Laura Nyro

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Laura Nyro
LauraNyro.jpg
Laura Nyro, c. 1968
Background information
Birth name Laura Nigro
Born (1947-10-18)October 18, 1947
The Bronx, New York City, United States
Died April 8, 1997(1997-04-08) (aged 49)
Danbury, Connecticut, United States
Genres R&B, pop, jazz, doo-wop, rock and roll
Occupation(s) Composer, lyricist, pianist, vocalist
Instruments Vocals, piano, guitar
Years active 1966–1997
Labels Verve, Columbia
Website www.lauranyro.com

Laura Nyro /ˈnɪər/ NEAR-oh[1] (October 18, 1947 – April 8, 1997) was an American songwriter, singer, and pianist. She achieved critical acclaim with her own recordings, particularly the albums Eli and the Thirteenth Confession (1968) and New York Tendaberry (1969), and had commercial success with artists such as Barbra Streisand and The 5th Dimension recording her songs. Her style was a hybrid of Brill Building-style New York pop, jazz, gospel, rhythm and blues, show tunes, rock, and soul.[2]

Between 1968 and 1970, a number of artists had hits with her songs: The 5th Dimension with "Blowing Away", "Wedding Bell Blues", "Stoned Soul Picnic", "Sweet Blindness", "Save the Country", and "Black Patch"; Blood, Sweat & Tears and Peter, Paul & Mary with "And When I Die"; Three Dog Night and Maynard Ferguson with "Eli's Comin'"; and Barbra Streisand with "Stoney End", "Time and Love", and "Hands off the Man (Flim Flam Man)". Nyro's best-selling single was her recording of Carole King and Gerry Goffin's "Up on the Roof".[2]

In 2012, Nyro was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.[3][4]

Biography[edit]

Early life[edit]

Nyro was born Laura Nigro in the Bronx, New York, the daughter of Gilda Mirsky Nigro, a bookkeeper, and Louis Nigro, a piano tuner and jazz trumpeter. Laura had a younger brother, Jan Nigro, who has become a well-known children's musician.[5] Laura was of Russian Jewish, Polish and Italian ancestry.[6] As a child, she taught herself piano, read poetry, and listened to her mother's records by Leontyne Price, Billie Holiday and classical composers such as Ravel and Debussy. She composed her first songs at age eight. With her family, she spent summers in the Catskill Mountains, where her father played the trumpet at resorts. She credited the Sunday school at the New York Society for Ethical Culture with providing the basis of her education; she also attended Manhattan's High School of Music and Art.[7]

Nyro was very close to her aunt and uncle, the artists Theresa Bernstein and William Meyerowitz, who helped support her education and early career.

While in high school, she sang with a group of friends in subway stations and on street corners. She said, "I would go out singing, as a teenager, to a party or out on the street, because there were harmony groups there, and that was one of the joys of my youth."[8] Among her favorite musicians were John Coltrane, Nina Simone, Pete Seeger, Curtis Mayfield, Van Morrison, and girl groups such as The Supremes, Martha and the Vandellas and the Shirelles. She also commented: "I was always interested in the social consciousness of certain songs. My mother and grandfather were progressive thinkers, so I felt at home in the peace movement and the women's movement, and that has influenced my music."[8]

Early career[edit]

Her father’s work brought him into contact with record company executive Artie Mogull (1927–2004),[9] and his partner, Paul Barry (1912–1987) who auditioned Laura in 1966 and became her first managers. However, Louis Nigro claims that he "not even once" mentioned Laura to any of his clients, adding "they would have laughed at me if I did."[6] As a teenager she experimented with using different names, and Nyro (NEAR-oh) was the one she was using at the time. She sold her song "And When I Die" to Peter, Paul and Mary for $5,000, and made her first extended professional appearance, at age 18, singing at the "hungry i" coffeehouse in San Francisco. Mogull negotiated her a recording contract, and she recorded her debut album, More Than a New Discovery, for the Verve Folkways label. The album provided material for other artists, notably the 5th Dimension and Barbra Streisand.

