She was toothy and red-haired, gawky as a schoolgirl on her first date. But she had a voice to tremble the stars and scare the angels – and enough ambition to fill a cathedral, or two.
If it hadn’t been for that voice, a piercing of passion granted her by God and nurtured in the fog of this auld city, she would have ended up on a typist’s stool, crossing those legs of which she was so justly proud.
And if there was one word everyone here would use to describe her, to inscribe on her stone, it would be “our”.
Yes, “our Cilla”, our very own Cilla Black, the Liverpool girl who made it big.
And each time you heard her most famous record, Anyone Who Had a Heart, you prayed she would hit those top notes. You see, we were with her all the way, as she soared higher. And she never failed, though it is said that its composer, perfectionist Burt Bacharach, had insisted on her doing innumerable takes.
Scouse tones surge through her interpretation of Hal David’s words, “Anyone who had a heart would take me in his arms and love me too, you …”
Of course, Dionne Warwick’s version was cooler, more sophisticated, but Cilla’s had the power – like her friend Gerry Marsden and his interpretation of You’ll Never Walk Alone.
The smoke and salt of the old port could be heard in the words. Purity holds nothing against spirit.
From the start, immaculately dressed Brian Epstein, his cuff-links aglow, knew how to sell Cilla to the world, or at least a generous slice of it.
For he remembered Gracie Fields of Rochdale, the mill girl in clogs. If she had been the Lancashire Lass, Cilla could be the Liverpool Judy – shining in his stable of Merseybeat performers topped, of course, by the Beatles
She knew his boys from her own days in the Cavern, where she had been a cloakroom girl, as well as the nearby Iron Door Club, where her singing and zest for life won friends.
Even in the early days, some people said hers was not such a great voice. More recently, I was gabbing about her with some pals. “People who knock her, don’t understand her gift,” said the sculptor Tom Murphy. “Nobody else sound like her. That’s why she’s great.”
And he was right about our Priscilla Maria Veronica White, brought up above a Chinese laundrey on Scottie Road with her parents, John, a docker, and Priscilla, a market-trader who dealt in second-hand clothes and goods.
Rock-and-roll transformed the grey post-war austerity for Cilla’s generation.
Chances tumbled her way and she grabbed them. She followed Anyone Who Had a Heart with another chart-topper, You’re My World, an Italian melody transferred to Liverpool lungs.
“You’re my werld gerl,” jokers would say.
Youngsters think of Cilla as the TV show hostess, but here its for the singing that she’ll be revered.
“Ah, you are a mucky kid, dirty as a dustbin lid,” as Stan Kelly wrote in Liverpool Lullaby, which she recorded. But she didn’t have a care, though she had strawberry jam tart in her hair.
Raise a glass to Our Cilla.