Born June 20, 1953, in Brooklyn, NY; mother was a waitress. Education: Attended several colleges to study art. Addresses: Home-- New York City. Record Company-- Epic Records, 550 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10022.
After years of performing with bands that never made the big time, singer-songwriter Cyndi Lauper made her solo recording debut with the album She's So Unusual late in 1983. Through 1984 and early 1985, singles from her album, including "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" and "Time After Time," consistently stayed on the pop charts, making her the first female recording artist to achieve four hits with a debut album. Her quirky style, coupled with her impressive, four-octave range, endeared Lauper to fans and critics alike and netted her awards ranging from 1985's Grammy for best new artist to a spot as one of Ms. magazine's 12 women of the year for 1984.
Lauper was born June 20, 1953, in Brooklyn, New York. Shortly afterwards her family moved to neighboring Queens, where she acquired her trademark accent. When she was five, her parents divorced, and her mother worked long hours as a waitress to provide for her three children. From earliest childhood, Lauper mentally escaped hardship by singing. She confided to Bonnie Allen in Ms. , "Even when I talked, I sang. Always. As a kid I knew that all my power as a person came from my voice." Lauper also took a lesson from her mother's gruelling work schedule and vowed to escape the difficult life led by her family and neighbors.
The young singer's education was somewhat erratic, due to being expelled from different Catholic schools, where, Lauper told Kurt Loder in Rolling Stone, she was abused by overly strict nuns. After obtaining her high school equivalency degree, she was persuaded by friends and family to enter art school rather than pursue a singing career. Though a talented artist, Lauper did not adapt well to the structured environment of art school, and dropped out of several before returning to her first love, music. She worked odd jobs to support herself, including stints as a kennel attendant and a racehorse walker. During the early 1970s Lauper sang on street corners in Greenwich Village before joining a disco group, Doc West.
Performing in local clubs, relying heavily on covers of popular disco songs, the band was much like any other. Only Lauper's unique vocal renderings set them apart and kept the audience interested. People were particularly impressed with the feisty singer's rendition of Janis Joplin songs. But before long, Lauper tired of the disco scene and decided to move on. She joined up with the rock band Flyer, but was with them just a short time before losing her voice because of severely strained vocal chords.
When doctors informed her that she would not be able to resume a career in singing, Lauper was undaunted. On the advice of a friend, she sought the help of voice coach Katherine Agresta, an opera singer noted for her work with rock stars. Along with vocal exercises, Agresta stressed the importance of physical health in vocal restoration. By heeding her advice and following a strict regimen, Lauper accomplished the impossible and resumed her singing career.
Striking out on her own, Lauper once again worked the local circuit, performing solo at bars and clubs until meeting up with John Turi. Lauper and Turi collaborated to create Blue Angel, a band described by critics as both "rockabilly" and "new wave." The new group allowed Lauper to spread her musical wings as she enjoyed a level of artistic freedom she had not previously experienced. It was during this time that her singular fashion sense began to emerge.
Lauper was hard to ignore, with her carelessly chopped, multi-colored hair and funky, mismatched wardrobe. But it was her vocal acrobatics that brought her to the attention of rock manager Steve Massarsky. Decidedly underwhelmed with the band itself, Massarsky was impressed enough with the young singer's talent to sign Blue Angel to a recording contract with Polydor Records.
Despite a disappointing lack of sales, Blue Angel's first and only album was received favorably by critics, with most of the praise lavished on Lauper's singing. But in 1981 the band, plagued by in-fighting and artistic differences, called it quits, inciting Massarsky to file a lawsuit against them.
On her own again, Lauper declared bankruptcy and landed a job singing (phonetically) at a Japanese bar, where she met David Wolff, the man who became her manager and fiance. Wolff tirelessly promoted his new client and with the help of his connections, landed the singer a recording contract with CBS Records.
She's So Unusual debuted in 1983 and though Lauper wrote few of the songs, she was allowed a great deal of artistic control with the album as well as the accompanying videos. "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" was the first release--a rollicking video romp conceived by Lauper and populated with her family and friends. The song rocketed to the top of the pop charts and became part of MTV's heavy-rotation schedule. Hot on its heels was "Time After Time," a haunting ballad co-written with Eric Bazilian and Rob Hyman of the Hooters. Other hits from the album included "All Through the Night," "She-Bop" and "Money Changes Everything."
With the exception of the title song, Lauper's 1986 follow-up album, True Colors, did not meet with the success of the first. "I can't blame anybody but myself," Lauper confessed to Ann Kolson of the Philadelphia Inquirer. "I was there, but I wasn't there. My heart wasn't into it. I started to take out all the stuff about myself that made it interesting, thinking it was too weird."
Turning her attention to acting, the singer was cast in a starring role opposite actor Jeff Goldblum in the comedy film Vibes. Her character was a zany, psychic beautician. When it was released in 1988, reviews were unkind, but focused on the inadequacies of the script rather than Lauper's acting abilities. She told Fred Goodman in Rolling Stone: "That's the last time I'll take a part because of the part, hoping that the script will get better. It never does." Even Lauper's theme song from the film, "There's A Hole In My Heart," released as a single, proved a flop.
