By Carl Kozlowski
There aren’t many performers anywhere in the world who have maintained their artistic careers for eight decades.
Petula Clark is among those special few, continuing to artistically thrive as a hugely successful singer, actress and composer since debuting as a child singer during World War II.
— and will headline a concert at The Rose nightclub in Pasadena on Sunday night.
These days, the internationally acclaimed 86-ear-old British native, who headlines Sunday night at The Rose in Pasadena, divides her time between Geneva, Switzerland and London when she’s not on the road.
Speaking from the Miami stop of her current 20-city American tour at the end of a momentous year in which she was enshrined on the Hollywood Walk of Fame alongside a class that included Snoop Dogg, Ice T and “Weird Al” Yankovic, Clark made it clear she has no intentions of slowing down.
“I love what I do and have been singing since I was 5 or 6 and was a star in England by 8 or 9, so stardom, fame and money never concerned me very much,” says Clark. “I just love it and am enjoying it now more than I ever have. Tony Bennett would probably say the same thing — he loves to sing and sings divinely, so why not keep doing it?
“When you’re on tour you eat when you can and what you can and you sleep rather strangely, and you’re living a gypsy way of life, which I actually like,” she adds. “If somebody mentions the ‘R’ word to me, retirement, what would I do? People say write a book, but the idea of writing a book has come up so many times in many different countries, and the idea of that doesn’t appeal to me at all. Sitting around thinking about the old days is not at all interesting to me. I’m much more interested in living my life today.”
Clark was born with the name Sally, but her father created the stage name of Petula for her, based on two former girlfriends of his, named Pet and Ulla. She loved to sing in her church choir from the time she was a young child and was performing with a street band from the age of 7, but her big break came at the ripe old age of 9 when she attended a BBC broadcast with her father and the show was delayed by an air raid.
During the bombing, the program’s producer asked for a volunteer to perform in order to calm the nervous audience. Clark leapt into action with a stunning rendition of “Mighty Lak’a Rose,” which earned her a rapturous response and led to more than 500 BBC programs designed to entertain the troops, as well as a British tour with fellow child performer Julie Andrews.
Clark crossed over into acting at 12 after director Maurice Elvey discovered her performing at London’s Royal Albert Hall and cast her in the war drama “Medal for the General.” Thus began a dual-track career that saw her score 15 consecutive Top 40 hits in the US at her mid-1960s peak and led to her selling more than 68 million records. In addition, she set the record for playing the classic role of Norma Desmond in the play “Sunset Boulevard” more than any other actress in history due to her 2,500 performances during its London West End theatrical run.
“I was listening to jazz growing up, and back then Peggy Lee was the singer I absolutely adored while everybody else was singing to Judy Garland,” she recalls. “I don’t know if I was terribly influenced by her. I just like the way she sounded and I do her song “Fever” in my shows now. But I always try not to be influenced too much by people. You have to find your own style and develop that. There are some great singers around now but a lot of them are trying to sound like someone else and I don’t understand the thinking behind that.”
Clark’s remarkable successes have resulted in her receiving two of the highest honors on the planet, as she was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II in 1998 and installed as a Commander of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres of France by the French Minister of Culture in 2012. Those two honors reflect the fact that Clark recorded many of her many hit singles and albums in French as well as English. She also recorded in Spanish, Italian and German.
It’s easy to see why Clark’s life was deemed worthy of not just one but rather three appearances on the tribute TV series “This Is Your Life” across different decades. For those who think of her primarily as the singer of the 1964 classic song “Downtown,” Sunday’s concert will be a richly rewarding experience that spans not only the hits but some of her favorite album cuts and some cover tunes as well.
“’Downtown’ is a completely amazing song, and when I sing it onstage now the whole audience is singing along with me,” says Clark. “How can you define that? Some songs just seem to stay, have that sound, that phrase that sticks in people’s psyches. It doesn’t matter — anywhere I go into any country in the world, it’s a hit.”
Petula Clark performs at 9 p.m. Sunday at the Rose, 245 E. Green St., Pasadena. Tickets are $38 to $68. Call (888) 645-5006 or visit wheremusicmeetsthesoul.com.