Vera Lynn: Britain's 92-Year-Old Pop Sensation

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Singer Vera Lynn

For a generation of Britons who lived through World War II, Dame Vera Lynn's "We'll Meet Again" will forever conjure up the pangs of wartime separation. "We'll meet again," she sang to soldiers on the front lines and to their families across the Channel. "We'll meet again/ Don't know where/ Don't know when/ But I know we'll meet again/ Some sunny day."

The songstress appears to have kept her promise. Last week, at age 92, Lynn became the oldest artist to top the British charts with We'll Meet Again — The Very Best of Vera Lynn, an album featuring 24 songs that evoke wartime Britain. Lynn, an East London plumber's daughter who went on to be known as the "Forces' Sweetheart," spoke with TIME about her music's resurgence 70 years later.

Were you expecting modern listeners to embrace your album like they have?
No. One never expects things like that. They just happen, which is very nice. I certainly didn't expect it to go to No. 1. I thought the songs were suitable for that time and that there would be new songs that would come along to take their place.

Why do you think your album is striking a chord with so many people in 2009?
It's a bit of nostalgia and what's going on in Afghanistan at the moment, I suppose. With our boys going away once again to fight, it sort of got people interested in the music of the earlier period. And the schools have been teaching about the Second World War, and that causes an interest.

You held off competition from the Arctic Monkeys, Kings of Leon and South London rapper Jamie T to reach No. 1. Do you listen to any of them?
I'm not familiar, really, with the modern music. Well, I don't really listen to music. If I switch on the radio and hear some nice classical music, I will sit and listen to it but I don't sort of play records or go for any particular type of music.

There was a lot of hype surrounding the release of remastered Beatles albums in Britain recently, and journalists predicted that the group would seize the top spot. Are you surprised that you stole their heat?
Yes, of course I am. You know, they're still extremely popular with the young people. I never thought that I would share a hit parade with the Beatles.

Of all the songs on your album, which is your favorite?
Oh, golly. I made the album so long ago that I really can't remember all the titles that are on there. The "White Cliffs of Dover" is one of the standards and "We'll Meet Again." But apart from that I can't really remember what's on the album.

Which song is most meaningful to you?
"We'll Meet Again" is the one that means more to me than anything. It was the optimistic song, about the end of the war. It meant so much to so many people, and it's lived on. People know that practically all around the world, and I think it will go on forever, really. It's just one of those songs.

During World War II you traveled thousands of miles, often at great personal risk, to entertain the troops. Do you think today's celebrities are equally motivated to help our servicemen?
I don't think enough is being done by the artists of today. I don't think that they're going out there. I was away for nearly four months touring around India and Burma. Today they might fly out and do an odd concert or two, but they're not doing a stretch of entertaining and meeting the boys and mingling with them and talking to them, which is very important. The troops don't just want to be entertained. They want to talk to people who've just come from home.

When you hear news from Afghanistan or Iraq, does it sadden you?
Oh yes, it does sadden me a great deal. It's a "Here we go again" sort of thing, after we thought it would all be finished, and there wouldn't be any more war and our boys wouldn't have to leave home and get killed and leave sad families behind. I never dreamt that it would be occurring again in such a short time.

Do you have plans to record again?
No. My singing days are over. [Laughs] You know, your voice can only last for so long. It's a muscle and when you get older it sort of fades away. I wouldn't attempt to record anything now. I'd rather leave people knowing my voice as it was.