Alma Angela Cohen was born in 1932 in the East End of London. Her mother liked the name Alma and took it from the actress Alma Taylor. Alma’s parents moved to Worthing, Sussex where she grew up before going to school in Reading, Berkshire. Her father sang and she had an uncle who was a band leader. The house was full of jazz and young Alma soon picked it up. She was auditioned for the Ted Health Band as a child and began singing at tea dances, aged only 11. When she was 16 and appearing in the chorus of High Button Shoes, Walter (Wally) J Ridley spotted her and signed her to the HMV label. Although her first single "To Be Worthy Of You" / "Would You" (1952) was not a commercial success it did receive regular airplay.
During a recording session in 1953 Alma broke into a giggle while singing "If I Had A Golden Umbrella.” The producers liked it and kept it in the recording then a year later, the girl with a giggle in her voice had a hit with Bell Bottom Blues which really launched her recording career.
Bell Bottom Blues (1954) which sold more than 100,000 copies. She was soon asked to replace Joy Nichols as the resident singer for “Take it from here” (BBC). where she performed up beat ballads and novelty songs.
Alma became a firm favourite in other radio shows including Gently Bentley, and The Glums which established her as a UK star.
In 1955 Alma topped the UK charts for the first and only time with "Dreamboat."
She was a belle figure and attracted much attention for her collection of luxurious haute couture. She wore hooped skirts, often heavy with sequins, and figure hugging tops. Her gowns were indeed extravagant and her dress always caught the eye during her many TV appearances. Alma changed her musical material to suit the times and by the end of the fifties she had her own television program and was cast in the role of Nancy in Lionel Bart’s Oliver. In her private life Alma was a party girl and played host to the glitterati with all-night parties at her Kensington High Street home. Guests were literally a ‘Whose Who ‘and included regular such as actors, Stanley Baker and Roger Moore, musos, Paul McCartney, Noël Coward, Ethel Merman, and Lionel Bart, among many others. Her close friends included Danny Kaye, Elizabeth Taylor, Bob Hope and Sammy Davis Junior. It has been suggest Alma had a close relationship with John Lennon. Paul McCartney famously wrote the first draft of Yesterday at Alma's flat, and she became the first woman to record it.
Although the hits had dried up she continued to record and had credible versions of Burt Bacharach songs and recorded six Beatles songs, including: “Help,” "Eight Days a Week," "Yesterday," "I Feel Fine," and "Ticket to Ride." They were recorded in Studio 1 at the Abbey Road Studios and the orchestrations were by Stan Foster.
Some authorities suggest Lennon and McCartney were present but others deny this. Behind the scenes Alma had fallen out with EMI and her usual producer Norman Newell was replaced by David Gooch. Despite her status as a star EMI records had decided in 1965 not to renew her recording contract. Alma continued to appear live and whilst touring Sweden in 1966 she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She died shortly afterwards. In her short career she had 18 chart hits and at her height Alma Cogan was the highest paid British female entertainer.
Worth a listen
To be worthy of you (1952)
Over And Over Again (1953)
If I had a golden umbrella (1953)
Bell Bottom Blues (1954)
Make love to me (1954)
This Ole House (1954)
I Can't Tell A Waltz From A Tango (1954)
Never Do A Tango With An Eskimo (1955)
Hernando’s Hideaway (1955)
Love And Marriage (1956)
Why Do Fools Fall In Love/ (1956)
The Birds And The Bees (1956)
Willie Can (1956)
In the middle of the house (1956)
Whatever Lola wants (1957)
Last Night On The Back Porch (1959)
Just Couldn't Resist Her With Her Pocket Transistor (1960)
Tell Him (1963)
Fly Me To The Moon (1963)
The Tennessee Waltz (1964)
Eight Days A Week (1965)