Even to the seasoned music follower, some acts can still surprise you. Not just with their art, but also in their success. Today’s featured artist is either teetering on iconic status, or maybe with over 50 million albums sold and victories at the Grammys, Tonys, Emmys, VMAs, Billboard Awards and AMAs, she’s already there.
Cynthia Ann Stephanie Lauper was born in June of 1953. Growing up in Brooklyn to a Catholic family, mom and dad divorced when Cynthia was just five. Mom remarried and re-divorced a second time. As a child, she was in awe of musical acts like The Beatles and Judy Garland. At 12, she began writing her own material and playing an acoustic guitar handed down from her sister.
From a young age Cynthia expressed herself with a variety of hair colors and eccentric clothing. A friend advised her to spell her name “Cyndi” just to stray from the more conventional “Cindy.” Because she was “different,” other kids bullied her. Lauper became disengaged and lashed out, causing her to be expelled from high school. She left home at 17 due to abuse from her stepfather and got her GED. She traveled to Canada, eventually landing in Vermont where she attended a state college and worked odd jobs.
Finally, in the early ‘70s, Lauper started performing as a vocalist in various cover bands. She was active around all of New York, but found she did not enjoying singing other people’s work. In ’77 she damaged her vocal cords and doctors told her she’d never sing again but with the help of a vocal coach, she was back singing in 1980. She formed a group called Blue Angel, and in spite of some critical acclaim, the band ended abruptly and with hardship. She also developed a cyst on her vocal cord, which caused her to lose interest in the business.
In October of 1983, Lauper was back at it and released her first studio album titled She’s So Unusual. The album would peak at No. 4 in the U.S. and become a worldwide smash. Six singles were released off the record, and Lauper was the first female singer to have four top five singles on the Hot 100 off the same album. Critics loved Lauper’s unique vocal ability and she earned several awards including two Grammy Awards (including Best New Artist) and has sold nearly 20 million copies worldwide. Rolling Stone has this #487 on the 500 Greatest of all time and has Lauper herself #41 on the all-time “women who rock” list.
From a style perspective, I guess you’d call this based on new wave, since so many of the songs have a synthpop and pop influence. There are a couple dance tracks here, and obviously one iconic ballad that I’m pretty sure every human being in Earth has sung along to at some point.
Lauper has influenced countless current female artists, including Katy Perry and Lady Gaga. She’s been inducted into both the Hollywood and Songwriters Hall of Fame. Because of her eclectic style, Lauper is credited for essentially being the face of and popularizing the image of punk in America. Before her, it wasn’t part of the pop landscape, but Cyndi blurred the lines between punk and the mainstream. And her iconic cover and re-arrangement of “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” made her even more of a feminist idol and gave fellow female musicians a newfound confidence.
Cyndi Lauper has subsequently dabbled in film, Broadway and has been huge in cultural activism. She was even awarded the Doctor of Letters by Northern Vermont University for her “highest levels of excellence” in raising awareness. She performed as recently as June 26th of this year, and continues to bring joy to many listeners. Give this a go today— it’s the ‘80s revisited. And for only $6 bucks, no matter your gender you’ll just have fuh-uhn. Happy Tuesday!
Top 3 Tracks: