David Byrne

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David Byrne
David Byrne San Diego.jpg
Byrne in April 2018
Born (1952-05-14) 14 May 1952 (age 68)
Citizenship
  • United Kingdom
  • United States
Occupation
  • Singer
  • songwriter
  • musician
  • record producer
  • artist
  • actor
  • writer
  • filmmaker
Years active1971–present
Spouse(s)
(m. 1987; div. 2004)
Children1
Musical career
OriginArbutus, Maryland, U.S.
Genres
Instruments
  • Vocals
  • guitar
  • keyboards
Labels
Associated acts
Websitedavidbyrne.com

David Byrne (/bɜːrn/; born 14 May 1952) is a British-American singer, songwriter, musician, record producer, artist, actor, writer, music theorist, and filmmaker, who was a founding member and the principal songwriter, lead singer, and guitarist of the American new wave band Talking Heads.

Byrne has released solo recordings and worked with various media including film, photography, opera, fiction, and non-fiction. He has received Academy, Grammy, and Golden Globe Awards, and he is an inductee to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as part of Talking Heads.[1]

Early life[edit]

David Byrne was born on 14 May 1952 in Dumbarton, West Dunbartonshire, Scotland,[2][3] the elder of two children born to Tom (from Lambhill, Glasgow) and Emma. Two years after his birth, his parents moved to Canada, settling in Hamilton, Ontario.[4] They then moved to the United States, making their home in Arbutus, Maryland, when Byrne was eight or nine years old. His father worked as an electronics engineer at Westinghouse Electric Corporation. His mother later became a teacher. The family had left Scotland in part because work for his father's engineering skills were in short supply and in part because of the tensions in the extended family caused by his parents' "mixed marriage", his father being Catholic and his mother Presbyterian. Byrne recounted these events when he appeared on Desert Island Discs on BBC Radio 4 on 18 March 2018.[5]

Before high school, Byrne already knew how to play the guitar, accordion, and violin. He was rejected from his middle school's choir because they claimed he was "off-key and too withdrawn". From a young age, he had a strong interest in music. His parents say that he would constantly play his phonograph from age three and he learned how to play the harmonica at age five.[6] In his journals, he says, "I was a peculiar young man—borderline Asperger's, I would guess."[7][8] His father used his electrical engineering skills to modify a reel-to-reel tape recorder so that David could make multitrack recordings.[5]

Career[edit]

Early career: 1971–1974[edit]

Byrne playing guitar with Talking Heads, 1978

Byrne graduated from Lansdowne High School in southwest Baltimore County. He started his musical career in a high school band called Revelation, then between 1971 and 1972, he was one half of a duo named Bizadi with Marc Kehoe. Their repertoire consisted mostly of songs such as "April Showers", "96 Tears", "Dancing on the Ceiling" and Frank Sinatra songs. Byrne attended the Rhode Island School of Design (during the 1970–71 term) and the Maryland Institute College of Art (during the 1971–72 term) before dropping out. He returned to Providence in 1973 and formed a band called the Artistics with fellow RISD student Chris Frantz.[9] The band dissolved in 1974. Byrne moved to New York City in May that year, and in September of that year, Frantz and his girlfriend Tina Weymouth followed suit. Unable to find a bass player in New York, Frantz and Byrne persuaded Weymouth to learn to play the bass guitar. Byrne gave her lessons. While working day jobs in late 1974, they were contemplating a band.

Talking Heads: 1975–1991[edit]

By January 1975, they were practicing and playing together, while still working normal day jobs. They founded the band Talking Heads and had their first gig in June.[10][11] Byrne quit his day job in May 1976 and the three-piece band signed to Sire Records in November. Byrne was the youngest member of the band. Multi-instrumentalist Jerry Harrison joined the band in 1977. The band released eight studio albums before going into hiatus in 1988. Byrne desired to go solo, but it took three years until 1991 to announce that the band was breaking up. A brief reunion for a single "Sax and Violins" in 1991 occurred before dissolving again. The band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002, when they reunited to play four tracks, including "Psycho Killer" and "Burning Down the House".[12]

Solo album career: 1979–1981, 1989–present[edit]

During his time in the band, Byrne took on outside projects, collaborating with Brian Eno during 1979 and 1981 on the album My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, which attracted considerable critical acclaim due to its early use of analogue sampling and found sounds. Following this record, Byrne focused his attention on Talking Heads. My Life in the Bush of Ghosts was re-released for its 25th anniversary in early 2006, with new bonus tracks. In keeping with the spirit of the original album, stems for two of the songs' component tracks were released under Creative Commons licenses and a remix contest site was launched.

