Who Is Lena Zavaroni?
Lena Zavaroni hails from the tiny town of Rothesay on the Isle of Bute, off the West coast of Scotland. She was born on the 4th November 1963; her surname is straight Italian, handed down from her immigrant grandfather. Lena herself spoke with a rich, irresistible Scottish brogue. Her parents — Victor and Hilda — were also talented performers in their own right. Victor played guitar, and Hilda sang.
Lena had started singing at the age of two, but she was a mature six when she made her first public appearance. She took part in talent contests at the “Winter Gardens” in Rothesay. She won so often that the organizers asked her not to come back! Later she took part in a singing act with her Father and Mother.
It was during the summer of 1973 that the Lena Zavaroni success story really began. Record producer Tommy Scott happened to be on vacation in Rothesay and heard Lena singing in the “Athletic Bar” with the Zavaroni Family Band. Tommy’s old buddy; 60’s impresario Phil Solomon takes up the story.
“I was looking for a girl singer at the time. Tommy rang me up and said he’d found a sensational girl up in Scotland, so we flew up to Glasgow and took a ferryboat to the Isle of Bute. On the boat, Tommy suddenly turned to me and said, ‘Oh, incidentally, the girl’s only nine!’ I could have killed him. He knew I’d dealt with kids in the past and had vowed never to work with them again because they are too much trouble. Anyway, Tommy kept insisting that this child was different, but I was in a dark mood by the time we got to Rothesay. We picked this little girl up and went to a deserted dance hall called “The Pavilion” to see her act. Her Uncle and Father accompanied her and suddenly I heard this incredible voice singing the theme from “The Godfather”. It took only eight bars, and I knew this was a fantastic talent.”
From this moment, under the management of Dorothy Solomon, partner of Phil Solomon, Lena enjoyed outstanding success.
Lena with Hughey Green
Lena’s unique talent was introduced to the unsuspecting British public on Thames Television’s “Opportunity Knocks” at the end of 1973. For five weeks running she topped the viewers voting polls. She rocketed to fame with her recording of “Ma, He’s Making Eyes At Me” in January 1974, which reached the number eight slot in the British chart. She was the youngest–ever artist to appear on BBC Television’s “Top Of The Pops” show.
Easter 1974 saw her first performance before a major audience at the “Opera House”, Blackpool. In America she pulled off a show–stopping performance in a Hollywood charity show starring Frank Sinatra and Lucille Ball, where Lucille Ball commented; “You’re special. Very special and very very good.” Lena followed that appearance by guest starring with outstanding success on US television’s “Carol Burnett Show”. She even shared a dressing room with Liza Minnelli. She had become a world–wide star.
When you are 11 years old and the hottest thing in curls since Shirley Temple, life is child’s play, or so it seemed. Lena once gravely announced: “I’d like to be a grown–up star and retire when I’m an old lady of 30, then I’ll buy a caravan and travel all over the country.” That was her schoolgirl ambition.
Singing for the President
1975 proved to be an excellent year: Sell–out concerts at the “London Palladium ”, extensive television appearances in the United States and Finland and a theatre tour of South Africa. She also appeared — needless to say with great success — in Japan, Germany, Holland and Austria, where her single “Ma He’s Making Eyes At Me” entered the chart at the number seven spot, only one week after it’s release. She also won a Silver Disc for sales of more than 250,000 copies of this single, and at the age of 11 she was invited to go to the White House to sing for President Gerald Ford.
Other landmarks in her career include a memorable appearance on BBC Television’s “Morecambe and Wise Show”, appearances at two Royal Charity Galas, and in 1976 she performed in the “Royal Variety show”.
Lena and Bonnie
Lena with Bonnie Langford
A new chapter in Lena’s life began that same year when she joined the “Italia Conti stage school” in the London Borough of Stockwell, where she met the child star Bonnie Langford. Later, the two starred together in a television show, “Lena and Bonnie”. Lena has made extensive stage and television appearances in Britain, and was the youngest star ever to headline her own summer show at the Congress Theatre, Eastbourne, for the 1977 season. She also appeared in her own TV series called “Lena Zavaroni and Music”, the first of which was screened on BBC Television in May 1979.
By July 1977 Lena was said to be Scotland’s richest teenager. Talking about the impact of her overnight success she once commented; “Everything changed so quickly. I had never seen lifts or escalators or even traffic lights. I went from a council house on an isolated island to a posh hotel in Piccadilly, with shopping trips to Harrods.”