(Engelbert Humperdinck (born Arnold George Dorsey; 2 May 1936) is an English pop singer. Humperdinck has been described as “one of the finest middle-of-the-road balladeers around.” His singles “Release Me” and “The Last Waltz” both topped the UK music charts in 1967, and sold more than a million copies each. In North America, he also had chart successes with “After the Lovin’” (1976) and “This Moment in Time” (1979). He has sold more than 150 million records worldwide.
Arnold George Dorsey was born in Madras, British India (present-day Chennai, India) in 1936, one of ten children to British Army NCO Mervyn Dorsey, who was of Welsh descent, and his wife Olive, who was of German descent. His family moved to Leicester, England, when he was ten. He soon showed an interest in music and began learning the saxophone. By the early 1950s, he was playing saxophone in nightclubs, but he is believed not to have tried singing until he was seventeen, when friends coaxed him into entering a pub contest. His impression of Jerry Lewis prompted friends to begin calling him “Gerry Dorsey,” a name that he worked under for almost a decade.
Dorsey’s music career was interrupted by his national service in the British Army Royal Corps of Signals during the mid-1950s. He got his first chance to record in 1958 with Decca Records after his discharge. His first single “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again” was not a hit, but Dorsey recorded for the same company almost a decade later with very different results. He continued working the nightclubs until 1961, when he was stricken with tuberculosis. He regained his health and returned to nightclub work, but with little success. Dorsey spent the early 1960s living in a house with Johnny “Sambuca” Todd in Jersey where he honed his talent.
In 1965, Dorsey teamed up with Gordon Mills, his former roommate in the Bayswater area of London, who had become a music impresario and the manager of Tom Jones. Mills, aware that Dorsey had been struggling for several years to become successful in the music industry, suggested a name-change to the more arresting Engelbert Humperdinck, borrowed from the German 19th-century composer of operas such as Hansel and Gretel. Dorsey adopted the name professionally but not legally. Mills arranged a new deal for him with Decca Records, and Dorsey has been performing under this name ever since.
Humperdinck enjoyed his first real success during July 1966 in Belgium, where he and four others represented England in the annual Knokke song contest. Three months later in October 1966, he was on stage in Mechelen. He made a mark on the Belgian charts with “Dommage, Dommage,” and an early music video was filmed with him in the harbour of Zeebrugge.
In the mid-1960s, Humperdinck visited German songwriter Bert Kaempfert at his house in Spain and was offered arrangements of three songs: “Spanish Eyes“; “Strangers in the Night“; and “Wonderland by Night.” He returned to England where he recorded all three songs. He recognized the potential of “Strangers in the Night” and asked manager Gordon Mills whether it could be released as a single—but his request was refused, since the song had already been requested by Frank Sinatra.
In early 1967, the changes paid off when Humperdinck’s version of “Release Me” made the top ten on both sides of the Atlantic and number one in Britain, recorded in a smooth ballad style with a full chorus joining him on the third refrain, and keeping The Beatles‘ “Strawberry Fields Forever“/”Penny Lane” from the top slot in the UK. Another groundbreaking video showed Engelbert tied up with a lasso. “Release Me” spent 56 weeks in the Top 50 in a single chart run. “Release Me” was believed to have sold 85,000 copies a day at the height of its popularity, and it was the best known of his songs for years.
Humperdinck’s easygoing style and good looks earned him a large following, particularly among women. His hardcore female fans called themselves “Humperdinckers.” “Release Me” was succeeded by two more hit ballads: “There Goes My Everything” and “The Last Waltz,” earning him a reputation as a crooner, a description which he disputed. “If you are not a crooner,” he told The Hollywood Reporter writer Rick Sherwood, “it’s something you don’t want to be called. No crooner has the range I have. I can hit notes a bank could not cash. What I am is a contemporary singer, a stylized performer.”