Rei Momo (1989) was the first solo album by Byrne after leaving Talking Heads, and features mainly Afro-Cuban, Afro-Hispanic, and Brazilian song styles including popular dances such as merengue, son cubano, samba, mambo, cumbia, cha-cha-chá, bomba and charanga. His third solo album, Uh-Oh (1992), featured a brass section and was driven by tracks such as "Girls on My Mind" and "The Cowboy Mambo (Hey Lookit Me Now)". His fourth solo album, titled David Byrne (1994), was a more proper rock record, with Byrne playing most of the instruments on it, leaving percussion for session musicians. "Angels" and "Back in the Box" were the two main singles released from the album. The first one entered the US Modern Rock Tracks chart, reaching No. 24. For his fifth studio effort the emotional Feelings (1997), Byrne employed a brass orchestra called Black Cat Orchestra. His sixth Look into the Eyeball (2001) continued the same musical exploration of Feelings, but was compiled of more upbeat tracks, like those found on Uh-Oh.

Grown Backwards (2004), released by Nonesuch Records, used orchestral string arrangements, and includes two operatic arias as well as a rework of X-Press 2 collaboration "Lazy". He also launched a North American and Australian tour with the Tosca Strings. This tour ended with Los Angeles, San Diego and New York shows in August 2005. He also collaborated with Selena on her 1995 album Dreaming of You with "God's Child (Baila Conmigo)".[13]

Byrne at London's Royal Festival Hall, 2009

Byrne and Eno reunited for his eighth album Everything That Happens Will Happen Today (2008).[14] He assembled a band to tour worldwide for the album for a six-month period from late 2008 through early 2009 on the Songs of David Byrne and Brian Eno Tour.[15]

In 2012 he released a collaborative album with American singer-songwriter St. Vincent called Love This Giant.

In January 2018, Byrne announced his first solo album in 14 years. American Utopia was released in March through Todo Mundo and Nonesuch Records. He also released the album's first single, "Everybody's Coming to My House", which he co-wrote with Eno.[16] The subsequent tour – which showcased songs from American Utopia alongside highlights from his Talking Heads and solo career to date – was described by NME as being perhaps "the most ambitious and impressive live show of all time", blurring the lines "between gig and theatre, poetry and dance".[17]

Work in theatre, film, and television: 1981–present[edit]

In 1981, Byrne partnered with choreographer Twyla Tharp, scoring music he wrote that appeared on his album The Catherine Wheel for a ballet with the same name, prominently featuring unusual rhythms and lyrics. Productions of The Catherine Wheel appeared on Broadway that same year. In Spite of Wishing and Wanting is a soundscape David Byrne produced for the Belgian choreographer Wim Vandekeybus's dance company Ultima Vez.

Byrne wrote, directed, and starred in True Stories, a musical collage of discordant Americana released in 1986, as well as producing most of the film's music. Byrne also directed the documentary Île Aiye and the concert film of his 1992 Latin-tinged tour titled Between the Teeth. He was chiefly responsible for the stage design and choreography of Stop Making Sense in 1984.

Byrne was impressed by the experimental theatre that he saw in New York City in the 1970s. He collaborated with several of its best-known representatives. He worked with Robert Wilson on "The Knee Plays" and "The Forest", and invited Spalding Gray (of The Wooster Group) to act in True Stories, while Meredith Monk provided a small part of that film's soundtrack. Byrne provided a soundtrack for JoAnne Akalaitis' film "Dead End Kids", made after a Mabou Mines theatre production. Byrne's artistic outlook has a great deal in common with the work of these artists.[18]

In 1991, Byrne released a classical instrumental album The Forest, where some of the tracks were already featured as a score for 1988 Robert Wilson theatre piece of the same name.

