets with Frankie Vaughan)
  • 1954 – "Little Things Mean a Lot" (cover of Kitty Kallen) / "Canoodlin' Rag" – UK No. 11
  • 1954 – "Skinnie Minnie" (cover of Teresa Brewer) / "What Am I Going To Do, Ma"
  • 1954 – "This Ole House" (cover of Rosemary Clooney) / "Skokiaan" (one of many versions of the song)
  • 1954 – "I Can't Tell a Waltz from a Tango" (cover of Patti Page) / "Christmas Cards" – UK No. 6
  • 1954 – "(Don't Let The) Kiddygeddin'" / "Mrs Santa Claus"
  • 1955 – "Paper Kisses" / "Softly Softly"
  • 1955 – "Mambo Italiano" (cover of Rosemary Clooney) / "The Naughty Lady of Shady Lane" (cover of the Ames Brothers)
  • 1955 – "Tweedle Dee" (cover of Lavern Baker) / "More Than Ever Now"
  • 1955 – "Tika Tika Tok" / "Chee Chee Oo Chee"
  • 1955 – "Dreamboat" / "Irish Mambo" – UK No. 1
  • 1955 – "Where Will The Dimple Be?" (cover of Rosemary Clooney) / "Keep Me in Mind"
  • 1955 – "Got'n Idea" / "Give A Fool A Chance"
  • 1955 – "The Banjo's Back in Town" / "Go on By" – UK No. 17 / UK No. 16
  • 1955 – "Hernando's Hideaway" (one of many covers) / "Blue Again"
  • 1955 – "Never Do a Tango with an Eskimo" / "Twenty Tiny Fingers" – UK No. 6 / UK No. 17
  • 1956 – "Love and Marriage" (cover of Frank Sinatra) / "Sycamore Tree"
  • 1956 – "Willie Can" / "Lizzie Borden" – UK 13
  • 1956 – "Don't Ring-A Da Bell" / "Bluebell"
  • 1956 – "It's All Been Done Before" (duet with Ronnie Hilton) / "No Other Love" (Ronnie Hilton solo)
  • 1956 – "Why Do Fools Fall in Love" (cover of Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers) / "The Birds and the Bees" – UK No. 22 / UK No. 25
  • 1956 – "Mama, Teach Me to Dance" / "I'm in Love Again"
  • 1956 – "In the Middle of the House" (cover of Rusty Draper) / "Two Innocent Hearts" – UK No. 20
  • 1957 – "You, Me, and Us" / "Three Brothers" – UK No. 18
  • 1957 – "Whatever Lola Wants (Lola Gets)" / "Lucky Lips" – UK No. 26
  • 1957 – "Chantez, Chantez" (cover of Dinah Shore) / "Funny Funny Funny"
  • 1957 – "Fabulous" / "Summer Love" (cover of Joni James)
  • 1957 – "That's Happiness" / "What You've Done To Me"
  • 1957 – "Party Time" / "Please Mister Brown"
  • 1958 – "The Story of My Life" (cover of Marty Robbins / Michael Holliday) / "Love Is" – UK No. 25
  • 1958 – "Sugartime" (cover of The McGuire Sisters) / "Gettin' Ready for Freddy" – UK No. 16
  • 1958 – "Stairway of Love" (cover of Michael Holliday) / "Comes Love"
  • 1958 – "Sorry Sorry Sorry" / "Fly Away Lovers"
  • 1958 – "There's Never Been a Night" / "If This Isn't Love"
  • 1959 – "Last Night on the Back Porch" / "Mama Says" – UK No. 27
  • 1959 – "Pink Shoelaces" (cover of Dodie Stevens) / "The Universe"
  • 1959 – "We Got Love" / "I Don't Mind Being All Alone" – UK No. 26
  • 1960 – "Dream Talk" / "O Dio Mio" – UK No. 48
  • 1960 – "The Train of Love" / "The 'I Love You' Bit" (duet with Oscar Nebish, aka Lionel Bart) – UK No. 27
  • 1960 – "Just Couldn't Resist Her With Her Pocket Transistor" / "Must Be Santa"
  • 1961 – "Cowboy Jimmy Joe" / "Don't Read The Letter" – UK No. 37
  • 1961 – "With You in Mind" / "Ja-Da"
  • 1961 – "All Alone" / "Keep Me in Your Heart"
  • 1961 – "She's Got You" (cover of Patsy Cline) / "In the Shade of the Old Apple Tree"
  • 1962 – "Goodbye Joe" (cover of Harald Juhnke's German hit "Der schwarze Joe aus Idaho") / "I Can't Give You Anything but Love, Baby"
  • 1963 – "Tell Him" (cover of The Exciters) / "Fly Me to the Moon"
  • 1963 – "Hold Out Your Hand You Naughty Boy" / "Just Once More"
  • 1964 – "Tennessee Waltz" (cover of Patti Page) / "I Love You Too Much"
  • 1964 – "It's You" / "I Knew Right Away"
  • 1965 – "Snakes And Snails" / "How Many Nights, How Many Days"
  • 1965 – "Eight Days a Week" / "Help!" (each a cover of a Beatles song)
  • 1965 – "Love Is A Word" / "Now That I've Found You"
  • 1966 – "Now That I've Found You" / "More"
  • 1966 – "Love Ya Illya" / "I Know You" (under the name Angela and the Fans)[19]