In 1967, Nyro made only her second major live appearance, at the Monterey Pop Festival. Although some accounts described her performance as a fiasco that culminated in her being booed off the stage,[10] recordings later made publicly available contradict this view.[7]

Soon afterwards, David Geffen approached Mogull about taking over as her agent. Nyro successfully sued to void her management and recording contracts on the grounds that she had entered into them while still a minor. Geffen became her manager, and the two established a publishing company, Tuna Fish Music, under which the proceeds from her future compositions would be divided equally between them. Geffen also arranged Nyro’s new recording contract with Clive Davis at Columbia Records, and purchased the publishing rights to her early compositions. In his memoir Clive: Inside the Record Business, Davis recalled Nyro's audition for him: she'd invited him to her New York apartment, turned off every light except that of a television set next to her piano, and played him the material that would become Eli and the Thirteenth Confession. Around this time, Nyro considered becoming lead singer for Blood, Sweat & Tears, after the departure of founder Al Kooper, but was dissuaded by Geffen. Blood, Sweat & Tears would go on to have a hit with a cover of Nyro's "And When I Die".

The new contract allowed Nyro more artistic freedom and control. In 1968, Columbia released Eli and the Thirteenth Confession, her second album. This received high critical praise for the depth and sophistication of the performance and arrangements, which merged pop structure with inspired imagery, rich vocals and avant-garde jazz, and is widely considered to be one of her best works. It was followed in 1969 by New York Tendaberry, another highly acclaimed work which cemented Nyro’s artistic credibility. The records "Time and Love" and "Save the Country" emerged as two of her most well-regarded and popular songs in the hands of other artists. During the weekend after Thanksgiving in November 1969, she gave two concerts at Carnegie Hall in New York.[11] Her own recordings sold mostly to a cult audience. This prompted Clive Davis, in his memoir, to note that her recordings, as solid as they were, came to resemble demonstrations for other performers.

In 1969, Geffen and Nyro sold Tuna Fish Music to CBS for $4.5 million. Under the terms of his partnership with Nyro, Geffen received half of the proceeds of the sale, making them both millionaires.[12]

Nyro's fourth album, Christmas and the Beads of Sweat, was issued at the end of 1970. The set contained the songs "Upstairs By a Chinese Lamp" and "When I Was a Freeport and You Were the Main Drag". It featured Duane Allman and other Muscle Shoals musicians. The following year’s Gonna Take a Miracle was an album of her favorite "teenage heartbeat songs", recorded with vocal group Labelle (Patti Labelle, Nona Hendryx and Sarah Dash) and the production team of Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff. With the exception of her attribution of the song "Désiree" (originally "Deserie" by The Charts), this was Nyro's sole album of wholly non-original material, featuring such songs as "Jimmy Mack", "Nowhere to Run", and "Spanish Harlem".

During 1971 David Geffen worked to establish his own recording label, Asylum Records, in part because of the difficulties he had encountered in trying to secure a recording contract for another of his clients, Jackson Browne (with whom Nyro was in a relationship at the time). Geffen invited Nyro to join the new label and announced that she would be Asylum's first signing, but shortly before the official signing was due to take place, Geffen discovered that Nyro had changed her mind and re-signed with Columbia instead, without giving him prior notice of her decision. When interviewed about the matter for a 2012 PBS documentary on his life, Geffen, who considered Nyro his best friend, described Nyro's rejection as the biggest betrayal of his life up until that point, noting that he "cried for days" afterwards.[13]

By the end of 1971 Nyro was married, to carpenter David Bianchini. She was also reportedly uncomfortable with attempts to market her as a celebrity and she announced her retirement from the music business at the age of 24.

In 1973, her Verve debut album was acquired and reissued by Columbia as The First Songs.

