Life and career
1953–1979: Early life
Lauper was born at Boulevard Hospital in Astoria, Queens, New York City, to a Catholic family. Her father, Fred, was of German and Swiss descent. Her mother, Catrine (née Gallo), is Italian American (from Sicily). Lauper's siblings are younger brother Fred (nicknamed Butch), and older sister, Ellen. Lauper's parents divorced when she was five. Her mother remarried and divorced again.
Lauper grew up in the Ozone Park neighborhood of Queens and, as a child, listened to such artists as The Beatles, Ella Fitzgerald, Judy Garland and Billie Holiday. At age 12, she began writing songs and playing an acoustic guitar given to her by her sister.
Lauper expressed herself with a variety of hair colors, eccentric clothing and even took a friend's advice to spell her name as "Cyndi" rather than "Cindy".
Lauper went to Richmond Hill High School, but was expelled, although she later earned her GED. She left home at 17, to escape her abusive stepfather, intending to study art. Her journey took her to Canada, where she spent two weeks in the woods with her dog Sparkle, trying to find herself. She eventually traveled to Vermont, where she took art classes at Johnson State College and supported herself working odd jobs.
In the early 1970s, Lauper performed as a vocalist with various cover bands. One, called Doc West, covered disco songs as well as Janis Joplin. A later band, Flyer, was active in the New York metropolitan area, singing hits by bands including Bad Company, Jefferson Airplane and Led Zeppelin. Although Lauper was performing on stage, she was not happy singing covers. In 1977, Lauper damaged her vocal cords and took a year off from singing. She was told by doctors that she would never sing again, but regained her voice with the help of vocal coach Katie Agresta.
1980–1982: Blue Angel
In 1978, Lauper met saxophone player John Turi through her manager Ted Rosenblatt. Turi and Lauper formed a band named Blue Angel and recorded a demo tape of original music. Steve Massarsky, manager of The Allman Brothers Band, heard the tape and liked Lauper's voice. He bought Blue Angel's contract for $5,000 and became their manager.
Lauper received recording offers as a solo artist, but held out, wanting the band to be included in any deal she made. Blue Angel was eventually signed by Polydor Records and released a self-titled album on the label in 1980. Lauper hated the album cover, saying that it made her look like Big Bird, but Rolling Stone magazine later included it as one of the 100 best new wave album covers (2003). Despite critical acclaim, the album sold poorly ("It went lead", as Lauper later joked) and the band broke up. The members of Blue Angel had a falling-out with Massarsky and fired him as their manager. He later filed an $80,000 suit against them, which forced Lauper into bankruptcy. After this Lauper temporarily lost her voice due to an inverted cyst in her vocal cord.
After Blue Angel broke up, Lauper spent time, due to her financial problems, working in retail stores, waitressing at IHOP (which she quit after being demoted to hostess when the manager made a pass at her), and singing in local clubs. Her most frequent gigs were at El Sombrero. Music critics who saw Lauper perform with Blue Angel believed she had star potential due to her four-octave singing range. In 1981, while singing in a local New York bar, Lauper met David Wolff, who took over as her manager and had her sign a recording contract with Portrait Records, a subsidiary of Epic Records.
1983–1985: She's So Unusual
On October 14, 1983, Lauper released her first solo album, She's So Unusual. The album peaked at No. 4 in the US, and became a worldwide hit. The primary studio musicians were Eric Bazilian and Rob Hyman (of The Hooters), Rick Chertoff, Richard Termini and Peter Wood. Lauper became popular with teenagers and critics, in part due to her hybrid punk image, which was crafted by stylist Patrick Lucas.
Lauper was interested in writing her own songs, but the record company provided her with songs to record that were written by other writers. Lauper sometimes changed the lyrics in the material she was given by the record company; such is the case with "Girls Just Want to Have Fun". Lauper found the original lyrics to be misogynistic, so she rewrote the song as an anthem for young women.
