Born May 24, 1964 in Brooklyn, New York; son of Sy Kravitz (NBC television news producer) and Roxie Roker (an actor); married Lisa Bonet (divorced); children: one daughter. Began musical career as Romeo Blue, c. 1980; signed with Virgin Records, 1989; released debut album Let Love Rule, Virgin, 1989; co-wrote "Justify My Love," a number one single for Madonna, 1991; released album Mama Said, Virgin, 1991; recorded with Mick Jagger, released album Are You Gonna Go My Way, Virgin, 1993; released Circus, Virgin, 1995; released 5, Virgin, 1998; released single "American Woman" from Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (soundtrack).
One of the first rock superstars to emerge at the start of the 1990s, Lenny Kravitz built his success out of elements of pop music's recent past. From his 1989 debut album Let Love Rule onwards, his deft ability to matched aggressive guitar-driven rock with smooth R&B rhythms proved to be a consistent hitmaking combination. His versatile vocal style and psychedelic-tinged "flower child" persona mixed the sensuality of classic soul singers with echoes of John Lennon and other 1960s-era rock icons. His lyrics frequently conveyed idealistic and spiritual sentiments, while his musical direction invited comparisons with the likes of the Beatles, Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix.
From the start of his recording career, Kravitz's penchant for tapping into the sounds and clothing styles of his childhood stirred critical debate. As quoted in Contemporary Musicians, Volume 5; Rolling Stonereviewer Anthony DeCurtis described his first album as symptomatic of an untested generation "trying to capture the sound of young America sifting through the fragments of postmodern culture and creating childlike musical collages of no particular point ... as if the world were a kind of shopping mall in which this kind of music can be blended with that regardless of the inherent integrity of any particular genre." Spincritic Christian Wright appeared more sympathetic when he speculated that; "Maybe Lenny Kravitz is a new hippie with an old soul or maybe his neo-Bohemia is the supreme pretense. Either way he's convincing. He even uses crystals to cure his headache." The argument over whether Kravitz was an artist of substance or merely a facile revivalist began anew with the release of each new album.
Born May 24, 1964, Kravitz embraced show business as something of a birthright. The only child of NBC television news producer Sy Kravitz and actress Roxie Roker, who played Helen Willis on the TV sitcom The Jeffersons, he lived an idyllic city life while growing up in Manhattan's rich cultural atmosphere. As a child, he was introduced to many famous jazz and R&B musicians; on one occasion, he recalled sitting on Duke Ellington's lap while the legendary composer played the piano. In 1974, he moved to Los Angeles with his parents, where he joined the California Boys' Choir, with whom he recorded under the supervision of conductor Zubin Mehta. He also studied music dilligently during his teenage years, teaching himself to play guitar, bass, keyboards and drums. Drawn to a music career while a high school student, he left home at 16 and began to circulate demo recordings under the name of Romeo Blue. After an initial deal with IRS Records fell through, Kravitz secured a contract with Virgin Records under his own name in early 1989.
When his Let Love Rule album appeared in late 1989, Kravitz was more widely known as the husband of actress Lisa Bonet than as a musician. But the swift success of his first album established him as a media figure in his own right. Let Love Rule featured Kravitz as the sole vocalist and instrumentalist on every track. His recording methods were deliberately antiquated, utilizing vintage tube amplifiers and favoring analog over digital technology. Though the album's title track only reached number 89 on the American charts as a single, touring and television appearances boosted Kravitz's profile in America and Europe. He enjoyed his greatest breakthrough in 1990 as the co-writer of Madonna's "Justify My Love," which went on to become a number one single.
In response to America's impending conflict with Iraq, Kravitz recorded a new version of John Lennon's "Give Peace A Chance" in tandem with Yoko Ono, Sean Lennon and other luminaries, which rose to number 54 in the United States in March, 1991. He was quickly on the charts again with "It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over," the initial single from his second album, Mama Said. This soulful tune reached number two in the United States, helping Mama Said to eventually earn platinum certification. A number of the songs on the album dealt with the break-up of Kravitz's marriage to Bonet, and benifitted from a tougher rock-oriented sound overall. A second single from Mama Said, "Stand By My Woman," charted at number 76 in late 1991.
Amidst his rising success as an artist, Kravitz found time to produce an album by French singer Vanessa Paradis in 1992 and, in the following year, teamed up with Mick Jagger on "Use Me." He also co-wrote "Line Up" for Aerosmith's Get A Grip album. 1993 saw the release of his Are You Gonna Go My Way album, which went on to reach double platinum status. He continue to tour frequently, and had the honor of having one of his musical heroes, ex-Led Zeppelin singer Robert Plant, open shows for him in Europe. A renewed interest in sixties fashion and music around this time made Kravitz's backwards-looking style seem up-to-date. He commented to Rolling Stone writer Kim Neely that "When I came out with Let Love Rule, everybody was trippin' on the way it sounded and what I was talking about. They said I was this sweet little child, talking about love and understanding. You know, 'You can't say those things, that's childish.' Now, they're ready to accept it, so all of a sudden I am more mature.... When actually I'm the same musician."
Kravitz's next solo release, Circus, was released in 1995 and quickly reached gold certification. A move towards more contemporary sonic ideas, the album yielded the chart singles "Rock And Roll Is Dead" and "Can't Get You Off My Mind". As usual, critical reaction to Circus was mixed. Reviewing the album for Musician, Mac Randall praised Kravitz for "his ability to conjure up a magical late '60s/early '70s sonic world that never quite existed but should have" and hailed the album as "yet another demonstration of a classic equation: blistering rock guitar plus bruising funk rhythms equals excitement." On the negative side, Rolling Stone reviewer Mark Kemp opined that "Flagrant appropriation has been a hallmark for Kravitz since Let Love Rule, but on most of Circus' tracks, it finally becomes redundant, rendering the guilty pleasures few and far between."
Weathering the death of his mother in December of 1995, Kravitz took part in the 40-city H.O.R.D.E. American concert tour during the summer of 1996 before beginning work on his next album. Recording over an eight-month period, he embraced sampling and drum loops for for the first time and steered his sound in a distinctly modern R&B direction. "No tape, this time," he said of his recording methods in a Virgin Records press biography. "And 'Digital' used to be a dirty word for me. But by working instrument by instrument, building up the sound, I was able to construct the record like a puzzle. I was listening to a lot of New York hip-hop. I like that technique the sparseness, the groove, the rhythm."
Released in 1998, 5 brought Kravitz yet another platinum album. Its single "Fly Away" reached number 12 on the pop charts and earned him a Grammy Award for Best Male Rock Performance of 1998. He was also fortunate enough to have his version of the Guess Who's 1970 hit "American Woman" featured on the soundtrack of the hugely popular 1999 film Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. "American Woman" was included on later pressings of 5 and went on to become a high-charting single as well.
Whatever the sources of his music may be, Kravitz demonstrated artistic staying power throughout the nineties. For his part, he seemed not be overly concerned about issues of originality. "Do I have to make up a new form of music?", he asked in a Rolling Stoneinterview. "Is that my job? Everything's been done... I just play what comes out of me. Whether I'm innovative or not, I'm doing what's true to me, what's natural. Maybe someday I'll do something that no one's heard, I don't know. But at least I'm doing what God put in me to come out."
by Barry Alfonso
Lenny Kravitz's Career
Lenny Kravitz's Awards
MTV Video Music Award for Best Male Video, 1993; Grammy Award for Best Male Rock Performance, 1998.
- Selected discography
- Let Love Rule , Virgin, 1989.
- Mama Said , Virgin, 1991.
- Are You Gonna Go My Way , Virgin, 1993.
- Circus , Virgin, 1995.
- 5 , Virgin, 1998.
June 2003: It is reported that Kravitz is forming Roxie Records, a label named in honor of his late mother, which will be distributed through Warner Bros. Source: E! Online, www.eonline.com, June 30, 2003.
July 2005: Kravitz's company, Kravitz Designs, expanded from a home decor business to include recording studios and hotels. Source: E! Online, www.eonline.com, July 8, 2005.
- DiMartino, Dave, Singer-Songwriters, Billboard Books, 1994.
- Larkin, Colin, editor, The Encyclopedia of Popular Music, Muze, 1998.
- Contemporary Musicians, Volume 5, Gale Research, Inc., 1991.
- Musician, October 1995.
- Rolling Stone, September 7, 1989; June 24, 1993; September 21, 1995; June 11, 1998.
- Spin, July 1990.
- Stereo Review, June 1993.
- Additional information was provided by Virgin Records publicity materials.