In 1968, the single “A Man Without Love” reached number two in the UK Singles Chart, and the album of the same name reached number three. Another single, Les Bicyclettes de Belsize, was a top 10 hit in the UK and reached the top 40 in the United States. By the end of the decade, Humperdinck’s expanding roster of songs also included “Am I That Easy to Forget,” “The Way It Used To Be,” “I’m A Better Man (For Having Loved You)” (written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David), and “Winter World of Love.” He supplemented these big-selling singles with a number of equally successful albums. These albums formed the bedrock of his fame, and include Release Me, The Last Waltz, A Man Without Love, and Engelbert Humperdinck.
For six months in 1969–1970, Humperdinck fronted his own television series The Engelbert Humperdinck Show for ATV in the UK, and ABC in the US.] In this musical variety show, the singer was joined by some of the most popular and legendary figures then active in entertainment, including Paul Anka, Shirley Bassey, Tony Bennett, Jack Benny, Milton Berle, Ray Charles, Four Tops, Lena Horne, Liberace, Lulu, Carmen McRae Dusty Springfield, Jack Jones, Tom Jones and Dionne Warwick.
1960s and 1970s
By the start of the 1970s, Humperdinck had settled into a busy schedule of recordings, and a number of signature songs emerged from this period, often written by noted musicians and songwriters; among them, “We Made It Happen” (written by Paul Anka), “Sweetheart” (written by Barry Gibb and Maurice Gibb), “Another Time, Another Place,” and “Too Beautiful to Last” (theme from the motion picture Nicholas and Alexandra). In 1972, he starred in his own BBC Television series Engelbert with The Young Generation on BBC1 which ran for thirteen weeks, featuring the dance troupe and regular guests The Goodies and Marlene Charell, as well as international guests. By the middle of the decade, Humperdinck concentrated on selling albums and on live performances, with his style of balladry less popular on the singles charts, developing lavish stage productions that made him a natural for Las Vegas and similar venues. He performed regularly at the Riviera Hotel in Las Vegas through the early and middle years of the decade, recording a live album at the venue with The Three Degrees as backing singers.
In 1976, Humperdinck’s commercial credentials were buoyed by “After the Lovin,’” a ballad produced by Joel Diamond and released by CBS subsidiary Epic. The song was a top ten hit in the US and was nominated for a Grammy Award, went Gold, and won the “most played juke box record of the year” award. The album of the same name reached the top twenty on the US charts, and was a Double Platinum hit for the singer. Three of the album tracks were produced by Bobby Eli and recorded at the Sigma Sound Studios in Philadelphia. As critics point out, the singer’s unexpected foray into the “Philadelphia Sound” was successful, adding to the overall strength of the work. Rounding off the year, Humperdinck made his first appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson with a live performance of the hit single. Joel Diamond went on to produce a series of albums recorded by Humperdinck for Epic, including This Moment in Time from 1979 (the title song topped the US adult contemporary charts) and two Christmas albums. The two men have remained good friends. In 1979, following his late-decade chart successes stateside, Humperdinck took his stage show to Broadway with appearances at the Minskoff Theatre.
1980s and 1990s
In the 1980s, Humperdinck consolidated his discography, recording regularly and performing as many as 200 concerts a year while continuing with headlining appearances in Las Vegas at the Hilton Hotel (Westgate Las Vegas Resort & Casino). In the early and mid 1980s, he made a number of special appearances as an actor on popular television dramas of the time, including The Love Boat, Hotel, and Fantasy Island.
Following his stint as a recording artist with Epic, he released what William Ruhlmann has called an “ambitious double album” titled A Lovely Way To Spend An Evening (1985). Ruhlmann commends Humperdinck for recording this album of standards from the American Songbook; he notes that the work “was a long time coming,” while acknowledging that “the album deserved a broader distribution than it received.” The album was released in the UK as Getting Sentimental and reached the UK Top-40 album charts in the summer of 1985.
In the following years, Humperdinck continued with studio recordings, including a duet with Gloria Gaynor for his 1987 album Remember, I Love You In 1989, he recorded Step into My Life (released as Ich Denk An Dich in Germany). Songs on the album were written by songwriters and musicians such as Dieter Bohlen and Barry Mason. It spawned several singles: “Red Roses for My Lady,” “I Wanna Rock You in My Wildest Dreams,” and a version of Dieter Bohlen‘s first hit from the album Modern Talking, “You’re My Heart, You’re My Soul.”
