Newham singer Linda Lewis celebrates 50 years in the music industry
PUBLISHED: 13:21 16 October 2017 | UPDATED: 13:41 16 October 2017
When Linda Lewis was born in Custom House she had ambitions of becoming an artist but thanks to her mum she is one of the most established black British singers.
In fact she is celebrating 50 years in the music industry – some mean feat when you consider how fickle and disposable it is today.
So how did this youthful 67-year-old manage to hold on tight for half a century?
She told the Recorder: “You have to be slightly crazy to survive.
“My mum had a good voice so she put all her ambition into me.
“I went to a stage school for a year where I was bullied because I was black and through jealously.
“But in the end I left because my mum couldn’t afford the lunches,” Linda laughed.
At the age of five Linda moved to Canning Town before she left home at 17 to live in a commune in Hampstead and her career took off.
Among her contemporaries at the house, which was filled with young musicians, was the late Marc Bolan of T- Rex fame.
“I fancied him at the time,” Linda said. “He was androgynous and aware of his sexuality.
“Cat Stevens (a 60s singer also known as Yusuf Islam) was also there and he actually wrote ‘The Old School Yard’ for me.”
Linda wrote her first song at the age of 18 and went on to have a string of hits including ‘Rock-a-Doodle-Doo’ and ‘Sideway Shuffle’.
She broke the mould by being one of the few black British female singers, a concept which puzzled some people.
“Because I am black people presumed I was an American who was brought up in gospel churches where in fact I was raised in the Catholic Church which is very inhibiting.”
The mother-of-one has two brothers and two of her four sisters Shirley (who is married to Luke Goss from the 80s boy band Bros) and Dee are also singers.
“I gave my sisters their first break as my backing singers on Rock-a-Doodle-Doo,” Linda said.
“When we were going on TV to sing I bought them red dresses to wear so they looked fatter than me!”
A big hit on the Northern soul scene, Linda said Sideway Shuffle was written in just 10 minutes in a ‘John Lennon-style way’.
She added: “The lyrics are about someone sitting on the fence.
“I’m a Libra so with me there is a long decision process. It takes me a while for me to make decisions but when I do I won’t change it.”
One of her best decisions she made was to adopt a three-week old baby when she lived in the US.
Her son Jess is now 30 and has followed his mother’s footsteps by becoming a musician.
Linda said: “It was much easier to adopt in the US than in the UK.
“My mother is half English and half Jamaican and my father is mixed race too. So this meant at the time that I would have only been allowed to adopt a mixed race child in the UK.”
Recalling her early days as a singer Linda remembers being told she would be as big as Diana Ross but she always put love first.
“I could have gone much further in my career but I kept sabotaging it by going off with husbands to play the doting wife,” she laughed.
“I kept putting off my career because of love. But I am much more focussed now.”
Despite clocking up 50 years in the industry, Linda continues to perform and will be one of the artists appearing at Wesley Stace’s Cabinet of Wonders which is taking place at Bush Hall in Shepherd’s Bush next month.
“I love performing. I get terribly nervous even now but I talk to myself like an athletic does before a race as I like to give people their moneys worth.
“You can take the girl out of the East End but you can’t take the East End out of the girl.”
To commemorate 50 years in the music industry Linda has complied a five-disc set called ‘Funky Bubbles’ which includes previously unreleased recordings and a recently discovered reel of tape recorded live in Boston USA.
For more information visit lindalewis.co.uk.
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