Lauper's 1989 album, A Night to Remember, brought mixed reviews from critics. Some called it her best work ever; others noted a new mellowness to the music and lamented the loss of her earlier, more spirited style. Most, however, heaped extravagant praise on her stunning singing ability. "Vocally, she does everything right on A Night to Remember, " claimed People' s David Hiltbrand. "She's earthy on the winsome rocker 'I Drove All Night,' scintillating on the airier 'Primitive' and sweet on the gentle 'Unconditional Love.' Jimmy Guterman of Rolling Stone noted, "On 'My First Night Without You,' she builds from a whisper to a scream and captures all the nuances in between." Though "I Drove All Night" proved a hit for Lauper, A Night to Remember did not match the overwhelming success of She's So Unusual.
Following the commercial failure of A Night to Remember, Lauper virtually disappeared from the public eye. She ended her longtime relationship with Wolff and spent the better part of two years attempting to get her life in order. She credits the Hooters--old friends and collaborators--with helping her rediscover the healing power of music. But it was actor David Thornton, whom she married in 1991, who gave her the courage to make a comeback.
In 1993, after an absence of four years, Lauper released her fourth album, Hat Full of Stars. Her return was celebrated by critics who hailed the album as a milestone in the singer's career. Soliciting the aid of several songwriters (including Bazilian, Hyman and Mary-Chapin Carpenter), Lauper produced her most varied, revealing and poignant work to date, addressing such issues as racism, incest, abortion and wife-battering. Holly George-Warren of Rolling Stone described the musical effort as "a fresh sound that mixes 60s soul, 70s funk, 80s pop and 90s hip-hop, as well as bits of folk and ethnic music." Ron Givens of People commented on the context of the material: "Lauper brings an enticing mix of literal description and oblique metaphor ... she sets a scene, makes us care, gives us hope." Lauper also made her directorial debut on two of the album's videos, "Who Let In The Rain" and "Sally's Pigeons."
In addition to recording, Lauper has also kept her acting skills honed. Both she and her husband appeared in Michael J. Fox's 1993 movie Life With Mikey and more recently she guest starred on the NBC comedy Mad About You. As she told Kolson, "I may not be the biggest artist in the whole friggin' world. Who cares? I'm able to stand up with pride and dignity and say that this is me and this is my gift to the world."
by Elizabeth Wenning
Cyndi Lauper's Career
Worked variously as waitress and racehorse walker; singer with disco group Doc West, beginning in 1974; singer with rock bands Flyer and Blue Angel, 1977-81; solo performer, 1981--; signed with CBS Records, and released She's So Unusual, 1983. Appeared in films Vibes, 1988, and Life With Mikey, 1993.
Cyndi Lauper's Awards
Named one of 12 women of the year by Ms. magazine, 1984; eight MTV Video Music Award nominations and seven National Academy of Video Arts and Sciences award nominations, 1984; Grammy Award nominations for album of the year, for She's So Unusual, record of the year and best female pop vocal performance, for "Girls Just Want to Have Fun," and song of the year, for "Time After Time," all 1985; Grammy Award for best new artist, 1985.
- Selective Works
- She's So Unusual (includes "Girls Just Want to Have Fun," "Time After Time," "She-Bop," "All Through the Night," and "Money Changes Everything"), Portrait, 1983.
- True Colors (includes "True Colors" and "What's Going On"), Portrait, 1986.
- A Night to Remember (includes "I Drove All Night," "Primitive," "Unconditional Love," and "My First Night Without You"), Epic, 1989.
- (Contributor) A Very Special Christmas A&M, 1992.
- Hat Full of Stars (includes "Lies," "Broken Glass," "Who Let In The Rain," "Sally's Pigeons," and "A Part Hate"), Epic, 1993.
- (Contributor) A Very Special Christmas 2 A&M, 1993.
November 18, 2003: Lauper's album, At Last, was released. Source: Billboard.com, www.billboard.com/bb/releases/week_4/rock.jsp, November 20, 2003.
- Willis, K. K., Jr., Cyndi Lauper, Ballantine, 1984.
- Periodicals Audio, September 1989.
- Entertainment Weekly, May 29, 1992; June 18, 1993.
- Mademoiselle, November 1988.
- Ms., January 1985; August 1988.
- Nation, June 30, 1984.
- Newsday, June 13, 1993.
- Newsweek, March 26, 1984; March 4, 1985.
- New York, December 26, 1983.
- New York Times, May 28, 1993.
- People, September 17, 1984; August 15, 1988; June 19, 1989; December 21, 1992; June 28, 1993; July 26, 1993.
- Philadelphia Inquirer, May 30, 1993.
- Rolling Stone, May 24, 1984; June 1, 1989; June 15, 1989; November 16, 1989; September 2, 1993.
- Time, March 4, 1985.
- Village Voice, August 17, 1993.
- Additional information for this profile was obtained from Epic Records publicity materials, 1993.