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WWII Songstress Croons Her Way to Age 100 With a New Album

Dame Vera Lynn “the Forces’ Sweetheart” will make the history books with the release

Vera Lynn performing a lunchtime concert at a munitions factory in 1941. (Public Domain)
smithsonian.com

Dame Vera Lynn’s storied career began in the smoky men’s clubs of London’s East End, where she performed as a small child in the 1930s. The singer’s rich voice would go on to raise up the spirits of soldiers and civilians alike during World War II, which is how she earned her the nickname “the Forces’ Sweetheart.” Now Lynn will make headlines again: To celebrate her 100th birthday next month, she is debuting a new album.

Vera Lynn 100 features original vocals and re-orchestrated versions of Lynn’s best-known hits, the Press Association reports. With it, Lynn will break a Guinness World Record for a title she already holds, as the “oldest person to release a new album.” (She currently holds the record for debuting National Treasure—The Ultimate Collection at the age of 97.)

Encyclopedia Britannica writes that Lynn got started in the business early, leaving school at the age of 14 to pursue her singing career. The young songbird was soon discovered by a booking agent, and she performed with big bands steadily in the 1930s. Then, in 1937, she scored a big break—a regular spot on the radio program “Life From Mayfair,” fronted by the famous English bandleader Bert Ambrose.

It was during her time on “Life From Mayfair” that Lynn teamed up with two composers to create her greatest hit: "We’ll Meet Again." Released in 1939, the song’s wistful lyrics—unfurled by Lynn’s dusky voice—captured the fragile hope of a nation at war. “We'll meet again,” Lynn sang. “Don't know where/ Don't know when/ But I know we'll meet again/ Some sunny day.”

In 1942, Lynn released "(There’ll be Bluebirds Over) The White Cliffs of Dover," a soldier’s song of longing for England and a better tomorrow. The tune was another wartime hit. Throughout the war, Lynn became increasingly determined to use her talents to boost British morale. She joined the Entertainment National Services Association in 1944, and spent months travelling to India, Burma and Egypt to perform for the troops. It was during this time that Lynn was first called “the Forces’ Sweetheart”—a nickname that endures to this day.

After the war, Lynn’s career didn’t slow down—in 1952 she recorded a cover of the German ballad "Auf Wiederseh'n, Sweetheart," which became the first song by a British artist to reach the number one spot on American music charts.

Bouts of emphysema forced Lynn to scale back on performing toward the end of the 1960s, but she got to see her work honored when she received the Order of the British Empire in 1969.

In 2009, Lynn came back into the spotlight when she released her greatest-hits album We’ll Meet Again—The Very Best of Vera Lynn. The album soared into the Top 20 charts, rivaling the likes of the contemporary acts like the Black Eyed Peas and the Arctic Monkeys.

Perhaps no one was more surprised by the comeback than Lynn herself. “I thought the songs were suitable for that time and that there would be new songs that would come along to take their place,” she told TIME’s William Lee Adams in 2009.

Though Lynn vowed during her interview with Adams that her “singing days are over”—her latest album, set to be released on March 17, three days before her birthday, proves it was a promise that, happily, she has not kept.

About Brigit Katz

Brigit Katz is a journalist based in New York City. Her work has appeared in New York magazine, Flavorwire, and Women in the World, a property of The New York Times.

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