She was an American composer, lyricist, singer, and pianist, one of the most influential musicians to emerge in the 1960s. Her style was a distinctive hybrid of Brill Building-style New York pop, mixed with elements of jazz, gospel, rhythm and blues, and rock. She blazed the trail for – and directly influenced – future composers including Stevie Wonder, Joni Mitchell, Donald Fagen, Todd Rundgren, and Rickie Lee Jones, among many others.
She was best known by the general public – and had the most commercial success – as a composer and lyricist, rather than as a performer. Her best-known songs include "And When I Die" (a hit for Blood, Sweat & Tears), "Stoney End" (covered by Barbra Streisand), "Wedding Bell Blues", "Stoned Soul Picnic", "Sweet Blindness" and "Save The Country" (all covered by the Fifth Dimension), and "Eli's Coming" (a hit for Three Dog Night). Ironically, Nyro's own best-selling single was a cover of Carole King and Gerry Goffin's "Up On The Roof."
Career[edit | edit source]
After her fairly straightforward debut album More Than A New Discovery in 1967 on Verve Folkways (later Forecast), a new contract with Columbia Records was initiated, which allowed Nyro more freedom and control. Her first Columbia effort, Eli and the Thirteenth Confession in 1968, was released to wild critical praise for the depth and sophistication of the performance and arrangements. The album’s merger of pop structure with inspired imagery, rich, multi-tracked Nyro vocals and an avant-garde set of jazz flavorings, remains one of the most important breakthrough works of the era.
Follow-up albums, New York Tendaberry (1969), and Christmas and the Beads of Sweat (1970) cemented Nyro’s credibility as an important artist and sparked a following of devoted fans, especially among fellow musicians who were often seen in the audience and backstage at her performances.
In 1971, she released an album – Gonna Take a Miracle – of her favorite "teenage heartbeat songs" with Labelle (Patti Labelle, Nona Hendryx and Sarah Dash) providing vocal harmonies. Nyro was reportedly uncomfortable with attempts to mass-market her as a celebrity and, frustrated with a record industry becoming increasingly driven by commerce, Nyro announced her retirement from the music business at the age of 24. Five years later in 1976, however, she returned with an album of new material called "Smile".
Her low profile of this period was raised somewhat in 1989 with the release of Laura: Live at the Bottom Line, a recent, live recording which marked the beginning of a renewed series of live appearances. On this recording, Nyro sounds fresh and revitalized, performing a variety of old and new material with an excellent set of musicians. Her next release was Walk the Dog and Light the Light (1993), her first studio album in years, and her last for Columbia, co-produced by Gary Katz of Steely Dan production fame. A solid piece of work, it sparked further reappraisal of her place in popular music, and new commercial offers began to appear.
Always protective of her integrity, she reportedly turned down some lucrative film-composing offers, although she did contribute a song to the modest Academy Award winning documentary "Broken Rainbow", a film about forced relocation of Native Americans. Also according to sources, both The Tonight Show and The David Letterman Show staff 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 only made 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.
Personal life and death[edit | edit source]
Nyro died of ovarian cancer in Danbury, Connecticut on April 8 1997 at the age of 49. This was the same disease that claimed the life of her mother, Gilda Mirsky Nigro, who also was 49 at the time of her death.
Her life partner was Maria Desiderio (d. 1999.) She is survived by her son Gil Bianchini, her father Louis Nigro, and her brother Jan Nigro.
After diagnosis, in the months before her death, her old label Columbia Records – now owned by Sony – was planning 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 Stoned Soul Picnic: The Best of Laura Nyro (1997), and was reportedly pleased with the outcome.
Posthumous releases include Angel In The Dark (2001), which include her impressive final studio recordings made in 1994 and 1995, and The Loom’s Desire, a highly enjoyable set of live recordings with solo piano and harmony singers from The Bottom Line Christmas shows of 1993 and 1994.
Biographies[edit | edit source]
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.
Laura Nyro's music was the subject of an in-depth 2003 study by music theorist Ari Lauren at the University of Chicago. By analyzing the rhythmic and chordal progressions of Nyro's early work, Ms. Lauren elucidated the similarities between Nyro's songs and the compositions of the Tin Pan Alley era, arguing that Laura Nyro deserves a place within the pantheon of the Great American Songbook, alongside such composers as George Gershwin, Harold Arlen, and Jerome Kern.
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 
Trivia[edit | edit source]
- Nyro was once considered for lead singer for Blood, Sweat & Tears after the departure of founder Al Kooper. The position was eventually taken by David Clayton-Thomas.
- "Stoned Soul Picnic" was covered by American pop group The 5th Dimension in 1968 and later by UK jazz-pop duo Swing Out Sister in 1997.
- Canadian singer Jane Siberry recorded a medley of Nyro songs called "When I Think Of Laura Nyro" which appeared on her own compilation City as well as Time And Love: The Music Of Laura Nyro.
- Todd Rundgren was heavily influenced and inspired by Laura Nyro's composing and arranging style. Once he heard her, he "stopped writing songs like The Who and started writing songs like Laura". Rundgren wrote a song about her, which appeared on his first solo album "Runt". The song was called "Baby, Let's Swing" and it includes the lyrics "Now I love to shuffle / ever since I heard you sing".
- Bob Dylan reportedly startled a young Laura Nyro when he approached her at a party and declared "I love your chords!"
Discography[edit | edit source]
- 1967 - More Than a New Discovery (later reissued as Laura Nyro, 1969, and as The First Songs, 1973)
- 1968 - Eli and the Thirteenth Confession
- 1969 - New York Tendaberry
- 1970 - Christmas and the Beads of Sweat
- 1971 - Gonna Take a Miracle (with Labelle)
- 1976 - Smile
- 1978 - Nested
- 1984 - Mother's Spiritual
- 1993 - Walk the Dog and Light the Light
- 2001 - Angel in the Dark (posthumous album recorded 1994-1995)
- 1977 - Season of Lights
- 1989 - Laura: Live at the Bottom Line
- 2000 - Live at Mountain Stage (recorded 1990)
- 2002 - Live: The Loom's Desire (recorded 1993-1994)
- 2003 - Live in Japan (recorded 1994)
- 2004 - Spread Your Wings and Fly: Live at the Fillmore East May 30, 1971
- 1972 - Laura Nyro sings her Greatest Hits (released in Japan only)
- 1980 - Impressions
- 1997 - Stoned Soul Picnic: The Best of Laura Nyro
- 2000 - Time and Love: The Essential Masters
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References[edit | edit source]
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