She was perhaps the most recognizable female vocalist of the Second World War. Her million-selling record “We’ll Meet Again” became an anthem of hope for soldiers and civilians alike across both theaters of war. And her performances on radio gave reassurance to Londoners during the darkest days of the Blitz. Dame Vera Lynn has died at the age of 103.
Vera Lynn was born in London in 1917, the daughter of a plumber and dressmaker. She began performing before the public at the age of seven and took her grandmother’s maiden name as her stage name by eleven, when she made her first radio appearance on the BBC, performing with the famous Joe Loss Orchestra. By 1936 Lynn had secured a solo recording contract with Crown (later Decca) Records. In 1937, Lynn produced her ﬁrst hit recording, “Red Sails in the Sunset”, and later joined the Bert Ambrose Orchestra as female vocalist. When not performing publically, she worked as the administrative assistant to the vice-president of a London-based shipping company.
While gaining some popularity during the mid to late 1930s, it wasn’t until the outbreak of World War Two that Lynn’s career really took off. Her wartime contribution included singing to people who were using London’s subways as air raid shelters, and she gave outdoor concerts for the troops in Egypt, India and Burma. She is best known for the popular song “We’ll Meet Again”, (recorded with Arthur Young on the Hammond Novachord) in 1939 at the outbreak of the war. Other hit recordings of Lynn’s from the period include “The White Cliffs of Dover”, “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” and “There’ll Always Be an England”.
After the war, Vera’s popularity remained constant, and she continued to perform and record albums, devoting her spare time and energy to charity work connected with servicemen and disabled children. She was held in great esteem especially by World War II veterans, and in 2000 was named the Briton who best exemplified the spirit of the “Greatest Generation”. In 1952, Lynn’s recording of “Auf Wiedersehen, Sweetheart” became the first record by a British performer to top the charts in the United States, paving the way for The Beatles who would follow her success over a decade later.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Lynn hosted her own variety series on BBC1, and in 1976 she hosted the BBC’s “A Jubilee of Music”, celebrating the pop music hits of the period from 1952 to 1976 to commemorate Queen Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee year.
Vera Lynn sang at Buckingham Palace in a ceremony that marked the golden jubilee of VE Day (Victory in Europe) in 1995. A decade later, she made a surprise appearance at the VE Day ceremonies and gave a concert in Trafalgar Square, London. This would be Lynn’s final vocal performance at a VE Day anniversary event.
In 2009, at the age of 92, she became the oldest living artist to top the United Kingdom record charts with the compilation album “We’ll Meet Again: The Very Best of Vera Lynn”, outselling both the Arctic Monkeys and The Beatles. In 2017 she released “Vera Lynn: 100”, a compilation album of hits marking her 100th birthday. The album became an instant hit, making her the first centenarian performer in history to have a Top 10 album in the charts. 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.
Vera Lynn received two nominations at the 2018 Classic Brit Awards for Female Artist of the Year and Album of the Year and was also the recipient of the 2018 Lifetime Achievement Award. In early 2020, a portrait of Lynn was unveiled at the Royal Albert Hall in connection with the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II. Lynn performed at Royal Albert Hall 52 times from 1937 to 2006.
In 1992 Lynn was awarded the honorary degree of Master of Music by the University of London, and in 2000 she received a “Spirit of the 20th Century” Award.
Lynn died on 18 June 2020 at her home in East Sussex (South Eastern England) at the age of 103. She is survived by her only daughter, Virginia Penelope Lewis-Jones.
The music of Vern Lynn is regularly featured on Swing Street Radio.