The album's second single "Time After Time" was co-written by Lauper and Rob Hyman. "Time After Time" hit No. 1 on both the Billboard Hot 100 and Adult Contemporary charts. The song would earn Lauper an RIAA Gold certification for record sales that reached 500,000 copies, and was later covered by Miles Davis on his album “You’re under arrest”. It became a staple of Davis’s live shows at the time, featuring on the live album “Live around the world”.
The other Billboard Hot 100 singles on She's So Unusual were "She Bop" (No. 3), "All Through the Night" (No. 5), written by Jules Shear, and "Money Changes Everything" (No.27).
The album includes five cover songs, including The Brains' new wave track "Money Changes Everything" (No. 27 on the Billboard Hot 100) and Prince's "When You Were Mine". The album made Lauper the first female to have four consecutive Billboard Hot 100 top five hits from one album. The LP stayed in the Top 200 charts for more than 65 weeks, and since has sold 16 million copies worldwide.
Lauper won Best New Artist at the 1985 Grammy Awards. She's So Unusual also received nominations for Album of the Year, Record of the Year, Best Female Pop Vocal Performance (for "Girls Just Want to Have Fun"), and Song of the Year (for "Time After Time"). It also won the Grammy for Best Album Package, which went to the art director, Janet Perr.
The video for "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" won the inaugural award for Best Female Video at the 1984 MTV Video Music Awards, and made Lauper an MTV staple. The video featured professional wrestling manager "Captain" Lou Albano as Lauper's father, and her real-life mother, Catrine, as her mother, and also featured her attorney, her manager, her brother Butch, and her dog Sparkle. In 1984–85, Lauper appeared on the covers of Rolling Stone magazine, Time, and Newsweek. She appeared twice on the cover of People, and was named a Ms. magazine Woman of the Year in 1985.
In 1985, Lauper participated in USA for Africa's famine-relief fund-raising single "We Are the World", which sold more than 20 million copies since then.
Lauper appeared with professional wrestler Hulk Hogan, who played her "bodyguard" and would also later make many appearances as herself in a number of the World Wrestling Federation's "Rock 'n' Wrestling Connection" events, and played Wendi Richter's manager in the inaugural WrestleMania event. Dave Wolff, Lauper's boyfriend and manager at the time, was a wrestling fan as a boy, and engineered the rock and wrestling connection.
In 1985, Lauper released the single "The Goonies 'R' Good Enough", from the soundtrack to the movie The Goonies, and an accompanying video which featured several wrestling stars. The song reached number 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
1986–1988: True Colors and Vibes
Lauper received two nominations at the 1986 Grammy Awards: Best Female Rock Vocal Performance for "What a Thrill" and Best Long Form Music Video for Cyndi Lauper in Paris.
Lauper released her second album, True Colors, on September 18, 1986. It reached No. 4 on the Billboard 200 and sold 2 million copies in the US. She increased her involvement in production and songwriting on her second album, co-writing most of the songs with Essra Mohawk, John Turi, Billy Steinberg, and Tom Kelly. Guests included Angela Clemons-Patrick, Nile Rodgers, Aimee Mann, Billy Joel, Adrian Belew, The Bangles, Ellie Greenwich and Rick Derringer.
True Colors was not as commercially successful as She's So Unusual, but it did contain three high-charting singles, including the title track, "True Colors", which became Lauper's second song to hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100; "Change of Heart" (No. 3); and a cover of Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On" (No. 12). A fourth single from the album, "Boy Blue", did not reach the top-40. She donated the proceeds of that song to AIDS research. The song "True Colors" (written by Steinberg and Kelly) was licensed to Kodak for use in its commercials.
In 1986, Lauper appeared on the Billy Joel album The Bridge, with a song called "Code of Silence". She is credited as having written the lyrics with Joel and she sings a duet with him. In the same year, Lauper also sang the theme song for the series Pee-wee's Playhouse, credited as "Ellen Shaw". In 1987, David Wolff produced a concert film for Lauper called Cyndi Lauper in Paris. The concert was broadcast on HBO.
Lauper made her film debut in August 1988 in the quirky comedy Vibes, alongside Jeff Goldblum, Peter Falk, and Julian Sands. Lauper played a psychic in search of a city of gold in South America.
