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Laura Nyro passed away on this day in 1997 (age 49) 4/8/97
Laura Nyro (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.
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".
In 2012, Nyro was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Nyro was born Laura Nigro in the Bronx, the daughter of Gilda (née 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. Laura was of Russian Jewish, Polish, and Italian ancestry.
As a child, Nyro 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 Catskills, where her father played 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.
Nyro was close to her aunt and uncle, 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." Nyro 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."
Her father’s work brought him into contact with record company executive Artie Mogull (1927–2004), and his partner, Paul Barry (1912–1987) who auditioned Laura in 1966 and became her first managers. However, Louis Nigro denies "not even once" mentioning Laura to any of his clients, adding "they would have laughed at me if I did." As a teenager, Nyro experimented with going by various names, and Nyro (NEAR-oh) was the one she was using at the time. She sold "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 her second of only two major live appearances, at the Monterey Pop Festival. Although some accounts described her performance as a fiasco that culminated in her being booed off the stage, recordings later made publicly available contradict this version of events.
Soon afterwards, David Geffen approached Mogull about taking over as Nyro's 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, which received high critical praise for the depth and sophistication of its 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. Eli was followed in 1969 by New York Tendaberry, another highly acclaimed work which cemented Nyro’s artistic credibility. "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. Her own recordings sold mostly to a faithful cadre of followers. 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.
Nyro's fourth album, Christmas and the Beads of Sweat, was released at the end of 1970. The set contained "Upstairs By a Chinese Lamp" and "When I Was a Freeport and You Were a Main Drag" and featured Duane Allman and other Muscle Shoals musicians. The following year’s Gonna Take a Miracle was a collection of Nyro's 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 "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.
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.
By 1976, her marriage had ended, and she released 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. The release sparked reappraisal of her place in popular music, and new commercial offers began appearing. 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.
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 The Bottom Line appearances in the 1990s. On July 4, 1991, she opened for Bob Dylan at the Tanglewood Music Center in Lenox, Massachusetts.
Nyro had a relationship with singer/songwriter Jackson Browne in late 1970 to early 1971.
Nyro married Vietnam War veteran David Bianchini in October 1971 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 had grown accustomed to rural life, as opposed to the life in the city, where she had recorded her first five records.
A short-lived relationship with Harindra Singh resulted in Nyro's son, Gil Bianchini (aka musician Gil-T), 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 (1954–99) 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."
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. Her ashes were buried in the grounds of her house at Danbury..
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.
Nyro's influence on popular musicians has also been acknowledged by such artists as Joni Mitchell, Carole King, 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." 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. 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.” prom of the equin