It took an obscure teenage singer from Scotland and an established actor to create the stir from the 1967 film, To Sir With Love. To some, the title song still lives on popularly, and at least one critic claims…”It was the best song of the 60s.”
I smile at the number of people who reach out for more of our occasioning the story behind the songs, and the people who performed them. Here’s a good one for all of you.
People of the world had never heard of Marie McDonald McLaughlin Lawrie prior to 1967.
But people in the entertainment industry were looking for ways to popularized Bahamian-born actor, director, and diplomat Sidney Poitier, the first African-American actor to win an Academy Award for Best Actor.
How it came together accomplished both…the recognition of one of the world’s most unique and powerful solo voices, and for his role in the film To Sir With Love, the wider acclaim for Poitier as a minority artist who found a willing public to acknowledge his excellence in films with contemporary social appeal.
But for our purpose here, it was the title song of the 1967 movie, co-written by Don Black and Mark London. To Sir With Love, released in America on Epic Records, took the country by storm for its story, its relationship with Poitier…and for the voice quality of an artist now known as Lulu (formerly Marie Lawrie), who co-starred with Poitier in the film.
The song quickly peaked at the top of the Billboard Top 100 after five just weeks, and became the best-selling single of 1967 in the United States – the #2-selling record world-wide.
The song, it’s lyrics and musical score, had a mesmerizing quality when sung by 17-year-old Lawrie, a native of Glasgow, Scotland, who received no formal training, instead appearing with local bands as a 12 and 13-year-old, and soon earned the ear of the Scottish public and recognition for her remarkable voice of inimitable quality. To Sir With Love became so popular that one British critic dubbed it, among all the well-known pop songs of the day, “the best song of the 60s.”
At age 14 she had received the stage name “Lulu” from future manager Marion Massey, who when asked about his teenage singing find described her this way: “Well, all I know is that she’s a real ‘lulu’ of a kid.”
In 1964, three years prior to To Sir With Love, she signed a recording deal with Decca Records, which earned her food money, but little, if any, recognition and acclaim. She simply lacked the song that best exploited her uncanny voice and sound.
Increasingly popular in the British recording community, she was suggested for a role in the movie in 1967, she made her acting debut opposite Poitier, and she boomed. And within three years married one of the BeeGee brothers, Maurice Gibb, a union that proved to be short-lived.
The film received acclaim as a British drama that dealt with social and racial issues in an inner city school, and it would eventually rank as number 27 on Entertainment Weekly’s list of the 50 Best High School movies. While unique, and talked about, it never won an Oscar, but it was popular enough to eventually spin off a television series of the same name in which Sidney Poitier reprised his starring role.
Now 57 years since its release, the hit single is still being performed by a 75-year-old Lulu, whose voice is still remarkable, and inimitable…that saucy, soaring, powerful quality. The best song of the 60s?
Enjoy the accompanying video of Marie McDonald McLaughlin Lawrie – Lulu – and remember it for what it was.
And still is!