Humperdinck was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1989 and won a Golden Globe Award as entertainer of the year, while also beginning major involvement in charitable causes such as the Leukemia Research Fund, the American Red Cross, the American Lung Association, and several AIDS relief organizations. He wrote a song for one charity-group titled “Reach Out” (released in 1992, on his studio album Hello Out There]).
Musical appraisals of Humperdinck’s career in the 1990s point to him earning “a new hip cachet” during the Lounge Revival, and note the success of new artistic ventures such as his recording of Lesbian Seagull for the soundtrack of the 1996 film Beavis and Butt-head Do America, and his dance album from 1998. 1995’s Love Unchained, produced by Bebu Silvetti, peaked in the UK Top-20 album charts, marking a return to form in his home country. He retained a public profile during these years, making numerous appearances on radio and television, including the Late Show with David Letterman and The Howard Stern Show, and at events such as the 1996 Daytona 500, where he performed The Star-Spangled Banner.
In 1988, Humperdinck filed a libel suit against the National Enquirer. The origin of the libelous statements was said to be Kathy Jetter, the mother of Humperdinck’s illegitimate child, and were made in an affidavit filed by Jetter in New York Family Court in an effort to increase child support payments from Humperdinck. Jetter lost the action. Jetter had successfully brought a paternity suit against Humperdinck following the birth of her daughter Jennifer in 1977.
Humperdinck’s recording career has continued into the new century, with new albums and a range of musical collaborations. In 2000, he hit the top five of the British album charts with Engelbert at His Very Best, and returned to the top five four years later, after he appeared in a John Smith’s TV-advertisement. In the spring of 2003, Humperdinck collaborated with Grammy Award-winning artist-producer Art Greenhaw to record the roots gospel album Always Hear the Harmony: The Gospel Sessions; joining Humperdinck on the album were The Light Crust Doughboys, The Jordanaires and The Blackwood Brothers. The critically acclaimed album was nominated for a Grammy for “Best Southern, Country or Bluegrass Gospel Album of the Year,” while Humperdinck was photographed with generations of fans at the 2004 Grammy Awards in Los Angeles. He was back in the studio soon after, releasing Let There Be Love in 2005. Music critics have remarked on the historical span of material in the album, from songs first made popular in the 1920s to more recent ones from the 1990s, and point especially to Humperdinck’s version of Nick Lowe‘s “You Inspire Me” as a noteworthy cut. In 2007, Humperdinck released The Winding Road. In a conversation with Larry King, Humperdinck discussed the genesis of the album; he pointed out that The Winding Road featured songs exclusively by British composers, as a “tribute to [his] home country,” released as it was to mark 40 years since his first international hit recording.
During the recording of the Gorillaz album Plastic Beach, Humperdinck was asked by Damon Albarn to contribute to the album as a guest artist. However, after listening to the proposed selection, the singer’s management of the time declined the offer without Humperdinck’s knowledge. Describing the event, Humperdinck stated that the missed opportunity was, “the most grievous sin ever committed”, and that he would have gladly collaborated with the Gorillaz. He added that he had since parted ways with his then-management, handing over duties to his son, Scott Dorsey. At the end of the interview, Humperdinck observed: “I’d really like to rekindle that suggestion again and bring it back. Hopefully they will ask me again. My son Scott will definitely say yes.”
On 1 March 2012, the BBC announced that Humperdinck would represent the United Kingdom in the final of the Eurovision Song Contest 2012, to be staged in Baku, Azerbaijan, on 26 May. The song, “Love Will Set You Free” was unveiled on 19 March 2012, produced by Grammy award-winning music producer Martin Terefe and co-written by Sacha Skarbek. The song was recorded in London, Los Angeles and Nashville, Tennessee, and was mixed by Thomas Juth in London. When Humperdinck’s participation was announced, he was set to become the oldest singer to ever participate in the contest at the age of 76. During the final allocation draw, the United Kingdom was drawn to perform first. Humperdinck eventually finished in 25th place out of 26, coming in second to last in the voting, with 12 points.