Deborah Blum and Tony Ganz produced the film, with David Wolff as associate producer. To prepare for the role, Lauper took a few classes in finger waving and hair setting at the Robert Fiance School of Beauty in New York, and studied with a few Manhattan psychics. The film flopped and was poorly received by critics.
Lauper contributed a track called "Hole in My Heart (All the Way to China)" for the Vibes soundtrack, but the song was not included. A music video was released, a high energy, comic action/adventure romp through a Chinese laundry. The song reached No. 54 on the US charts, but fared better in Australia, reaching No. 8. "Hole in My Heart (All the Way to China)" became the opening song on her 2008 Australian tour.
1989–1992: A Night to Remember and marriage
A Night to Remember – Lauper's third album – was released in the spring of 1989. The album had one hit, the No. 6 single "I Drove All Night", originally recorded by Roy Orbison, three years before his death on December 6, 1988. Lauper received a Grammy nomination for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance at the 1990 Grammy Awards for "I Drove All Night", but overall album sales for A Night to Remember were down. The music video for the album's song "My First Night Without You" was one of the first to be closed-captioned for the hearing impaired.
On July 21, 1990, Lauper joined Roger Waters and other artists performing "Another Brick in the Wall, Part II" as part of the concert The Wall in Berlin. As part of the concert, Lauper also performed "The Tide Is Turning" with Waters, Joni Mitchell, Bryan Adams, Paul Carrack and Van Morrison. Three hundred thousand people attended the concert and over five million people worldwide watched on live television.
Because of a friendship with Yoko Ono, Lauper took part in the May 1990 John Lennon tribute concert in Liverpool, performing the Beatles song "Hey Bulldog" and the John Lennon song "Working Class Hero". She also took part in Ono and Lennon's son Sean's project called "The Peace Choir", performing a new version of Lennon's "Give Peace a Chance".
On November 24, 1991, Lauper married actor David Thornton.
1993–1995: Hat Full of Stars and Twelve Deadly Cyns
Lauper's fourth album Hat Full of Stars was released in June 1993 and was met with critical acclaim, but failed commercially, unsupported by her label. The album, which tackled such topics as homophobia, spousal abuse, racism, and abortion sold fewer than 120,000 copies in the United States and peaked at No. 112 on the Billboard charts. The video for the album's song "Sally's Pigeons" features the then-unknown Julia Stiles as the young Cyndi.
Lauper co-wrote several songs for the album with Mary Chapin Carpenter, Ailee Willis, Nicky Holland, Tom Gray, Hugh Masekela and The Hooters. That same year, Lauper recorded "Boys Will Be Boys" with The Hooters for their album Out of Body. The Hooters dedicated their song "Private Emotion" to her.
Her greatest hits album, Twelve Deadly Cyns...and Then Some, was released outside of the US in 1994 and reached US audiences in summer of 1995. The album sold over six million copies worldwide. It included two re-recorded tracks, "I'm Gonna be Strong", originally recorded with Blue Angel, and a reworking of her first hit, newly christened "Hey Now (Girls Just Want to Have Fun)".
In 1993, Lauper returned to acting, playing Michael J. Fox's ditzy secretary in Life with Mikey. She also won an Emmy Award for her role as Marianne Lugasso in the sitcom Mad About You.
1996–2000: Motherhood and Sisters of Avalon
Lauper performing in 2000
On November 19, 1997, Lauper gave birth to her son Declyn Wallace Thornton. Her fifth album, Sisters of Avalon, was released in Japan in 1996 and elsewhere in 1997. The album was written and produced with the help of Jan Pulsford (Lauper's keyboard player) and producer Mark Saunders. As in Hat Full of Stars, some of the songs in Sisters of Avalon addressed dark themes. The song "Ballad of Cleo and Joe" addressed the complications of a drag queen's double life. The song "Say a Prayer" was written for a friend of hers who had died from AIDS. "Unhook the Stars" was used in the movie of the same name. Again without support from her label, the release failed in America, spending a single week on the Billboard album chart at No. 188. This album also met with much critical praise, including People magazine, which declared it "90s nourishment for body and soul. Lauper sets a scene, makes us care, gives us hope."