Later career[edit]

By 1976, her marriage had ended, and she returned with an album of new material, Smile. She then embarked on a four-month tour with a full band, which resulted in the 1977 live album Season of Lights.

After the 1978 album Nested, recorded when she was pregnant with her only child, she again took a break from recording, this time until 1984's Mother's Spiritual. She began touring with a band in 1988, her first concert appearances in 10 years. The tour was dedicated to the animal rights movement. The shows led to her 1989 release, Laura: Live at the Bottom Line, which included six new compositions.

Her final album of predominantly original material was Walk the Dog and Light the Light (1993), her last album for Columbia, which was co-produced by Gary Katz, best known for his work with Steely Dan. This sparked reappraisal of her place in popular music, and new commercial offers began to appear. She turned down lucrative film-composing offers, although she contributed a rare protest song to the Academy Award-winning documentary "Broken Rainbow", about the unjust relocation of the Navajo people.

Nyro performed increasingly in the 1980s and 1990s with female musicians, including her friend Nydia "Liberty" Mata, a drummer, and several others from the lesbian-feminist women's music subculture, including members of the band Isis. Nyro made a solo appearance at the 1989 Michigan Womyn's Music Festival. On October 27, 1997, a large-scale tribute concert was produced by women at the Beacon Theatre in New York. Performers included Sandra Bernhard, Toshi Reagon, and Phoebe Snow. [14]

Both The Tonight Show and the Late Show with David Letterman staffs heavily pursued Nyro for a TV appearance during this period, yet she turned them down as well, citing her discomfort with appearing on television (she made only a handful of early TV appearances and one fleeting moment on VH-1 performing the title song from “Broken Rainbow” on Earth Day in 1990). She never released an official video, although there was talk of filming some Bottom Line appearances in the 1990s. On July 4, 1991, she opened for Bob Dylan at the Tanglewood Music Center in Lenox, Massachusetts.[15]

Personal life[edit]

She had a relationship with singer/songwriter Jackson Browne in late 1970 to early 1971.

Nyro married Vietnam War veteran David Bianchini in October 1971[16] after a whirlwind romance and spent the next three years living with him in a small town in Massachusetts. The marriage ended after three years, during which time she grew accustomed to the country life as opposed to the city life where she had recorded her first five records.

She had one son, Gil Bianchini, also known as musician Gil-T, from a short-lived relationship with an Indian man named Harindra Singh, whom she gave the surname of her ex-husband.

In 1975, Nyro split from Bianchini and also suffered the trauma of the death of her mother Gilda to ovarian cancer at the age of 49. She consoled herself largely by recording a new album, enlisting Charlie Calello, with whom she had collaborated on Eli and the Thirteenth Confession.

In the early 1980s, Laura began living with painter Maria Desiderio (1954–1999),[17] a relationship that lasted 17 years, the rest of Laura's life.

Nyro was a feminist and openly discussed this on a number of occasions, once saying "I may bring a certain feminist perspective to my songwriting, because that’s how I see life", and another time stating, "I felt at home in the peace movement and the women’s movement, and that has influenced my music."[18][19]

Death[edit]

In late 1996, Nyro, like her mother before her, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. After the diagnosis, Columbia Records prepared a double-disc CD retrospective of material from her years at the label. The company involved Nyro herself, who selected the tracks and approved the final project. She lived to see the release of Stoned Soul Picnic: The Best of Laura Nyro (1997), and was reportedly pleased with the outcome.

She died of ovarian cancer in Danbury, Connecticut, on April 8, 1997, at 49, the same age at which the disease had claimed the life of her mother.

Legacy[edit]

Posthumous releases[edit]

Nyro's posthumous releases include Angel In The Dark (2001), which includes her final studio recordings made in 1994 and 1995, and The Loom’s Desire (2002), a set of live recordings with solo piano and harmony singers from The Bottom Line Christmas shows of 1993 and 1994.