His work has been extensively used in film soundtracks, most notably in collaboration with Ryuichi Sakamoto and Cong Su on Bernardo Bertolucci's The Last Emperor, which won an Academy Award for Best Original Score. In 2004, Lead Us Not into Temptation included tracks and musical experiments from his score to Young Adam. Byrne added "Loco de Amor" with Celia Cruz to Jonathan Demme's 1986 film Something Wild.

Byrne wrote the Dirty Dozen Brass Band-inspired score for Robert Wilson's Opera The Knee Plays from The Civil Wars: A Tree Is Best Measured When It Is Down. Some of the music from Byrne's orchestral album The Forest was originally used in a Wilson-directed theatre piece with the same name. The Forest premiered at the Theater der Freien Volksbühne, Berlin, in 1988. It received its New York premiere in December 1988 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM). The Forestry Maxi-single contained dance and industrial remixes of pieces from The Forest by Jack Dangers, Rudy Tambala, and Anthony Capel.

In 2003, Byrne guest starred as himself on a season 14 episode of The Simpsons.

In late 2005, Byrne and Fatboy Slim began work on Here Lies Love, a disco opera or song cycle about the life of Imelda Marcos, the controversial former First Lady of the Philippines. Some music from this piece was debuted at Adelaide Festival of Arts in Australia in February 2006 and the following year at Carnegie Hall on 3 February 2007.

In 2008, Byrne released Big Love: Hymnal – his soundtrack to season two of Big Love. These two albums constituted the first releases on his independent record label Todo Mundo.

Byrne and Brian Eno provided the soundtrack for the film Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.[19]

In 2015, Byrne organized Contemporary Color, two arena concerts in Brooklyn (NYC) and in Toronto, for which he brought in ten musical acts who teamed up with ten color guard groups. The concerts were made into a 2016 documentary film, directed by Bill and Turner Ross, and produced by Byrne.[20]

In October 2019, Byrne's American Utopia opened at the Hudson Theatre on Broadway.[21][22]

Byrne appeared in comedian John Mulaney's children's musical comedy special titled, John Mulaney & the Sack Lunch Bunch on Netflix, where he performed the song, "Pay Attention!". His song "Tiny Apocalypse" was also featured as the special's end credits song.[23]

On February 29, 2020, after a 30-year absence, Byrne performed as the musical guest on Saturday Night Live with John Mulaney as host. Byrne performed "Once in a Lifetime" and "Toe Jam" with the cast of the Broadway show American Utopia and appears in the "Airport Sushi" sketch. This was Byrne's third appearance on Saturday Night Live. Byrne previously served as the musical guest as part of the musical group Talking Heads in 1979, and as a solo musical guest in 1989.[24][25]

Other musical contributions: 1990–present[edit]

Byrne has contributed songs to five AIDS benefit compilation albums produced by the Red Hot Organization: Red Hot + Blue: A Tribute to Cole Porter, Red Hot + Rio, Silencio=Muerte: Red Hot + Latin, Onda Sonora: Red Hot + Lisbon, and Offbeat: A Red Hot Soundtrip. Byrne appeared as a guest vocalist/guitarist for 10,000 Maniacs during their MTV Unplugged concert, though the songs in which he is featured were cut from their following album. One of them, "Let the Mystery Be", appeared as the fourth track on 10,000 Maniacs' CD single "Few and Far Between".

In 1992, he performed with Richard Thompson. Their joint acoustic concert at St. Ann & The Holy Trinity in Brooklyn Heights, New York on 24 March, produced the album An Acoustic Evening which was released the same year.[26] Byrne worked with Latin superstar Selena in March 1995; writing, producing and singing a bilingual duet titled "God's Child (Baila Conmigo)." This became the last song Selena recorded before she was murdered on 31 March. It was included on the singer's posthumous album Dreaming of You. In 1997, Byrne was the host of Sessions at West 54th during its second of three seasons and collaborated with members of Devo and Morcheeba to record the album Feelings.