In November 1998, Lauper released the Christmas album Merry Christmas...Have a Nice Life. The album contained both original material and standards, and was co-produced and mixed by William Wittman.
On January 17, 1999, Lauper appeared as an animated version of herself in The Simpsons episode "Wild Barts Can't Be Broken", singing the National Anthem to the melody of "Girls Just Want to Have Fun". In the same year, Lauper opened for Cher's Do You Believe? Tour alongside Wild Orchid. She also appeared in the films Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle and The Opportunists.
Lauper contributed a cover version of The Trammps' "Disco Inferno" to the soundtrack for the film A Night at the Roxbury. The song was also released as an EP and earned Lauper a nomination 1999 Grammy Awards for Best Dance Recording. In 2000, Lauper contributed the song "I Want a Mom That Will Last Forever" to the children's movie Rugrats in Paris. The song was written with Mark Mothersbaugh (DEVO). In 2000, Lauper also co-wrote the song "If You Believe" with Faye Tozer of the British pop group Steps, for the band's third studio album, Buzz.
2001–2004: Shine and At Last
In 2001, Lauper prepared a new album Shine. The album was a return to her early punk-rock sound and featured Japanese pop superstar Ryuichi Sakamoto, and George Fullan of Train. Just weeks before the album's scheduled release on September 11, 2001, her label (Edel America Records) folded. A five-song EP of Shine was released in June 2002, but the full-length album was released exclusively in Japan. An album of Shine remixes was eventually released through Tower Records.
On October 12, 2000, Lauper took part in the television show Women in Rock, Girls with Guitars performing with Ann Wilson of Heart and with the girl group, Destiny's Child. A CD of the songs performed was released exclusively to Sears stores from September 30 to October 31, 2001, and was marketed as a fundraiser for breast cancer.
In 2002, Sony issued a best-of CD, The Essential Cyndi Lauper. Lauper also released a cover album with Sony/Epic Records entitled At Last (formerly Naked City), which was released in 2003. At Last received one nomination at the 2005 Grammy Awards: Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist(s), for "Unchained Melody". The effort was also a commercial hit, selling 4.5 million records
In April 2004, Lauper performed during the VH1's benefit concert Divas Live 2004 alongside Ashanti, Gladys Knight, Jessica Simpson, Joss Stone and Patti LaBelle, in support of the Save the Music Foundation.
2005–2007: The Body Acoustic
In 2005, under a new contract with Sony Music, Lauper released The Body Acoustic, an album that featured acoustic reinterpretations of tracks from her repertoire. The album also included two new tracks including "Above the Clouds". Guest performers on the album included Shaggy, Ani DiFranco, Adam Lazzara of Taking Back Sunday, Jeff Beck, Puffy AmiYumi, Sarah McLachlan, and Vivian Green. "Time After Time" with Sarah McLachlan charted on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart.
She made appearances on Showtime's hit show Queer As Folk in 2005, directed a commercial for Totally 80s edition of the board game Trivial Pursuit in 2006, served as a judge on the 6th Annual Independent Music Awards and made her Broadway debut in the Tony-nominated The Threepenny Opera as Jenny. She performed with Shaggy, Scott Weiland of Velvet Revolver/Stone Temple Pilots, Pat Monahan of Train, Ani DiFranco, and The Hooters in the VH1 Classics special Decades Rock Live. In 2007, she sang "Beecharmer" with Nellie McKay on McKay's Pretty Little Head album, and "Message To Michael" with Dionne Warwick.
On October 16, 2006, Lauper was inducted into the Long Island Music Hall of Fame.
2008–2009: Bring Ya to the Brink
Cyndi Lauper performing in 2008
In 2009, Lauper took a role and wrote a song for the Serbian movie Here and There, which stars her husband, David Thornton.