In 2013, he collaborated with Australian surf-rock band The Break (composed in part by former members of Midnight Oil) by providing the vocals to the song, “Ten Guitars,” for the album, Space Farm.
Well into his fifth decade as a successful entertainer, Humperdinck enjoys an annual schedule of international concert dates. He has performed in a range of venues and events. In 2009, Humperdinck performed at Carols in the Domain, a popular Christmas event held in Sydney, Australia. The following year found him in Minneapolis, Minnesota at the prestigious Orchestra Hall, in a performance on October 2010. In November 2010 he returned to Australia for a number of concerts, while adding a new studio album, Released, to his discography. Despite international tours, Humperdinck frequently returns for concerts in the United Kingdom; in May 2015, Humperdinck returned for three concerts in his home country, at the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester, the Symphony Hall, Birmingham, and the Royal Albert Hall.
A double-CD of duets, Engelbert Calling, was released in the UK on 17 March 2014 by Conehead Records, and charted in the UK Top-40. The album finds the singer in the studio with musicians like Charles Aznavour, Elton John, Il Divo, Johnny Mathis, Lulu, Willie Nelson, Olivia Newton-John, Cliff Richard, Smokey Robinson, Kenny Rogers, Neil Sedaka, Ron Sexsmith, Gene Simmons, and Dionne Warwick. The album was released in North America by OK! Good Records on 30 September 2014, with Humperdinck making a number of promotional appearances on radio and television, including an extended conversation with Caroline Modarressy-Tehrani on HuffPost Live. A Special Edition Vinyl EP with four tracks from the album was released in May 2015. According to OK! Good Records, the EP is Humperdinck’s first vinyl release after a gap of twenty-five years, and “will be a limited edition 7″ vinyl record with a first pressing of 1,000 copies on transparent cloudy clear vinyl.”
2017 marks the 50th anniversary of Humperdinck’s first international chart success, and two major celebratory disc sets are slated for a release in the early summer. The first, Engelbert Humperdinck 50, is a two-disc album bringing together Humperdinck’s charting singles for Decca, other songs from different points in his career, two new studio recordings, and a new remix of “Release Me.” The second is an extended box set of the singer’s first eleven albums, reissued by Decca Records, complete with original album artwork and supplemented by new notes on the works.
In 1964, Humperdinck married Patricia Healey. They have four children. Through the years, Humperdinck has maintained a strong family life, even as the family alternated between homes in England and in southern California. He was raised and remains a practicing Catholic. Daughter-in-law, Jo Dorsey, has remarked that the singer “tries to visit a cathedral in every town or city he tours globally.”
Humperdinck is a successful real-estate entrepreneur and businessman. He invested in prime real estate properties in Hawaii, Mexico and United States. In the 1970s he bought the Pink Palace, which had been owned by Jayne Mansfield, in Los Angeles. He sold it in 2002 for $4 million to developers. In the 1980s he bought a hotel property in La Paz, Mexico and renamed it La Posada de Englebert. The hotel flourished for a time, acquiring a reputation as an off-the-beaten-track gem. In later years, however, his ownership to the property was successfully challenged. The hotel was demolished in 2012, and was replaced by the Posada Hotel Beach Club.
Humperdinck retains firm ties with Leicestershire, where he spent much of his youth. In August 2005, he auctioned one of his Harley-Davidson motorcycles on eBay to raise money for the County Air Ambulance in Leicestershire. In 2006, the University of Leicester awarded Humperdinck with an Honorary Doctorate of Music. On 25 February 2009, Leicester City Council announced that Humperdinck would be given the Honorary Freedom of Leicester alongside author Sue Townsend and former professional footballer Alan Birchenall. In 2010, Humperdinck was one of the first nine people to be honored with a plaque on the Leicester Walk of Fame.