Yvonne Marianne Elliman is an American singer who performed for four years in the first cast of Jesus Christ Superstar.
She scored a number of hits in the 1970s and achieved a US #1 hit with “If I Can’t Have You”. After a long hiatus in the 1980s and 1990s, during which time she dedicated herself to her family, she made a comeback album as a singer-songwriter in 2004.
Elliman was born and raised in Honolulu, Hawaii, and graduated from President Theodore Roosevelt High School in 1969. Her mother was of Japanese descent and her father of Irish descent. She played in the high-school band, and after graduation she moved to London.
Elliman’s singing career began in 1969 in London where she performed at various bars and clubs. At the time she did not like what she was singing. “I hated the music then,” she recalled in a 1973 interview, adding “I did it for the bread. I was into drugs and all that, and thought Grace Slick and the Jefferson Airplane was it.” While still an unknown, she was discovered by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber, who asked her to sing Mary Magdalene’s part for an audio recording of Jesus Christ Superstar. After its release as an album they invited her to join the stage show’s traveling cast, which she did for four years.
She had her first hit single in 1971 with the ballad “I Don’t Know How to Love Him”, from Jesus Christ Superstar. The song was her first entry on the U.S. charts, peaking at #28 pop in 1971, although a cover version by Helen Reddy was a bigger hit. In the end, Elliman sang Jesus Christ Superstar on the 1970 concept album, in the original Broadway cast (1971), and starred and sang it in the 1973 film. She and Barry Dennen were alone among the cast to have lasted from the original record through the two stage productions to the film, or which her screen performance as Mary Magdalene led to a 1974 Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy.
In 1971 Elliman moved to New York City for the Broadway production of Jesus Christ, Superstar, where she met her first husband, Bill Oakes, who worked with Robert Stigwood as President of RSO Records. She was asked to sing backing vocals on Eric Clapton’s version of the Bob Marley song “I Shot the Sheriff” in 1974. She then went on tour as part of Clapton’s band, and soon afterwards got her own recording contract with RSO Records. She would continue to work with Clapton, performing on his albums from 1974 to 1977, including 461 Ocean Boulevard, There’s One in Every Crowd, E. C. Was Here, No Reason to Cry, and Slowhand. A first album for the RSO label (her third in all), Rising Sun, produced by Steve Cropper, produced no hit singles, but her next album, Love Me, produced by Freddie Perren, gave her two top-20 hits, “Love Me” (written by Barry and Robin Gibb), and a Barbara Lewis cover, “Hello Stranger”. “Hello Stranger” topped the U.S. Adult Contemporary charts for four weeks, and was also a #15 Pop hit in 1977, while “Love Me” was a #14 Pop hit in late 1976/early 1977.
Also in 1977, the Bee Gees were working on Saturday Night Fever and wrote “How Deep Is Your Love” for her, but Stigwood wanted the Bee Gees to perform it. Instead, she sang “If I Can’t Have You”. The song was a big hit, rising to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100; It is generally considered the high point of her recording career.
A few minor Top 40 hits followed in 1979, including the title theme song from the film Moment by Moment and another disco track, “Love Pains”, which was a major club success. She appeared in a two-part episode of the television action series Hawaii Five-O during this period as an aspiring singer, performing the song “I Can’t Get You Outa my Mind” with co-star James Darren. The single “Savannah” was also a minor hit. Shortly thereafter she decided to dedicate herself to her two children.
After a considerable hiatus, Elliman reappeared on the music scene. An album titled Simple Needs, with all songs written by Elliman, was released in 2004 and re-released globally in 2007. Elliman has continued performing at music festivals, benefits, and concerts throughout the country and around the world. She also performed on a PBS special on 70s soul music in 2004, singing “If I Can’t Have You”. Recently reunited with Ted Neely and Barry Dennen in Verona for a special JCS event.
RSO Records 1979
Tracks: Love Pains, Savannah, Cold Wind Across My Heart, Greenlight, Everything Must Change, How Long, Sticks And Stones / Hit The Road Jack, Rock Me Slowly, I’m Gonna Use What I Got To Get What I Need & Nowhere To Hide.
Musicians on the Yvonne album: Yvonne Elliman, Ben Benay, Steve Cropper, Jay Graydon, Davey Johnstone, Lee Ritenour, Marty Walsh, Richie Zito, Mike Porcaro, Lee Sklar, Paul Stallworth, Tom Canning, Craig Doerge, Michael Omartian, David Paich, Bill Payne, Tom Snow, Jim Keltner, Jeff Porcaro, Steve Barri, Gary Coleman, Victor Feldman, Steve Forman, Joe Porcaro, Jim Horn, Chuck Findley, Jackie Kelso, Eric Carmen, Kathy Collier, Venette Gloud, Jim Jaas, Jon Joyce, Matthew Moore, Julia Tillman Waters, Carmen Twillie & Maxine Willard Waters.
RSO Records 1978
Tracks: Baby Don’t Let It Mess Your Mind, In A Stranger’s Arms, I’ll Be Around, Lady Of The Silver Spoon, Down The Backstairs Of My Life, If I Can’t Have You, Prince Of Fools, Sally Go Round The Roses, Up To The Man In You & Sailing Ships.
Musicians on the Night Flight album: Yvonne Elliman, Ben Benay, Robert Bowles, Steve Cropper, Lowell George, Steve Hunter, Davey Johnstone, Danny Kortchmar, Dean Parks, Scott Edwards, Dee Murray, Lee Sklar, Paul Stallwort, Sonny Burke, Eric Carmen, Craig Doerge, James Newton Howard, Freddie Perren, William “D” Smith, Michael Baird, James Gadson, Richard Hayward, Jim Keltner, Russ Kunkel, Gary Coleman, Paulinho Da Costa, Baboo Pierre, Bob Zimitti, Jim Horn, Chuck Findley, Jackie Kelso, Kathy Collier, Kiki Dee, Yvonne Elliman, Donny Gerrard, Venette Gloud, Henry Kapono, Marti McCall, Cecilio Rodriguez, Carmen Twillie & Maxine Willard Waters.
RSO Records 1976
Tracks: Love Me, Hello Stranger, I Can’t Get You Outa My Mind, I Know, Without You (There Ain’t No Love At All), Good Sign, She’ll Be The Home, (I Don’t Know Why) I Keep Hangin’ On, I’d Do It Again & Uphill Peace Of Mind.
Musicians on the Love Me album: Yvonne Elliman, Bob Bowles, Gary Starbuck, Scott Edwards, John Barnes, Freddie Perren, James Gadson, Gary Coleman, Paulinho Da Costa & Bob Zimitti.