Lauper's sixth studio album, Bring Ya to the Brink was released in the United States on May 27, 2008. By the time of the album's US release, the single "Set Your Heart" had already had significant airplay in Japan, and Lauper had begun an Australian tour with Katie Noonan and Kate Miller-Heidke. The album featured dance tracks written with artists including Axwell, The Scumfrog, Basement Jaxx, Digital Dog, Dragonette, Kleerup, and others. Bring Ya to the Brink received one Grammy nomination for Best Electronic/Dance Album and charted two #1 hits on the Billboard Dance chart. "Set Your Heart" was used in the Japanese advertising campaign for the 2008 Toyota MarkX ZIO.
Other projects for 2008 included the True Colors Tour and a Christmas duet with Swedish band The Hives, entitled "A Christmas Duel". The song was released as a CD single and a 7" vinyl in Sweden. Lauper also performed on the "Girls Night Out", headlining it with Rosie O'Donnell in the US.
Lauper's TV appearances in 2009 included the American soap opera As the World Turns, performing "Time After Time" as a duet with Allison Iraheta, on the season 8 finale of American Idol and at the 2009 TV Land Awards on April 19 dressed as the "Empress of Evil" for a musical tribute to Sid and Marty Krofft. Lauper performed a duet with Leona Lewis on VH1 Divas on September 19, 2009, singing "True Colors", and performed a comedy skit with Eminem at the MTV VMA's in September 2009. She also played herself in 30 Rock's third season finale and appeared as Avalon Harmonia, a psychic, on the Season 5 premiere of Bones.
On November 17, 2009, Lauper performed a collaborative work with Wyclef Jean called "Slumdog Millionaire", performing it on the Late Show with David Letterman. The collaborative effort stems from Jean's latest album: Toussaint St. Jean: From the Hut, To the Projects, To the Mansion.
2010–2012: The Celebrity Apprentice, Memphis Blues, memoir
In January 2010, Mattel released a Cyndi Lauper Barbie doll as part of their "Ladies of the 80s" series.
In March 2010, Lauper appeared on NBC's The Celebrity Apprentice, coming in sixth place. She donated her winnings to her True Colors Fund. Lauper also performed a song from her upcoming album Memphis Blues in the show's live season finale.
Memphis Blues—Lauper's 7th studio album—was released on June 22, 2010 and debuted on the Billboard Blues Albums chart at No. 1, and at No. 26 on the Billboard Top 200. The album remained No. 1 on the Blues Albums chart for 14 consecutive weeks; Memphis Blues was nominated for Best Traditional Blues Album at the 2011 Grammy Awards.
Lauper made international news in March 2011 for an impromptu performance of "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" while waiting for a delayed flight at Aeroparque Jorge Newbery in Buenos Aires. A video was later posted on YouTube.
In November 2011, she released two Christmas singles exclusive to iTunes. The first release was a Blues-inspired cover of Elvis Presley's classic "Blue Christmas", and the second was a new version of "Home for the holidays", a duet with Norah Jones. In June 2012, Lauper made her first appearance for WWE in 27 years, to promote WWE Raw's 1000th episode to memorialize "Captain" Lou Albano.
In September 2012, Lauper performed at fashion designer Betsey Johnson's 40 year Retrospective Fashion show. She also released a New York Times Best Selling memoir that detailed her struggle with child abuse and depression.
2013–2015: Kinky Boots, She's So Unusual: A 30th Anniversary Celebration & Songwriters Hall of Fame
Lauper composed music and lyrics for the Broadway musical Kinky Boots, with Harvey Fierstein writing the book. The musical was based on the 2006 independent film Kinky Boots. It opened in Chicago in October 2012 and on Broadway at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre on April 4, 2013. In May, Lauper won for best score for Kinky Boots at the 63rd annual Outer Critics Circle Awards. The musical led the 2013 Tony Awards, with 13 nominations and six wins including Best Musical and Best Actor. Lauper won the award for Best Original Score. Lauper was the first woman to win solo in this category.
