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Music / Laura Nyro

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"I don't think you should categorize yourself as an artist. You should allow yourself to grow. Growth is the nature of the creative process. You have to accept it, respect it, and move on."
— from an interview with Bruce Pollock.

Laura Nyro (née Nigro; October 18, 1947 – April 8, 1997) was an American pop Singer-Songwriter from New York City. In the 1960s and '70s she recorded albums that were acclaimed by the critics and wrote songs that were later covered by artists like Barbra Streisand and The 5th Dimension (the latter having a career almost propelled by her songs, enjoying more commercial success than Nyro ever did herself).

One of her first songs, "And When I Die", was sold to Peter, Paul and Mary in 1966, since both acts were under the management of Artie Mogull. (That same year she recorded her debut album, More Than a New Discovery, which was larely ignored.) After she successfully sued to get her contracts with both Mogull and Verve Folkways voided (on the grounds that she had been a minor when she'd signed them), she was taken under the wing of David Geffen. The following year, she performed at the Monterey Pop Festival, but the performance was strangely mixed in terms of reception; Nyro herself believed she'd been massively booed, but filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker, who documented the festival, found no such negative reaction in his footage of her set.

Geffen helped Nyro secure a contract with Columbia Records, giving her greater artistic control. She then released, in 1968, what is generally considered to be her greatest album, Eli and the Thirteenth Confession, which centered around the themes of love, passion, romance, drugs and death. Also, an unusual thing was done with the lyric sheet (itself still quite rare in 1968): copies were perfumed, and fans have reported that it still has a pleasant aroma decades later.

The following year, she released the album New York Tendaberry, which achieved greater success commercially (but not to the point of being lucrative) and critically. It is somewhat Darker and Edgier, but also more sensual, than its predecessor.

Her fourth album, Christmas and the Beads of Sweat, was issued in 1970, concluding the "unofficial" trilogy that had started with Eli. She retired from the music business a year later (after releasing her most famous album, ironically a Cover Album titled Gonna Take a Miracle), while having a short-lived relationship with Jackson Browne and, later, marrying a Vietnam War veteran and carpenter, David Bianchini.

Five years later, she returned with a new album, Smile, following the breakup of her marriage and her mother dying from ovarian cancer at the age of 49. She then embarked on a tour and, two years later, released another album, Nested. The latter was recorded while she was pregnant with her only child. In the early 1980s, she started a relationship with Maria Desiderio, a painter, which lasted for the rest of her life.

She returned in 1984 with Mother's Spiritual, and four years later, she embarked on a tour dedicated to the animal rights movement. Her final album of original material was Walk the Dog and Light the Light, released in 1993. Throughout the '90s she received offers to perform on television shows such as Saturday Night Live, but refused all of them, with the exception of a single VH1 performance (on Earth Day 1990) of her title song from Broken Arrow, an Academy Award-winning 1985 documentary about the unjust relocation of Navajo people.

She died on April 8, 1997, at 49, at the same age and with the same disease (ovarian cancer) that had claimed her mother.

Her legacy and influence is acknowledged by artists such as Todd Rundgren (who wrote a song about her, "Baby, Let's Swing", and assisted in the recording of Mother's Spiritual, being also great friends with each other), Joni Mitchell, Rickie Lee Jones, Elton John, and Steely Dan, among others. Theatre vocalists Judy Kuhn and Audra McDonald and jazz pianist-arranger Billy Childs have all recorded tribute albums covering Nyro's music, and at least one music theory scholar has conducted extensive analysis propounding her as the link between the Great American Songbook compositional style and the more personal songwriting of the 1960s and '70s.

Studio Discography:

  • 1967 – More Than a New Discovery note 
  • 1968 – Eli and the Thirteenth Confession
  • 1969 – New York Tendaberry
  • 1970 – Christmas and the Beads of Sweat
  • 1971 – Gonna Take a Miracle note 
  • 1976 – Smile
  • 1978 – Nested
  • 1984 – Mother's Spiritual
  • 1993 – Walk the Dog and Light the Light

Live Discography:

  • 1977 – Season of Lights
  • 1989 – Laura: Live at the Bottom Line
  • 2000 – Live from Mountain Stagenote 

Tropes in her work and life: