Bassey was born to a Nigerian father who was a seaman, while her mother came from Yorkshire, Northern England. She grew up in the notorious working-class district of Tiger Bay, Cardiff, as the youngest of seven children. Her father left when she was just two years old.
Bassey went to Moorland Primary School, Splott, Cardiff.
In 1955, a chance recommendation of her to Michael Sullivan, a Streatham-born booking agent, put her firmly on course for her destined career. He saw talent in Bassey, and decided he would make her a star. She toured various theatres until she got an offer of the show that put her firmly on the road to stardom, Al Read's Such Is Life. While she starred in this show, Philips A&R and record producer Johnny Franz spotted her on television, became impressed, and offered her a record deal.
Bassey signed to EMI Columbia, and the second phase in her recording career began. Throughout the 1960s, Bassey scored with numerous hits on the British charts. In 1964 she recorded the title theme song for the James Bond film Goldfinger which vaulted into the Top 10 Singles Charts in both the UK and America. In 1979, Bassey recorded her final title theme for the Bond films with Moonraker.
It is perhaps because of her career longevity and particular admiration from the Royal Family that Bassey became a Dame Commander of the British Empire (the female equivalent of a Knight Commander) on December 31, 1999, by HM Queen Elizabeth II.