Influence[edit]

Nyro's influence on popular musicians has also been acknowledged by such artists as Joni Mitchell, Bette Midler, Rickie Lee Jones, Elton John, Cyndi Lauper, Todd Rundgren, Steely Dan, and Melissa Manchester. Todd Rundgren stated that once he heard her, he "stopped writing songs like The Who and started writing songs like Laura."[20] Cyndi Lauper acknowledged that her rendition of the song "Walk on By", on her Grammy Award-nominated 2003 cover album At Last, was inspired by Nyro.[21] Elton John and Elvis Costello discussed Nyro's influence on both of them during the premiere episode of Costello's interview show Spectacle on the Sundance channel. When asked by the host if he could name three great performer/songwriters who have largely been ignored, he cited Nyro as one of his choices. John also addressed Nyro's influence on his 1970 song "Burn Down the Mission", from Tumbleweed Connection, in particular. “I idolized her," he concluded. "The soul, the passion, just the out and out audacity of the way her rhythmic and melody changes came was like nothing I’ve heard before.” [22]

  • Bruce Arnold, leader of the pioneering soft rock group Orpheus was a fan of Nyro's music and like her, worked with legendary studio drummer Bernard Purdie. While recording with Purdie, Arnold mentioned his love of Nyro's music; the drummer responded with a story about Nyro: At Nyro's home one night in the late 1970s, Purdie mentioned that he had been the uncredited drummer for Orpheus. Nyro got excited and brought him into a room where she kept her record collection. She pulled out well-worn copies of every Orpheus LP as well as sealed ones for posterity.
  • Diane Paulus and Bruce Buschel co-created Eli's Comin', a musical revue of the songs of Nyro, which, among others, starred Anika Noni Rose.
  • Louis Greenstein and Kate Ferber wrote "One Child Born: The Music of Laura Nyro," a one-woman show featuring Ferber and directed by Adrienne Campbell-Holt. "One Child Born" was developed at CAP21 in New York City and has sold out Joe's Pub, The Laurie Beechman Theatre, World Cafe Live (Philadelphia, PA) and other venues.
  • The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and the Canadian Ballet have also included her music in their performances; notably, "Been On A Train" from Christmas and the Beads of Sweat, in which a woman describes watching her lover die from a drug overdose, comprises the second movement of Ailey's 1971 solo for Judith Jamison, Cry.
  • On October 2, 2007, three-time Tony nominee Judy Kuhn released her new album Serious Playground: The Songs of Laura Nyro. The album, which debuted as a concert to a sold-out house at Lincoln Center's American Songbook Series in January 2007, includes several of Nyro's biggest hits ("Stoned Soul Picnic", "Stoney End") as well as some of her lesser known gems.
  • In 1992, English shoegaze/Britpop band Lush released a song about Laura Nyro ("Laura") on their debut album Spooky.[23] Several of the band's songs (specifically those written by Emma Anderson) have echoed Nyro's music in their titles – "When I Die", "Single Girl". More recently, in 2012, Anderson has referred to Laura Nyro as "wondrous" on her Twitter account.[24]
  • On her 2006 album Build a Bridge, the operatic/Broadway soprano Audra McDonald included covers of Nyro's songs "To a Child" and "Tom Cat Goodbye".
  • The musical theater composer Stephen Schwartz credits Nyro as a major influence on his work.[25]
  • Alice Cooper has mentioned that Nyro is one of his favorite songwriters on his syndicated radio show.
  • Jenny Lewis of Rilo Kiley, when promoting her 2006 solo album Rabbit Fur Coat repeatedly cited Nyro's 1971 album Gonna Take a Miracle as a big influence on her music. Lewis performed the first track on that album "I Met Him on a Sunday" on the Rabbit Fur Coat tour.
  • On the 2004 drama film A Home at the End of the World can be heard Nyro's recordings of "Désiree" and "It's Gonna Take a Miracle", both songs from the album Gonna Take a Miracle.