Byrne playing, Austin City Limits, 2008

In 2001, a version of Byrne's single "Like Humans Do", edited to remove its drug reference, was selected by Microsoft as the sample music for Windows XP to demonstrate Windows Media Player.[27][28]

In 2002, he co-wrote and provided vocals for a track, "Lazy" by X-Press 2, which reached No. 2 in the United Kingdom and number-one on the US Dance Charts. Byrne said in an interview on BBC Four Sessions coverage of his Union Chapel performance that "Lazy" was number-one in Syria. The track later featured with orchestral arrangements on his Grown Backwards (2004) album.

In September 2004, he co-authored a CD collection and performed with Gilberto Gil at a benefit concert promoting the Creative Commons license.[29]

In 2006, his singing was featured on "The Heart's a Lonely Hunter" on The Cosmic Game by Thievery Corporation.

He is featured on the tracks "Money" and "The People Tree", on N.A.S.A.'s 2009 album The Spirit of Apollo. Also in 2009, Byrne appeared on HIV/AIDS charity album Dark Was the Night for Red Hot Organization. He collaborated with Dirty Projectors on the song "Knotty Pine". In the same year, Byrne performed at the Bonnaroo Music Festival in Manchester, Tennessee. He also was a signator of a letter protesting the decision of the Toronto International Film Festival to choose Tel Aviv as the subject of its inaugural City-to-City Spotlight strand.[30]

In 2007, Byrne provided a cover of the Fiery Furnaces' song "Ex-Guru" for a compilation to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the founding of Thrill Jockey, a Chicago-based record label.

In 2008, Byrne and his production team turned the Battery Maritime Building, a 99-year-old ferry terminal in Manhattan, into a playable musical instrument.[31] The structure was connected electronically to a pipe organ and made playable for a piece called "Playing the Building".[32] This project was previously installed in Stockholm, Sweden in 2005,[33] and later at the London Roundhouse in 2009. Byrne says that the point of the project was to allow people to experience art first hand, by creating music with the organ, rather than simply looking at it.[34]

In April 2008, Byrne took part in the Paul Simon retrospective concert series at BAM performing "You Can Call Me Al" and "I Know What I Know" from Simon's Graceland album.[35]

In 2008, Byrne collaborated with the Brighton Port Authority, composing the music and singing the lyrics for "Toe Jam".

In May 2011, Byrne contributed backing vocals to the Arcade Fire track "Speaking in Tongues" which appeared on the deluxe edition of their 2010 album The Suburbs.[36]

Jherek Bischoff's 2012 album Composed features Byrne on the track "Eyes". He also released a show with Caetano Veloso recorded in 2004 at New York City's Carnegie Hall( Live at Carnegie Hall).

In March 2013, he debuted a fully staged production of his 2010 concept album Here Lies Love at New York's Public Theater, directed by Tony Award-nominee Alex Timbers following its premiere at MoCA earlier in the year.

In May 2014, Byrne announced his involvement with Anna Calvi's EP, Strange Weather, collaborating with her on two songs: a cover of Keren Ann's "Strange Weather" and Connan Mockasin's "I'm the Man, That Will Find You".[37]

In August 2016, Byrne was featured on "Snoopies" on the Kickstarter-funded album, and the Anonymous Nobody... by De La Soul.[38]

Other work[edit]

Byrne founded the world music record label Luaka Bop in 1990. It was originally created to release Latin American compilations, but it has grown to include music from Cuba, Africa, the Far East and beyond, releasing the work of artists such as Cornershop, Os Mutantes, Los De Abajo, Jim White, Zap Mama, Tom Zé, Los Amigos Invisibles and King Changó.[39][40]

In 2005, Byrne initiated his own internet radio station, Radio David Byrne.[41] Each month, Byrne posts a playlist of music he likes, linked by themes or genres. Byrne's playlists have included African popular music, country music classics, vox humana, classical opera and film scores from Italian movies.

