Written by 9:28 AM Music

Engelbert Humperdinck: How a shy Madras boy became a pop singer and a heart-throb.

A shy boy, born in Madras, becomes an international pop star and heart throb. Hits make to the top…

Early Days

Arnold George Dorsey was born in Madras, British India (now Chennai, India), in 1936. He was one of ten children to British Army NCO Mervyn Dorsey, who was of Welsh descent, and his wife, Olive. She was of German descent. Like Sir Cliff Richard, some sources say he has an Anglo-Indian heritage. He was christened Arnold George Dorsey but became known professionally as Engelbert Humperdinck.

He dropped out of school at 15 to pursue his dreams alone and described himself as a dreamer. He and his family emigrated to Leicester, England, in 1946. He took up the saxophone out of a desire for music. For nearly a decade, he performed under the stage name “Gerry Dorsey,” a nickname he earned thanks to his ability to do impressions of Jerry Lewis. As a saxophonist in nightclubs by the early 1950s, he was already in the music scene. However, it is thought that he didn’t begin singing until he was well into his late teens.

Tuberculosis strikes

When the British Army requisitioned Humperdinck to serve in the Royal Corps of Signals in the ’50s, it ended his music career. His post took him to Germany. He was discharged from the Army in 1958, after which he recorded his song with the label Decca Records, his debut single, “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again,”

Unfortunately, this bombed with the listeners. He resorted to singing in bars catering to eke a livelihood. In 1961, he was diagnosed with tuberculosis, worsening his already difficult situation. It was nine months before he felt normal again. After getting better, he returned to singing in nightclubs. His life was challenging, and he had yet to achieve success.

Engelbert Humperdinck: the reason behind the name

After relocating from South Wales to the United States in the early 1960s, Sir Tom Jones’ career took off. Gordon Mills, who managed artists including Engelbert Humperdinck, helped him out. In 1963, promoter Gordon Mills signed the singer Thomas Woodward, who changed his name to Tom Jones so that he could cash in on the success of the Oscar-winning film of the same name. With Gordon’s help, Sir Tom signed a Decca recording contract. He quickly became a multimillionaire and international sensation after releasing the James Bond theme song for the film Thunderball.

Gordon then signed another promising young performer, Arnold “Gerry” Dorsey, whose stage name was changed to that of the legendary singer Engelbert Humperdinck. Tom Jones biographer Colin Macfarlane explained the reasoning behind the name change in an interview with Express.co.uk.

Arnold Massey asked Gordon, “Gordon, can you make me like Tom?”

Gordon said, “You’ve been around too much, so I can’t. I’m powerless to make you like Tom.”

But Gordon discovered one night that he had an album by the classical composer Engelbert Humperdinck sitting next to his record player. He instinctively decided to rename Arnold “Gerry” Dorsey Engelbert Humperdinck.

Although Englebert and Sir Tom Jones had the same manager, you would have thought this would bring them closer, but it didn’t. Vying for the top position on the charts might have caused a rivalry.

The singing ‘Paki’

Tom Jones referred to Engelbert Humperdinck as the Singing Paki. Paki was a universal epithet the British would use to tag anyone from the Indian sub-continent. You could be an Indian or a Sri Lankan, but you would still be called a ‘Paki’. 

His management always treated Engelbert as being something of a low priority. The song Release Me, which brought him success and launched his career, was earlier turned down by Tom Jones. Engelbert bitterly resented the step-brotherly treatment. He cannot have been pleased by Jones’s name either. Here he was, with the sonority of an opera singer. He could easily traverse a three-and-a-half octave range, a gift he got from his mother, an operatic singer, and still being given second-class treatment.

His rise to the top of the charts

In the 1960s, three of his singles were among the best-selling in the UK. When he recorded the ballads “Release Me” and “The Last Waltz” in 1967, both songs were top of the UK Singles Chart and sold over a million copies. Then came a string of hits, including 1967’s “There Goes My Everything,” 1968’s “Am I That Easy to Forget,” and 1969’s “A Man Without Love” (1968). In doing so, he amassed a sizable fan base, with many followers taking the moniker “Humperdinckers.”