Biographies, analyses and tributes[edit]

To Carry On, an original tribute show celebrating the music and life of Laura Nyro, starring Mimi Cohen, is in its second return engagement as of January 19, 2011, at Cherry Lane Theatre in Manhattan.

A biography of Nyro, Soul Picnic: The Music and Passion of Laura Nyro, written by Michele Kort, was published in 2002 by Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin's Press.

An analysis of Nyro's music by music theorist Ari Shagal was written at the University of Chicago in 2003, linking Nyro's work to the Great American Songbook by demonstrating the similarities between her chordal language and those of Harold Arlen, Harry Warren, and George Shearing.

Nyro's life and music were celebrated in a 2005 BBC Radio 2 documentary, Shooting Star – Laura Nyro Remembered, which was narrated by her friend Bette Midler and included contributions from her one-time manager David Geffen, co-producers Arif Mardin and Gary Katz, and performers Suzanne Vega and Janis Ian. It was rebroadcast on April 4, 2006.[26]

Janis Ian, who attended the High School of Music and Art in New York at the same time as Nyro, discussed her friendship with Nyro during the late 1960s in her autobiography, Society's Child. Ian described her as looking like a "Morticia Addams" caricature with her long, dark hair, and called her a "brilliant songwriter" but "oddly inarticulate" in terms of musical terminology. Ian was a fan of Nyro's work with producer Charlie Calello and chose him as the producer of her 1969 album Who Really Cares on the basis of his work with Nyro.[27]

Comedian, writer, and singer Sandra Bernhard has spoken extensively of Laura Nyro as an ongoing inspiration. She dedicated a song, "The Woman I Could've Been" on Excuses for Bad Behavior (Part One), to her. She also sang Nyro's "I Never Meant to Hurt You" in her film Without You I'm Nothing.

Rickie Lee Jones' critically acclaimed album Pirates and songs such as "We Belong Together" and "Living It Up" are reminiscent of early Laura Nyro songs, and Jones acknowledged Nyro's influence.

Todd Rundgren has also acknowledged the strong influence of Nyro's 1960s music on his own songwriting. While a member of the pop group Nazz, his great admiration for Nyro led to him arrange a meeting with her (which took place shortly after she had recorded the Eli and the Thirteenth Confession LP). Nyro invited Rundgren to become the musical director of her backing group, but his commitments to Nazz obliged him to decline. Rundgren's debut solo album Runt (1970) includes the strongly Nyro-influenced "Baby Let’s Swing" which was written about her and mentions her by name. Rundgren and Nyro remained friends for much of her professional career and he subsequently assisted her with the recording of her album Mother's Spiritual.[28]

A tribute album, Time and Love: The Music of Laura Nyro, on which Nyro's compositions were performed by 14 women singers and groups, including Phoebe Snow, Jill Sobule, Suzanne Vega, Rosanne Cash, Jane Siberry, Lisa Germano, Sweet Honey in the Rock, and Patty Larkin was issued in 1997 after her death. Siberry's contribution to the project was a medley of Nyro songs called "When I Think Of Laura Nyro", which would subsequently appear on her own compilation City.

On April 14, 2012, Laura Nyro was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The induction speech was delivered by singer Bette Midler and the award was accepted by her son. The song "Stoney End" was performed by singer Sara Bareilles at the induction ceremony.[3]

A hybrid daylily named for Laura Nyro was introduced in 2000 by Curt Hanson.[29]

Discography[edit]

Studio albums[edit]

Live albums[edit]

Compilation albums[edit]

Audio samples[edit]

Laura Nyro, Sweet Blindness (Columbia, 1968)

Laura Nyro, Eli's Comin' (Columbia, 1968)

Problems playing these files? See media help.

