Englebert Humperdinck credits name change with his success

October 26, 2012|By MARIE GILBERT |
  • Englebert Humperdinck has been in the music business for more than 50 years. He will perform at 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 2, at The Maryland Theatre.
Submitted photo

What's in a name?

For Englebert Humperdinck, it's the difference between being a super star and a smalltime crooner.

It's the difference between playing local pubs and appearing at The London Palladium.

As Arnold George Dorsey, his given name, it's doubtful the British singer would have sold more than 150 million records — 63 gold and 24 platinum — or won a Golden Globe as "Entertainer of the Year."

But as Englebert Humperdinck, he became a music icon.

The man from Leicester, England, was a struggling performer in the 1960s, playing dance halls and bars — dedicated to his craft, he said, but growing impatient with his lack of success in the music industry.

"One day," the balladeer recalled, "I decided to do something to establish myself. I changed my name which changed my career. It got me noticed."

Humperdinck soon landed a contract with Decca Records and in 1967 had his first hit, "Release Me," which rocketed to the top of the British charts and stayed there for six weeks.

Other romantic ballads followed, including ""The Last Waltz," "After the Lovin'" and "There Goes My Everything."

The singer with the funny name had become a sought-after performer, with world tours, a television show, Grammy nominations and the title "The King of Romance."

The charismatic Humperdinck will be bringing his stylized music to Hagerstown when he appears at 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 2, at The Maryland Theatre.

It is just one stop on what Humperdinck said has been a very busy schedule in 2012.

"This has been an amazing year," the 76-year-old singer shared during a telephone interview from his home in California. "I've toured South Africa, Israel, Europe, Canada and now the U.S., just to name a few. I'm currently collaborating with a Grammy-winning producer on my first duet-album ever and will have an opportunity to sing with some of the biggest names out there. It's still top secret, but there are some big surprises in store."

Not bad for someone who has been performing for more than 50 years.

"It's nice to know that people still enjoy my music," he said.

Born in India but raised in England, Humperdinck has loved music all of his life. He took up the saxophone at the age of 11 but also enjoyed singing.

"However, I was very shy," he said. "My parents would want me to perform for friends. But I would only do it if I could stand behind a curtain."

As a young man, Humperdinck said he learned to overcome his shyness by escaping into his role as a singer.

"I call myself the thespian of music," he said. "I have a role to play. Even after all of these years, I become nervous backstage. But as soon as I begin to sing, about five minutes into the concert, the butterflies disappear. That's the world of entertainment."

Humperdinck said he performed in the 1950s as Jerry Dorsey, an abbreviation of the name given to him by his parents.

"I played little clubs, doing my apprenticeship," he said. "It was hard work, performing for hours nonstop. But it gave me a good grounding and the experience I would need in later years when performing before large crowds."

He said he managed a few appearances on British television and toured with other British singers.

"But my career was going nowhere," Humperdinck noted. "So I decided I needed to change my image."

The singer had gone prematurely gray in his 20s, "so I dyed my hair jet black and grew long sideburns.  In fact, I started a trend. I had sideburns long before Elvis and often joke that he stole my look."

The most important part of his image overhaul, though, was to change his name to the unforgettable Englebert Humperdinck after the 19th-century Austrian composer.

"I'm not sure I would have accomplished all that I have if I hadn't done that," he admitted.

It wasn't long after he had signed a contract with Decca that he had a chart-topping hit with "Release Me."

"It went to No. 1 in the UK and prevented The Beatles from taking that spot with their double-sided record 'Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields'", he said. "The melody, the lyrics really caught on. And to this day, it's one of my most requested songs."

While he was part of the British Invasion, Humperdinck said his singing style was closer to Tom Jones than The Beatles.

"But we all came from the era of hard knocks — one where you worked your way up the ladder of success, performing long hours in small clubs, working for not a lot of money and paying your dues.  That's what made our success so appreciated."

Throughout the years, Humperdinck said he has developed worldwide following. And his fans have remained loyal.

"The nice thing is that the people who were my fans back in the 1960s and 1970s are now bringing their children and grandchildren to my concerts," he said. "There is such a wide range of ages that are part of my audiences. There was an 8-year-old boy at a recent concert who knew the words to every one of my songs."

When he first started out in the business, Humperdinck said he "never realized how far my career would go. I never could have imagined the level that I would reach."

His secret to success?

"The day I try to analyze success is the day it disappears," he said. "First, though, I think I've been very lucky. And I've never stopped learning, never stopped trying to improve. The more I do it, the more experience I get. And I think that's something that never ends, regardless of your age."

Humperdinck said still loves performing before an audience and feels his voice hasn't lost its strength.

"Maybe I've dropped a note in range, but the power is still there," he shared. "Otherwise, I wouldn't be out there doing this. People tell me I sound the same as they remember 40 years ago."

Humperdinck said he enjoys listening to current singers, noting "there's a lot of talented people in the music world. I listen to everybody.  I also watch the music shows, like 'X Factor,' 'The Voice,' and 'American Idol'  to see what young performers are doing.  You can always learn something from others."

But, mostly, he added, "I enjoy listening to the greats of music — Paul McCartney, Elvis, Elton John and Michael Jackson."

In the early days, Humperdinck said he tried his hand at writing some of his own songs, "but I prefer to take a song written by others and put my own feelings, my own style into that song."

Because of the ballads that have made him famous, Humperdinck has been dubbed "The King of Romance."

"I find that title quite flattering," he said with a laugh. "To be known as someone who can add some romance to the world, someone whose music is still a part of so many people's lives — I consider that an honor."

If you go ...

Who: Englebert Humperdinck

When: 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 2

Where: The Maryland Theatre, 21 S. Potomac St., downtown Hagerstown

Cost: $48 to $88

More information: Go to or call the box office Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., at 301-790-2000.

Submitted photo

Englebert Humperdinck has been in the music business for more than 50 years. He will perform at 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 2, at The Maryland Theatre.

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