Albums[]

Year Title Notes
1958 I Love to Sing
1961 With You in Mind
1962 How About Love?
1965 Oliver! with Stanley Holloway and Violet Carson
1967 Alma
2010 Alma Cogan in 'Julie' recordings from 1965 with Stan Foster

Biography[]

  • Alma Cogan: The Girl With The Laugh In Her Voice by Sandra Caron (Alma's sister) – ISBN 0-7475-0984-0

References[]

  1. "Dead Rock Stars Club @ efortress.com". Users.efortress.com. Retrieved 30 December 2011.
  2. "Alma Cogan". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Retrieved 5 April 2015. (subscription required)
  3. Mantel, Hilary (24 September 1992). "On the Edge". The New York Review of Books. Retrieved 14 March 2011. Italic or bold markup not allowed in: |publisher= (help)
  4. The "Tail Pieces by the Alley Cat" column in NME dated 14 September 1956 cites Sandra Caron's age as 19.
  5. "Alma Cogan". mp3.com. Retrieved 26 November 2007.
  6. "Jukebox Jumpers". Jukeboxjumpers.multiply.com. Retrieved 15 December 2012. Dead Link @ 04-2015
  7. "Audrey.hepburn.free.fr". Audrey.hepburn.free.fr. Retrieved 30 December 2011.
  8. "Alma Cogan – Biography". Archived from the original on 28 February 2008. Retrieved 12 February 2008. Unknown parameter |deadurl= ignored (|url-status= suggested) (help)
  9. "Chartstats.com". Chartstats.com. 27 March 1954. Retrieved 30 December 2011.
  10. Vandyke, Alan. "Lastingtribute.co.uk". Lastingtribute.co.uk. Archived from the original on 6 January 2010. Retrieved 30 December 2011. Unknown parameter |deadurl= ignored (|url-status= suggested) (help)
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 "Alma Cogan biography". AllMusic. Retrieved 23 May 2009.
  12. Rice, Jo (1982). The Guinness Book of 500 Number One Hits (1st ed.). Enfield, Middlesex: Guinness Superlatives Ltd. p. 20. ISBN 0-85112-250-7.
  13. "Sentstarr.tripod.com". Sentstarr.tripod.com. Retrieved 30 December 2011.
  14. Lesley Ann Jones (5 April 2015). ""Yes, I lost John to another woman... but it WASN'T Yoko: More than 25 years ago, the Beatle's former wife Cynthia shared a secret with her would-be biographer. Only now can it be told"". Daily Mail. Retrieved 5 April 2014.
  15. 15.0 15.1 "John Lennon's secret lover". Dailymail.co.uk. Retrieved 4 October 2014.
  16. "Dailymail.co.uk". London: Dailymail.co.uk. 7 November 2006. Retrieved 30 December 2011.
  17. "Telegraph.co.uk". Telegraph.co.uk. 4 December 2003. Retrieved 4 October 2014.
  18. "Alma Cogan Competition". Almacogan.com. 17 May 2009. Retrieved 5 April 2015.
  19. Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 113. ISBN 1-904994-10-5.
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