After marking over 50 years as a successful singer, Humperdinck continues to record and tour, having sold more than 140 million records worldwide. In the 1970s, Humperdinck had significant North American chart successes with “After the Lovin'” (1976) and “This Moment in Time” (1979). With these, he gained a reputation as a prolific concert performer.

Englebert received renewed attention during the 1990s with his recordings of “Lesbian Seagull” for the soundtrack of Beavis and Butt-head Do America (1996) and a dance album (1998).

The 2000s brought in a lot of recording gigs for Englebert. The Grammy-nominated gospel album Always Hear The Harmony: The Gospel Sessions (2003) and a double album of duets, Engelbert Calling (2014). Humperdinck represented the UK at the Eurovision Song Contest in Baku in 2012 with the song “Love Will Set You Free.”

Humperdinck’s concerts were a more profitable enterprise than his recordings, so his manager went slow on recordings and encouraged him to do more concerts and fewer recordings. As a result, he did not figure in the rankings of the music charts. This affected his ratings quite considerably. In 1976, he signed a new deal with Epic Records, which returned him to the American Top Ten with “After the Lovin‘.” This album made it to the Top 20 and became his biggest-selling LP since 1970.
Humperdinck also topped the charts with 1979’s “This Moment in Time” in 1983, with “Till You and Your Lover Are Lovers Again.”

Engelbert attempted a recording comeback with the 1987 album Remember I Love You, which featured a duet with Gloria Gaynor and earned him a Golden Globe Entertainer of the Year award. The album Winding Road featured songs by Eric Clapton, John Lennon, Christine McVie, and others. This fetched Engelbert Humperdinck his second Grammy nomination.

Some stats:

  • Sold more than 140 million records, including 64 gold albums and 23 platinum,
  • Received four Grammy nominations, a Golden Globe, and stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and Las Vegas Walk of Fame.
  • Recorded everything from the most romantic ballads to movie theme songs, disco, rock, and gospel.
  • Performed for the Queen and many heads of state.

After appearing on MTV several times, Engelbert struck a chord with the younger generation.

The sideboard trademark was copied by Elvis!

Even Elvis owed a debt to Engelbert. His sideboards, first introduced by Engelbert, were copied by Elvis.

Engelbert and Elvis were good friends and sang each other’s songs. Engelbert sang Love Me Tender. Elvis sang Release Me, and There Goes My Everything.

The Las Vegas concert circuit saw Engelbert earn the friendship and respect of Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. The now famous Jimi Hendrix began his career as the first half of Engelbert’s show.

Engelbert Humperdinck was made an MBE in April 2022 during an investiture service at Windsor Castle. The British pop star, 85, was among a host of high-achievers to receive royal honors by Princess Royal on Tuesday. Others collecting awards included rocker Rick Wakeman, actor Sir Jonathan Pryce and former rugby player Rob Burrow.


Pic credit: After the Lovin’” by elvissa is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Engelbert Humperdinck (singer) – Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Engelbert_Humperdinck_(singer)

Engelbert Humperdinck – The Last Waltz, Pop Vocal cover by iggylee …. https://www.coverium.com/music-video/engelbert-humperdinck-cantante-the-last-waltz-vocal-cover-by-iggylee/TM7O7_MnM8c

Engelbert Humperdinck: How a shy Madras boy became pop heart-throb – dailyO. https://www.dailyo.in/arts/engelbert-humperdinck-british-pop-singer-golden-globe-elvis-presley-frank-sinatra-32995

Engelbert Humperdinck Biography, Songs, & Albums | AllMusic. https://www.allmusic.com/artist/engelbert-humperdinck-mn0000098081/biography

ENGELBERT HUMPERDINCK LYRICS – SongLyrics.com. https://www.songlyrics.com/engelbert-humperdinck-lyrics/

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