Lita Roza: Singer of 1953 hit 'How Much Is That Doggie In the Window?'
Born: 14 March, 1926, in Liverpool. Died: 14 August, 2008, in London, aged 82.
LITA Roza may have cared little for her 1953 hit How Much Is That Doggie In the Window?, but it made her name and gave her a place in UK pop history. She was the first British female singer to top the UK singles chart and the first vocalist to do so from Liverpool: long before the Beatles or Cilla Black. Roza so disliked the number that she refused to sing it on stage or on television, but it has remained a popular novelty numbers in the catalogue.
In fact Roza epitomised 1950s glamour: she had swish hairdos and wore diadem-spangled gowns and stiletto heels – which became her trademark. In those post-war years of austerity, Rosa added some much-needed sparkle to life. And she knew how to deliver a song: her voice had a raw strength perfectly at home delivering jazz numbers or romantic ballads. Sir Elton John put it succinctly: "We just don't make singers like Lita Roza any more."
Lilian Patricia Roza was one of seven children whose Spanish-born father worked as an engineer and played piano in the Liverpool clubs. Roza attended a local school where a classmate was Jean Alexander – later Hilda Ogden in Granada TV's Coronation Street.
Roza worked in a factory, but unbeknown to her parents, aged only 12 she answered an advertisement for a dancer in a pantomime in Norwich. Despite her age she got the job. Other bookings followed and her natural, vivacious personality got her bookings in revues and clubs. At 18 she married a GI and went to the United States, believing her singing career was over.
However, the marriage did not work out and she returned to the UK and auditioned with the Ted Heath Band – then enjoying huge success at the height of the Big Band era. Heath heard Roza sing one song and asked her to sing with the band that night. Decca followed up her appearances with Ted Heath with a contract, and between 1951 and 1957 she issued more than 50 singles.
Her versatility as a songstress was shown in the range of her recordings, most notably her version of Allentown Jail, the theme song from the movie High Noon, in 1952.
The following year she recorded How Much Is That Doggie in the Window? She at first refused to do it but gave in reluctantly. Years later she said: "I said I would sing it once and once only and then I would never sing it again, and I haven't." She sang the number in one take and vehemently stuck to her word, even when it hit the top of the charts later that year. Roza topped the Melody Maker poll for Favourite Female Vocalist from 1951-55 and the New Musical Express poll from 1952-55.
The "doggie song" has remained popular in nostalgia programmes but had an extra moment in the spotlight when former prime minister Margaret Thatcher chose it as one of her songs on the BBC radio show Desert Island Discs.
In 1955 she left Ted Heath and pursued a solo career, having hits with Hey There and Jimmy Unknown. She sang A Tear Fell on a charity single for the Lord's Taverners which also made the charts. Roza demonstrated her ability to make a song her own, recording cover versions of such popular songs as Volare and I Could Have Danced All Night.
Although she appeared in heats for the Eurovision song contest, she never made the final contest. Roza was a ballad singer who preferred to sing in intimate theatres and clubs. In such a setting her warm personality, vivacious smile and lively stage manner were appreciated by audiences. Roza had a successful career on television – fronting her own Saturday night spectaculars and Six-Five Special – and was still cutting popular discs in the late 1950s. Hey You There With the Stars In Your Eyes, for example, sold well. But the arrival of the 1960s sidelined her career somewhat.
Instead she toured Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Las Vegas and found further success back in the UK in 1982, when she and the singer Denis Lotis hosted the annual Ted Heath orchestra reunions.
In 2001 she opened Liverpool's Wall of Hits in Matthew Street, home of the Cavern Club. On display were discs of every No 1 hit from Merseyside, beginning, suitably, with her own and ending with Atomic Kitten.
She was married twice; both marriages were dissolved.
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