When Joaquin Prieto wrote the song La novia in 1961, it quickly became popular with singers in continental Europe. After Britain’s Julie Rogers recorded the title with an English lyric in 1964, the song, now known as The wedding, became an even bigger hit worldwide – and launched Julie into pop stardom.
She was born Julie Rolls in Bermondsey, south London, on 6 April 1943, and was the youngest of five children.
After leaving school at 15, Julie became a receptionist, then a legal secretary.
But the office job didn’t hold much excitement for Julie. “I decided to go to Spain,” she remembers. “I wanted sun. I wanted success. With a girl friend I hitchhiked to Madrid and decided to find work and stay as long as possible.” They landed jobs as cocktail mixers at the swimming pool of an American air force base.
It was during her time in Spain that she formed a dance trio with her friend and a Swedish girl they had met. “As my dancing wasn’t all that hot,” says Julie, “I sang a lot!” The act lasted five months but provided Julie with valuable skills. Then, she took a three-month stint as a stewardess with the Union Castle Line sailing around the coast of Africa.
Her professional singing career began when she joined the Teddy Foster Band as featured vocalist and she sang for two seasons at the Butlin’s holiday camp at Filey. When the band broke up, Teddy and Julie formed a double act and toured the American bases throughout Europe during the following 18 months. Their style was similar to the Louis Prima and Keely Smith duo that was popular in the States at the time. This, together with Julie’s dance band experience, gave her the foundation for her future solo success.
Foster was well known in show business circles and through his connections he took Julie to meet acclaimed record producer Johnny Franz. Julie sang Come rain or come shine and Franz immediately signed her to the Mercury label in early 1964 with a five-year contract. Foster gave up his own musical career to become Julie’s personal manager.
Julie’s first record for the label was It’s magic – originally a hit for Doris Day in 1948. Julie offered an updated revival but it failed to chart. (The flip, Without your love, would, arguably, have made a better A-side.)
It was her second disc, The wedding, released in July 1964, that sealed her success. Julie herself had suggested the number, originally recorded by Argentinean Joaquin Prieto, as it was one she remembered fondly from her time in Spain. She recorded the song and took it to number three in the UK, into the top ten in the US and to number one in the Australian charts. In the spring of 1965 she also reached number 16 in the German charts with the song – and went on to record a German version, Glocken der Liebe. (The German follow up, Morgen bist du so weit von mir, an original composition also issued in 1965, proved her last brush with the language of Goethe.)
To date, The wedding has sold in the region of 15 million copies. The flipside, the terrific The love of a boy, was penned by Bacharach and David, and had originally been recorded by Timi Yuro.
Julie soon became a well-known face on television. Her stunning looks, bouffant auburn hair and powerful singing voice ensured she was a popular guest star on every major TV show of the day.
More chart success followed with Like a child, which peaked at number 20 in December 1964, and Hawaiian wedding song, Julie’s final chart hit, which reached number 31 in March 1965.
Further singles included Day by day (penned by Tom Jones’s manager, Gordon Mills), Another year, another love, another heartache and In my room – which fully demonstrated the power of the 5ft 4in (1.63m) singer’s voice.
For many, Julie’s albums were more significant than her single releases. Her first LP, released in 1965 and titled The sound of Julie, contained songs such as Something’s gotta give and a great cover of Ketty Lester’s Love letters. Two EPs were issued – the 1964 disc featured The wedding and the 1965 release contained a selection of tracks from the aforementioned album.
A second album, Contrasts, issued the following year, included Temptation, which Julie was singing in her stage act at the time, and Don’t answer me, which afforded Cilla Black a top ten hit in June 1966.
Her third album for Mercury, released in 1967, was appropriately named Songs of inspiration – the disc reveals Julie’s heartening ability to interpret expressive songs, which has become her trademark. Originally, Julie was to record just four inspirational titles for an EP, but after the recording session, Johnny Franz decided the project was worthy of an LP and the eventual 12-track album included Ave Maria, May each day and At the end of the day. Julie’s outstanding version of While the angelus was ringing was released as a single (the original had French lyrics, Les trois cloches, and is also known as The Jimmy Brown song).
Her last single for Mercury in 1968 was the big ballad Let me belong to you, a cover of an Italian hit by Massimo Ranieri called Pietà per chi ti ama.
That year Julie married Teddy Foster and the couple remained happily wed until Teddy died of kidney failure in 1984.
In 1969, Julie switched to the Ember label and issued several singles including Almost close to you, which she had performed at the Knokke Cup festival in Belgium.
Singer Glen Campbell wrote the sleeve notes to her 1970 Teddy Foster-produced Ember album, entitled Once more with feeling, as he was so impressed with Julie’s talent when he saw her show on a visit to London.
Julie’s 1976 release, My name is Julie, on the Pye label, is a noteworthy album, and includes Unchained melody, Tears on my pillow, When I dream and The entertainer – the latter penned by Julie herself.
When Julie wasn’t in the recording studios or on television she concentrated on cabaret and appeared at the best nightspots including London’s Talk of the Town.
In 1987, she married showbiz agent Michael Black, who also acts as her manager.
Julie found herself back in the studio in 2003 recording a new CD for the Right Recordings label entitled Sing another song. True to form, she chose meaningful titles that could have been written especially for her, including The power of love and The wind beneath my wings. The CD contains several songs by her brother-in-law, lyricist Don Black, including Walk away and For mama, both of which were originally big hits for Matt Monro. The collection closes with Julie putting ‘Rogers and heart’ into another Don Black lyric, a true theatrical finale, If I never sing another song.
Today, part of Julie’s busy working life includes appearing in cabaret on some of the world’s greatest luxury liners, including the QE2 and the Sea Goddess, plus Saga cruises.
With thanks to Mark Willerton for contributing this profile.