A vocalist, Yvonne Elliman was born in Hawaii. While in high school in Hawaii, she formed her first band, We Folk, in the mid-60s. Moving to London at age 17 in 1969, she busked on the streets and performed in clubs as a singer / guitarist. While singing at the Pheasantry folk club on Kings Road in Chelsea, she was discovered by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. They cast her as Mary Magdalene in their musical Jesus Christ Superstar. After performing the role on stage in London and New York, she appeared in the film version, for which she won a Golden Globe award. The film soundtrack also generated a hit single for her, “I Don’t Know How to Love Him.”
Yvonne released her self-titled debut in 1972. It included a cover of Blind Faith’s “Can’t Find My Way Home”. Her second album, Food of Love (1973) featured Pete Townshend on a cover of The Who’s “I Can’t Explain”.
While on Broadway, she met Bill Oakes, the president of RSO Records and the two married after knowing each other a short while. Oakes introduced her to Eric Clapton, who invited Yvonne to sing backup vocals on “I Shot the Sheriff” which appeared on his “comeback album”, 461 Ocean Boulevard. Yvonne became a member of Eric’s band, staying until June 1977.
Yvonne joined RSO’s roster of artists in 1975, releasing several albums. They included the Steve Cropper-produced Rising Sun. Barry Gibb and Robin Gibb wrote the title song for her next album, Love Me (1976). The song was a hit in the U.K. Her biggest chart success came with 1977’s “If I Can’t Have You”, written by The Bee Gees and included on the soundtrack of Saturday Night Fever. Yvonne released two more albums before becoming solely a session musician.
In 2004, Yvonne released an EP, Simple Needs, being sold at her shows in Hawaii. The EP was expanded and released in 2007. She made her debut with the Honolulu Symphony Pops in October 2004. Also in 2004, Polydor released “The Best of Yvonne Elliman” as part of their Millennium Collection series. Yvonne was featured on the PBS special, Disco Inferno, performing "If I Can't Have You" in 2004.
Yvonne can be heard on the Eric Clapton albums 461 Ocean Boulevard, There’s One In Every Crowd, No Reason To Cry, EC Was Here, Slowhand, and Crossroads II.