In 2006, Byrne released Arboretum, a sketchbook facsimile of his Tree Drawings, published by McSweeney's. Byrne is a visual artist whose work has been shown in contemporary art galleries and museums around since the 1990s. Represented by the Pace/MacGill Gallery in New York. In 2010 his original artwork was in the exhibition The Record: Contemporary Art and Vinyl at the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University.[42]

TED Talks[edit]

David Byrne has also been a speaker at the TED Talks conferences.[43] In June 2010, he spoke at the TED conference about the effects of architecture on music.[44][45] Later in October 2010, he performed a hit from Talking Heads's 1988 album Naked titled "(Nothing But) Flowers" along with Thomas Dolby and string quartet Ethel-the TED2010 house band.[46]

Personal life[edit]

Relationships[edit]

Byrne had a brief relationship with Toni Basil in 1981[47] and he dated Twyla Tharp between 1981 and 1982.[47] While visiting Japan in 1982,[48] Byrne met costume designer Adelle Lutz, and they married in 1987.[49] They have a daughter, Malu Abeni Valentine Byrne, born in 1989.[50] Malu spoke about one of her middle names, Abeni, in a 2016 interview with Elle: "It is Nigerian, and it means 'We asked for her and she came to us.' My parents had a hard time having kids, and when I finally came along, their good friend offered up this name."[51] Byrne and Lutz divorced in 2004.[52] After his divorce, he became romantically involved with art curator and Gagosian Gallery sales director Louise Neri.[53] He also had a relationship with the artist Cindy Sherman from 2007 to 2011.[54]

Although a resident of the United States since childhood, Byrne was a British citizen until 2012, when he became a dual citizen of the United Kingdom and the United States.[55][56] He lives in New York City. His father, Thomas, died in October 2013. His mother, Emma, died on 25 June 2014.[57]

Cycling[edit]

Byrne is known for his activism in support of increased cycling and for having used a bike as his main means of transport throughout his life, especially cycling around New York.[58] In Los Angeles, Byrne drives a Citroën DS, but in New York, he does not drive a car.[59][60]

Byrne says that he began cycling while he was in high school and returned to it as an adult in the late 1970s. He likes the freedom and exhilaration cycling gives him. He has written widely on cycling, including a 2009 book, Bicycle Diaries.[61] In August 2009, Byrne auctioned his Montague folding bike to raise money for the London Cycling Campaign.

In 2008, Byrne designed a series of bicycle parking racks in the form of image outlines corresponding to the areas in which they were located, such as a dollar sign for Wall Street and an electric guitar in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Byrne worked with a manufacturer that constructed the racks in exchange for the right to sell them later as art. The racks remained on the streets for about a year.[62]

Two bike racks with the interchangeable Byrne Bike Rack Alphabet remain installed at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.[63]

Controversy[edit]

In September 2020, a video from 1984 featuring David in blackface became a controversy with him apologizing on Twitter.[64] The video in question came from a promo video for Stop Making Sense where he played a series of interviewers asking him questions, one of which had darker skin.

Works[edit]

Studio albums[edit]

Collaborative albums

Stage productions[edit]

Year Title Role Theatre Ref.
1981 The Catherine Wheel Music & lyrics Winter Garden Theatre, Broadway [65]
1991 The Forest Composer Volksbühne Theatre, Berlin
Brooklyn Academy of Music
[66]
2010 Here Lies Love Music & lyrics The Public Theater, New York
The Royal National Theatre, London UK
[65]
2015 Contemporary Color Music Luminato Festival, Toronto
Brooklyn Academy of Music
The Barclays Center, Brooklyn
[67]
2019–20 American Utopia Himself
Also music & lyrics
Hudson Theatre, Broadway [65]

Film and television[edit]

Concert films

Year Title Role Notes
1984 Stop Making Sense Himself Concert film from Talking Heads tour; also composer
1992 Between the Teeth – Live Himself VHS release; also composer
2010 Ride, Rise, Roar Himself Concert documentary[68]
2020 American Utopia Himself