In the summer of 2013, in celebration of the 30th anniversary of her debut album She's So Unusual, Lauper embarked on an international tour covering America and Australia. The show consisted of a mix of fan favorites and the entirety of the She's So Unusual record. She was a guest on 36 dates of Cher's Dressed to Kill Tour, starting April 23, 2014. A new album was confirmed by Lauper on a website interview.
Lauper hosted the Grammy Pre-Telecast at the Nokia Theatre, L.A. on Jan 26, where she later accepted a Grammy for Kinky Boots (Best Musical Theater Album).
On April 1 (March 1 in Europe), Lauper released the 30th Anniversary edition of She's So Unusual through Epic Records It featured a remastered version of the original album plus three new remixes. The Deluxe Edition featured bonus tracks such as demos and a live recording as well as a 3D cut-out of the bedroom featured in the 'Girls Just Want to Have Fun' music video with a reusable sticker set.
On September 17, 2014, Cyndi Lauper sang on the finale of America's Got Talent.
On September 25, as part of the Today Show's Shine a Light series, Lauper re-recorded "True Colors" in a mashup with Sara Bareilles' "Brave" to raise awareness and money for children battling cancer. By October the project had raised over $300,000.
The Songwriters Hall of Fame included Lauper in its nomination list on October 2014. Also during October, Lauper's fourth consecutive 'Home for the Holidays' benefit concert for homeless gay youth was announced. Acts included 50 Cent and Laverne Cox with 100% of the net proceeds going to the True Colors Fund
In March 2015 Lauper once again guest starred on the crime show Bones as Avalon Harmonia.
On June 12, 2015, Lauper appeared on The Graham Norton Show alongside Seth MacFarlane, Dara O'Briain, and Mark Wahlberg.
To promote her work with the National Psoriasis Foundation and Novartis and revealing she, herself has suffered from psoriasis for the past five years, Cyndi appeared on the Today Show in July 2015. During the interview Cyndi revealed she is working on a project with Seymour Stein. Later it was revealed in an interview with Rolling Stone she is working on a country album with Tony Brown, and Seymour Stein as executive producer.
On September 15, 2015, Kinky Boots opened at the Adelphi Theatre in London’s West End.
2016–present: Detour and more
In January 2016, Lauper announced she would release a new album on the May 6, 2016. This composed of her interpretations of early country classics entitled Detour. The announcement was supported by a release of her version of Harlan Howard's "Heartaches by the Number" and a performance on Skyville Live with Kelsea Ballerini and Ingrid Michaelson. On February 17, 2016 she released her version of Wanda Jackson's "Funnel of Love".
In February 2016, Lauper was nominated for an Olivier Award for her contribution to the UK production of Kinky Boots along with Stephen Oremus, the man responsible for the arrangements. In January 2017, this production's album was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album.
In May 2016, Lauper was featured on "Swipe to the Right" off of Electronica 2: The Heart of Noise from French producer Jean-Michel Jarre. This second album of the Electronica project is based on collaborations with artists related to electronic music (Tangerine Dream, Moby, Pet Shop Boys, etc.).
In October 2016, her son Dex Lauper was the opening act for her Scottsdale, Arizona and Las Vegas, Nevada dates on her Detour Tour.
In January 2017, Lauper was featured on Austin City Limits' 42nd season performing some of her classic songs alongside country tunes from Detour. The episode aired on PBS. In October 2017 she released a new song, "Hope", in honor of World Psoriasis Day. "I know first-hand the impact psoriasis can have and my goal is to give a voice to the millions of Americans who may struggle with their psoriasis," said Lauper.
Together with singer Kesha, Lauper performed, amongst others, the song 'Praying' at the Grammy Award Ceremony in January 2018.
In March 2018 it was announced that Lauper together with co-'Time after time' songwriter Rob Hyman is going to compose the music for the musical version of the 1988 film 'Working Girl' which starred Melanie Griffith and Sigourney Weaver. She teamed up with Hyman because she wanted " the music to sound like the 80s". Also in March 2018 it was announced that Cyndi Lauper will be one of the headliners for the 15th annual Rock the Park Festival in Canada on July 12.