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Inventing David Geffen". PBS 'American Masters'. Retrieved May 1, 2013. 
  2. ^ a b "Laura Nyro Biography & Awards". Billboard (New York, NY: Prometheus Global Media). Retrieved December 12, 2011. 
  3. ^ a b Late Laura Nyro inducted into Rock and Roll Hall[dead link]
  4. ^ Graff, Gary (December 7, 2011). "Rock Hall Inductees 2012: Guns N' Roses, Beastie Boys Make Grade". Billboard (New York, NY: Prometheus Global Media). Retrieved December 12, 2011. "Cleveland Calls Up Red Hot Chili Peppers, Faces, Laura Nyro, Donovan" 
  5. ^ "About Jan Nigro — Singing Telegram Gifts". Singingtelegramgifts.com. Retrieved 2013-11-17. 
  6. ^ a b "The Divine Miss N – An Essay by Peter Rocheleau". earthlink.net. Retrieved April 29, 2011. 
  7. ^ a b Lawson, Dawn (June 2000). Nyro, Laura. American National Biography Online. Retrieved December 7, 2008. 
  8. ^ a b "Bio". Laura's Anthology. Lauranyro.com. Retrieved December 7, 2008. 
  9. ^ "Artie Mogull (1927–2004) – Memorial". Find A Grave. Retrieved December 7, 2008. 
  10. ^ Harrington, Joe S. Sonic Cool: The Life and Death of Rock 'n' Roll. Hal Leonard (2002), p. 231. ISBN 0-634-02861-8.
  11. ^ Tom King, The Operator: David Geffen Builds, Buys, and Sells the New Hollywood, p. 125, Broadway Books (New York 2001).
  12. ^ "David Geffen Tries OUt A New ACt", Businessweek, 28 June 1992. Retrieved 25 December 2013
  13. ^ Lacy, Susan. American Masters. Inventing David Geffen, PBS, 2012.
  14. ^ Michele Kort, Soul Picnic: The Music and Passion of Laura Nyro, Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin's Press, 2002
  15. ^ Jim Sullivan, The Boston Globe, July 5, 1991, p. 10.
  16. ^ Lawson, Dawn. "Nyro, Laura", American National Biography Online June 2000 Update. Retrieved July 31, 2014.
  17. ^ Connecticut Department of Health. Connecticut Death Index, 1949–2001 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: The Generations Network, Inc., 2003.
  18. ^ "Laura Nyro | Connecticut Women's Hall of Fame". Cwhf.org. Retrieved 2013-11-17. 
  19. ^ "Laura Nyro Biography | The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum". Rockhall.com. Retrieved 2013-11-17. 
  20. ^ Richard Williams (2005-04-02). "Richard Williams on Laura Nyro | Music". The Guardian. Retrieved 2013-11-17. 
  21. ^ "Cyndi Lauper - Promo do DVD "At Last" (Legendado)". YouTube. 2009-06-09. Retrieved 2013-11-17. 
  22. ^ "Series – Sundance Channel". Sundancechannel.com. 2013-08-13. Retrieved 2013-11-17. 
  23. ^ "Lush: Emma Anderson interviewed". Eyesore.no. 1994-08-07. Retrieved 2013-11-17. 
  24. ^ "Twitter / evjanderson: Please sign to save the Union". Twitter.com. Retrieved 2013-11-17. 
  25. ^ "Intersections: Stephen Schwartz's Musical Ghosts". NPR. May 10, 2004. Retrieved April 4, 2009. 
  26. ^ "Bette Midler pays tribute to Laura Nyro" (Press release). BBC. February 27, 2005. Retrieved December 7, 2008. 
  27. ^ Ian, Janis. Society's Child: My Autobiography. New York: Tarcher, 2008, p. 99.
  28. ^ "Todd Rundgren (p.3)". Puremusic.com. Retrieved 2013-11-17. 
  29. ^ "American Hemerocallis Society Online Daylily Database". 

External links[edit]