April 8, 1997 – Laura Nyro was born October 18th 1947 in The Bronx, New York. 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.”
Singer, guitarist, pianist, songwriter, her style became a hybrid of Brill Building-style New York pop, jazz, gospel, rhythm and blues, show tunes and rock. She was best known, and enjoyed her greatest commercial success, as a composer and lyricist rather than as a performer.
Between 1968 and 1970 a number of other singers had significant 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 with “Eli’s Coming”; and Barbra Streisand with “Stoney End”, “Time and Love”, and “Hands off the Man (Flim Flam Man)”.
Nyro’s best-selling single however was her recording of Carole King and Gerry Goffin’s “Up on the Roof.”
Late 1967/early 1968 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”.
In 1969, David Geffen, close friend, and Nyro sold Tuna Fish Music to CBS for $4.5 million. Under the terms of the 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 the 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.
However 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 Woman’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, the legendary New York Club appearances. On July 4, 1991, she opened for Bob Dylan at the Tanglewood Music Center in Lenox, Massachusetts.
While she had not made any overt declarations of retirement, Nyro waited another four years before issuing her next LP Walk the Dog & Light the Light, her first collection of new material in nearly a decade in 1993.
Like her mother she was 49 years old when she died on 8 April 1997 from ovarian cancer at the same age
In 2012, Nyro was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Her music reflected a combination of spirituality and street smarts. Bursting with talent, she possessed a penetrating, soulful voice, a commanding touch on the piano and an arsenal of impressionistic songs that drew from R&B, soul, gospel, jazz, Brill Building pop and Broadway show tunes. As Jon Pareles wrote in the New York Times, Nyro “linked high-flown poetry to the ecstatic emotions of soul music, and her singing mixed the pure tones of a soprano with the throbs and swoops of gospel and jazz.”
Nyro was not easily pigeonholed and seemed almost too intense and unconventional for mainstream tastes. She never attained a Top 40 single, gold album or Grammy Award. However, she did have a beloved cult following, and other performers found great success recording her songs, including Fifth Dimension (“Stoned Soul Picnic,” “Wedding Bell Blues”), Blood, Sweat and Tears (“And When I Die,” “He’s a Runner”), Three Dog Night (“Eli’s Comin’”) and Barbra Streisand (“Stoney End”). For back-to-back weeks in 1969, three of the Top 10 songs on Billboard’s singles chart were written by Nyro.
One of the anomalies of Nyro’s career was that she was guarded and retiring in her personal life but filled her songs and performances with uninhibited feeling and feverish intensity. She seldom gave interviews, toured infrequently and announced her retirement (which turned out to be temporary) at age 24. Nonetheless, her recorded work – especially a remarkable run of albums in her first half-decade – documented a major talent bursting with precocious soulfulness and a uniquely original musical style.
Driven by an inner flame, Nyro was forthright and independent in her approach to music. “I’m not interested in conventional limitations when it comes to my songwriting,” she contended in the liner notes for Stoned Soul Picnic: The Best of Laura Nyro. “I may bring a certain feminist perspective to my songwriting, because that’s how I see life. I’m interested in art, poetry and music. As that kind of artist, I can do anything. I can say anything. It’s about self-expression.”
Nyro (whose birth name was Laura Nigro) was raised in New York City, where she heard and studied all kinds of music. Her father was a jazz trumpet player. Her mother introduced her to opera and classical music. She attended the High School of Music and Art in Manhattan, where she discovered jazz and folk music. She and her friends sang in the streets of the city during the doo-wop era, furthering her love of soul, rhythm & blues and Brill Building pop music.
Nyro was only 19 when she recorded her debut album, More Than a New Discovery, released in early 1967 on the Verve-Folkways label. David Geffen saw Nyro perform at the Monterey Pop Festival in June 1967; it was only her second real performance. He became her manager and got her signed to Columbia Records.
Three brilliant albums followed in three successive years: Eli and the Thirteenth Confession (1968), New York Tendaberry (1969) and Christmas and the Beads of Sweat(1970). Her piano-driven songs covered a lot of ground and broke with songwriting conventions as Nyro gave free rein to her feelings as a young woman coming of age in the city. Nyro’s commanding energy, passion, poetry and musicality shone through on these albums, the creative core of her catalog.
The vocal trio Labelle – Patti LaBelle, Sarah Dash and Nona Hendryx – accompanied Nyro on her next outing, Gonna Take a Miracle (1971). It was a joyous set of R&B, soul and girl-group remakes that harked back to her teenage love of a cappella. The album was produced by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, masterminds of the Philly Soul sound, and endures as a classic piece of urban-soul homage. Nyro then went five years without making a record. (More Than a New Discovery was subsequently reissued by Columbia with a revised running order as The First Songs in 1973.)
During the second stage of her career, which resumed in the mid-Seventies, the fervid outpouring of her early years gave way to a more contemplative, settled and nurturing spirit. “I’m not a prolific writer now,” she told Rolling Stone in 1976. “I still feel the same feelings as a composer, but I feel them at a slower rhythm.”
There was a brief flurry of releases in the late Seventies: Smile (1976); Season of Lights… Laura Nyro in Concert (1977) and Nested (1978). But then new work came much less frequently. Mother’s Spiritual (1984) was a highly original and heartfelt album that explored such themes as human rights, environmental awareness and universal love. She dedicated the album “to the trees” and the accompanying tour to the animal rights movement. A live album drawn from the tour, Laura – Live at the Bottom Line, appeared in 1989 after another half-decade of silence.
There was no more new work in the Eighties and only one more album of original songs, Walk the Dog and Light the Light (1993), was issued in her lifetime. Nyro died of ovarian cancer in 1997 at the age of 49. Shortly before her death, she compiled a double-disc career overview, Stoned Soul Picnic: The Best of Laura Nyro, for Columbia/Legacy. Four years after her death, an album of her final recordings, Angel in the Dark, was released.
Nyro was a songwriter’s songwriter who lit the way for others. Her memorable songs and trailblazing style have empowered such radically original female artists as Kate Bush, Tori Amos, Suzanne Vega, Jane Siberry, Rickie Lee Jones and many others. Todd Rundgren was a disciple, admitting that he changed his songwriting style after hearing Nyro.Elton John, speaking on Elvis Costello’s interview show Spectacle, confessed that he “idolized” Nyro: “The soul, the passion, just the out-and-out audacity of the way her rhythmic and melodic changes came was like nothing I’d heard before.”
After Nyro’s death, David Geffen remembered her as “a consummate artist…a poet for past and future generations.”
Laura Nyro (vocals, piano; born October 18, 1947, died April 8, 1997)
For a very deep insight of her soul go here