Cliff Richard, Englebert Humperdink, Freddie Mercury and Norah Jones -
Each a big name, conjuring up great music, amassing fans and making a name for themselves – What connection did they have with India? I decided to investigate
Englebert Humperdinck – Born in Madras 1936 as Arnold George Dorsey to a British dad and an Anglo Indian mom – Big family, Arnold was the youngest - mom taught violin, moved to UK in 1947 and then on to US. His manager renamed him Englebert. This multimillionaire singer still has relatives in Chennai and visits them…
"I have such wonderful childhood memories of Madras. I like the sun, and my 10 siblings and I went from a big home in India to relatively modest surroundings in England, which can be so cold and grey."
"We lived near the harbour," Engelbert dimly recalls his Madras days. "The beach was nearby. I understand that the house that I lived in is no more. The tsunami took it away”.
Cliff Richard - Born in Lucknow 1940, named Harry Rodger Webb, Parents lived in Dehra Dun, English father and Anglo-Indian (Cliff never confirmed this!) mom Dorothy Dazely from Asansol, For 8 years Harry lived & studied in Calcutta, then moved back to England to a miserable (teased on his Indian looks) period until 1958 till he started his Drifters band and renamed himself Cliff Richard.
Any remaining connections in India? Charity organisations at Lucknow & Calcutta…
His perfume line started with a scent ‘Miss you nights’ inspired by his Indian memories…
Violence began to erupt on the streets of Calcutta around 1946. English nationals living in India were also becoming the target of violence, and Harry's mother Dorothy was being hassled while shopping with Indians shouting 'Go back to England white woman.' A frightened young Harry would scream back 'Leave her alone. She's my mummy.' During a period of intense rioting, a nearby family of Moslems were killed, with the only survivor a young boy who they could see hiding in his garden. They kept him alive by dropping food parcels from their window every night until Dorothy's uncle, a Calcutta Policeman, could be called. This experience shook the young family tremendously, and when the police arrived to collect the boy with flesh visibly hanging off the tracks of the car they decided they had to leave.
Freddie Mercury- Farok Bomi Bulsara , born 1946 in Zanzibar to Indian Parsi parents, educated at St Peter’s Boarding school at Panchagni until he was 17, returned to Zanzibar where political upheaval forced them to move on to UK in 1963. Used to be called Freddie at school and took up the name Freddie Mercury – Messenger of Gods during his legendary singing career with Queen..
Freddie was particularly good at Table tennis, cricket, boxing and of course playing the piano. By the age of twelve he was performing alongside four of his schoolmates in The Hectics, St. Peter's first rock and roll band.
Subash Shah knew him as Buckwheat, a shy, insecure boy with a severe overbite, mimicking the moves of Cliff Richard and Elvis Presley.
Between 1936 and 1946, three of these stars emerged. After that I guess Indians singing pop or rock remained Indians, like our inimitable Usha Uthup.
But I must add one more to complete the round and she is
Norah Jones- Geetali Norah Jones Shankar born in NY 1979 to Ravi Shankar & Sue Jones.
I wonder why I got her into this, she was born & bred in the USA, never really had anything to do with her pater-land. Dad and daughter hardly met…but well, she and her half sis Anoushka are to perform soon. Another titbit, Dad & daughter are furious with Dev Anand for making a movie of their lives – ‘Song of Life’. I think I should have mentioned Anoushka or Karsh Kale instead…Anyway you know how it is, we would like to claim that she is India’s daughter…a half Desi that she is.
Two more persons whose origins you may not have known...Paul Anka - Lebanese & Andre Agassi - Iranian.