National Portrait Gallery

Devotees

Linda Lewis (b.1950)

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Linda Lewis, singer and songwriter, once described as a ‘Cockney-Jamaican Gracie Fields’, was born in the dockland area of London’s East End. As a child, Lewis went to stage school and worked as a film extra. She can be glimpsed as one of the fans in the concert sequence of the Beatles’s A Hard Day’s Night (1964). Lewis built a reputation as a singer in the 1960s, performing alongside bluesman John Lee Hooker. This was followed by a two-year stint with the soul-oriented band Ferris Wheel. Recognition came as a leading session singer in the early 1970s with her exceptionally broad vocal range (five octaves). She recorded with artists including David Bowie (on Aladdin Sane) and Cat Stevens, but Lewis wanted to pursue a solo career.

In 1971 Lewis released her first album, Say No More. Two more albums, Lark (1972) and Fathoms Deep (1973) helped establish her as Britain’s first successful Black female singer/songwriter. A few years later she was somewhat eclipsed in this field by Joan Armatrading who hit the charts with ‘Love and Affection’ in 1976. Meanwhile, Lewis’s growing band of admirers included rock and soul legends such as Joni Mitchell, Eric Clapton and Stevie Wonder. At first, Lewis explored a serious and philosophical side to her character with folk-style songs. She later said, ‘on Lark I got into my guitar and piano,’ but top twenty chart success came with the chirpy, more mainstream ditty ‘Rock-A-Doodle-Doo’ in 1973. With the success of her fourth album, Not a Little Girl Anymore (1975), Lewis entered the mainstream in a big way. She enjoyed her first top ten chart success with a disco version of the soul classic ‘It’s in His Kiss’, and headlined her own British concert tour which included a memorable appearance at London’s Royal Festival Hall with Labi Siffre on October 27, 1975. Though it didn’t make the charts, Linda’s dazzling version of Cat Stevens’s ‘Remember the Days of the Old Schoolyard’ received much air-play on the radio, and has come to be regarded as a classic. Also featured on Not a Little Girl Anymore was Linda’s stunning version of John Martyn’s ‘May You Never’ and her own composition, the lively ‘Rock and Roller Coaster’.

In 1976 Lewis made her debut in West End musical theatre in a revival of Ned Sherrin’s Cindy-Ella, retitled I Gotta Shoe, a soul version of the Cinderella story in which Lewis co-starred with Elisabeth Welch, and Clarke Peters. There were two further chart successes with ‘Baby, I’m Yours’ (1976) and ‘I’d Be Surprisingly Good For You’ from Evita (1979). Her singing was memorably featured on the soundtracks of such films as Ken Russell’s Lisztomania (1975) (‘Hell’), Dick Deadeye (1975) (‘The Moon and I’), and Black Joy (1977) (‘It’s in His Kiss’), and there were numerous guest appearances on television. These included Top of the Pops (1975), Supersonic (1975), Twiggy (1975), her own London Weekend Television special with John Miles called Music (1976), The Fosters (1977) with Lenny Henry, and Ned Sherrin’s popular Song by Song series (1978). There were two further critically-acclaimed albums. Record Mirror described Woman Overboard (1977) as ‘an album of wonderful and varied delights’ and Hacienda View (1979) as ‘her best album to date’.

In the 1980s, after more than a decade of non-stop touring and recording, Lewis settled in Los Angeles where she spent over ten years out of the public eye. In 1992 Linda Lewis and her sister Shirley sang backing vocals on Joan Armatrading’s album Square the Circle. In the mid-1990s Lewis returned to the spotlight with the release of two impressive new albums: Second Nature (1995) and Live in Japan (1996). After returning to Britain, Lewis resumed live performing with club dates, tours, and a new CD: Live in Old Smokey (2006), recorded at Ronnie Scott’s Club in London. There have also been CD compilations of her recordings from the 1970s, including The Best of Linda Lewis (1996) and Reach for the Truth: Best of the Reprise Years 1971-1974 (2002). Charles Waring of Blues and Soul magazine says: ‘It remains something of a perplexing mystery why an artist as talented as Linda Lewis is not regarded as a household name in her own country.’

Further information:

www.lindalewis.co.uk

Photography

This image was photographed by Jim Cregan, Lewis’s lead guitarist at the time, taken at rehearsals for the Cat Stevens tour of America. Jim would later marry Linda and appear on four of her albums, including 'Not A Little Girl Anymore' (1975). Jim Cregan is a well known rock guitarist and bassist who has played with Family, Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel, and Rod Stewart. He was with Stewart from 1977 to 1995 co-writing and producing some of Stewart’s greatest hits. The image itself was taken on 35mm transparency film then scanned using a Imacon flextight scanner to produce a digital file that was then printed using a lambda process. All Lambda prints are on Fuji Crystal Archive photographic paper. Traditional reversal prints generated from transparency films where phased out early this century.

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