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Last Updated: Wednesday, 16 July, 2003, 15:42 GMT 16:42 UK
Singer Elisabeth Welch dies
Elisabeth Welch
Welch was regarded as one of the finest female popular singers
Elisabeth Welch, an American singer who became a regular on West End stages, has died in London at the age of 99.

She was regarded as one of a handful of female singers who gave classic renditions of the popular songs by modern composers such as Cole Porter, Jerome Kern and Noel Coward.

"I never take a song, however good it be, if it isn't one in which I can lose myself," she said in a 1934 interview.

Beginning her career as a singer and dancer on Broadway - even introducing the Charleston dance in one musical - she later became a regular on stages in London, settling there in the 1930s.

As well as her musicals and albums, she was also a film star, notably singing Stormy Weather in director Derek Jarman's 1980 version of Shakespeare's The Tempest.

The daughter of a American Indian father and a Scottish mother, she was born in New York City in 1904. She said one of her strongest childhood memories was of the artistes at the 63rd Street Theatre near her home.

Stormy Weather

After singing in church choirs she joined the Broadway production of Runnin' Wild, a riotous musical. This upset her father, a devout Baptist, who said: "Girlie's on the boards! She's lost!"

In 1928 she became a hit in Paris with the musical Blackbirds of 1928, before returning to New York and winning kudos for her rendition of Cole Porter's Love for Sale in the show The New Yorkers.

Moving to London in the 1930s, she introduced the classic torch song Stormy Weather to Britain in the musical Dark Doings.

During the war she acted alongside Rex Harrison and in a wartime review alongside John Gielgud.

Her postwar performances included the musical Cindy-Ella and Pippin - where she performed her standout song sitting down, because she was crippled with arthritis.

Five ovations

After Jarman's Tempest, she had a hit show in Broadway in 1986, and an Australian tour two years later.

In 1985, at the age of 81, she was mugged and beaten unconscious outside a London theatre, but was playing her role again the next day.

In 1992 she was honoured with a tribute concert at London's Lyric Theatre - and was given five standing ovations, a record.

She retired four years later to a rest home in west London.

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