Other film and television

Year Title Role Notes
1979 Saturday Night Live Himself Episode: "Cicely Tyson/Talking Heads"
1986 True Stories The Narrator Feature film; also director, writer, composer
1987 The Last Emperor Feature film; composer
1988 Married to the Mob Feature film; composer
1989 Ile Aiye (The House of Life) Documentary; composer
1989 Saturday Night Live Himself Episode: "Woody Harrelson/David Byrne"
2003 Young Adam Feature film; composer
2003, 2012 The Simpsons Himself (voice) Episodes: "Dude, Where's My Ranch?", "How I Wet Your Mother"
2007 Big Love 12 episodes; composer
2011 This Must Be the Place David Byrne Feature film
2016 Contemporary Color Feature film; composer
2019 John Mulaney & the Sack Lunch Bunch Himself Children's musical comedy special
2020 Saturday Night Live Himself Episode: "John Mulaney/David Byrne"

Awards and nominations[edit]

Year Award Category Title Result Ref.
1987 Independent Spirit Awards Best First Feature True Stories Nominated [69]
1987 Los Angeles Film Critics Association Best Music The Last Emperor Won [70]
1988 Academy Award Best Original Score Won [71]
1988 Golden Globe Award Best Original Score Won [72]
1989 British Academy Film Awards Best Original Music Nominated [73]
1989 Grammy Awards Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media Won [74]
Best Concept Music Video Storytelling Giant Nominated [75]
2010 Best Recording Package Everything That Happens Will Happen Today Won [74]
Best Alternative Music Album Nominated [74]
2013 Drama Desk Award Best Music Here Lies Love Won [76]
2019 Grammy Awards Best Alternative Music Album American Utopia Nominated [74]

Bibliography[edit]

Sources:[77]

References[edit]

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  2. ^ Tam, Leo Nardo. "The Dumbarton Road to Nowhere". Retrieved 21 December 2012. one of Scotland's most famous expats
  3. ^ Grant, Richard (16 March 2009). "David Byrne: stay hungry". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 21 December 2012. born in Dumbarton, Scotland (a point of pride, like his British passport)
  4. ^ Dunn, Jancee (11 August 1994). "Q&A: David Byrne". Rolling Stone. I think a lot of places I lived – Glasgow; Hamilton, Ontario; and Baltimore – at the time were all industrial towns.
  5. ^ a b "BBC Radio 4 – Desert Island Discs, David Byrne". BBC. Retrieved 23 November 2018.
  6. ^ ""Rock's Renaissance Man." TIME Magazine. October 27, 1986". Archived from the original on 15 January 2008. Retrieved 5 September 2017.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link). Retrieved 11 January 2010.
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  9. ^ Gittins, Ian, Talking Heads: Once in a Lifetime : the Stories Behind Every Song, Hal Leonard Corporation, 2004, p. 140 ISBN 0-634-08033-4, ISBN 978-0-634-08033-3.
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  27. ^ David Byrne to Provide Promotional Music for Windows XP: "Like Humans Do" to Give Music Fans a Taste of the Digital Music Experience in Windows XP Archived 12 February 2007 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved 11 January 2010.
  28. ^ You May Find Yourself On Windows XP Forbes.com by Davide Dukcevich, 21 August 2001. Retrieved 11 January 2010.
  29. ^ "WIRED Concert and CD: A Study in Collaboration". Creative Commons. 28 September 2004. Retrieved 18 April 2020.
  30. ^ Toronto film festival hit by protest over Tel Aviv strand by Ben Walters, 7 September 2009. Retrieved 11 January 2010.
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  42. ^ Visual art listing at Bryne's website. Retrieved 11 June 2010.
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  46. ^ Dolby, David Byrne, Ethel + Thomas, "(Nothing But) Flowers" with string quartet, retrieved 7 November 2018
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  50. ^ Bowman, p. 336.
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  54. ^ Simon Hattenstone (15 January 2011). "Cindy Sherman interview". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 2 November 2011.
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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]