b. October 18, 1947
d. April 8, 1997
A respected and successful songwriter, and an amazingly soulful singer, Laura Nyro is the only modern influence Joni Mitchell acknowledges, and she's inspired a host of others. The Fifth Dimension, Blood Sweat & Tears, Three Dog Night, and Barbara Streisand had hits with her songs. Her 1968 album Eli & The 13th Confession launched her hit "Eli's Comin'" from "that brief era when music was a religion, a communal rite." (People).
Nyro was the daughter of a trumpeter who began teaching herself music at a young age. She loved Motown, Joan Baez, Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, Nina Simone, Miles Davis and McCoy Tyner (who influenced her piano style). She developed a style steeped in the Brill Building hit factory with jazz and folk influences. Her audition at the age of 18 included her future hits "Stoney End," "And When I Die," and "Wedding Bell Blues." Later, she helped launch Patti LaBelle by harmonizing with LaBelle on her Gonna Take a Miracle album.
A frequent user of marijuana, Nyro celebrated getting high in her hit "Stoned Soul Picnic." Bobby Columby, drummer for Blood, Sweat and Tears, remembers going with her on a Christmas Eve around 1968 to see Fantasia at the Little Carnegie Theater in Manhattan. "She had smoked I don't know how many joints," says Columby. "She was definitely ready to see Fantasia, let's put it that way." In the opening sequence, when the conductor's baton shoots colors as he moves his arm, Nyro moaned so loudly that Columby feared the audience would think they were having sex. (Source: Soul Picnic: The Music and Passion of Laura Nyro, by Michele Kort)
At the Monterey Pop festival, Nyro famously walked off after singing "Poverty Train," a warning against cocaine (or heroin) use that, by some accounts, wasn't pleasing to the audience. In 1997, Nyro told journalist Johnny Black she'd been high while performing. Her lighting man was on his first acid trip. Michelle Phillips wrote in her 1986 autobiography that afterwards, she took her in a limousine "and lit a huge joint and opened a beer and drove around for about 30 minutes, comforting her."
Nyro died of ovarian cancer in 1997, just after her double CD Stoned Soul Picnic: The Best of Laura Nyro was released. Elton John and Elvis Costello discussed Nyro's significant influence on both of them during the premiere episode of Costello's interview show Spectacle on the Sundance channel last year. "Lots of people were later compared to Laura Nyro," wrote Richard Harrington in the Washington Post. "Nyro herself was never compared to anyone."
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