Image by Eva Rinaldi Celebrity and Live Music Photographer
She’s a Grammy Award-winning singer and songwriter, a girl who just wants to have fun, find out about her true colours.
A decade before ‘girl power’ became the war cry of the 90s, Cyndi Lauper called on women everywhere to fight for equality whilst embracing their femininity. A singer, songwriter, musician and an actress, the New York native has maintained her steely determination without losing her ability to entertain millions.
One might say that Cynthia Ann Stephanie "Cyndi" Lauper ‘burst’ into the world on 22 June 1953, rather than being born into it. One of three children born to Fred and Catrine Lauper, the vivacious child was originally from Brooklyn, New York, but was raised by her mother in Queens following her parents’ divorce in 1958.
Growing up during the peak of the civil rights movement and surrounded by the sounds of The Beatles, Billie Holliday and Ella Fitzgerald, Lauper developed an intense love of music from an early age and learned to play guitar at the age of 12.
With her mother’s support for her blossoming creativity, the headstrong teen dropped out of high school to perform with a variety of cover bands. However, Lauper soon suffered a major setback which threatened to destroy her musical ambitions.
In 1977, the ambitious performer damaged her voice and was told by doctors that she would never be able to sing again. In spite of this damning medical diagnosis, Lauper persevered and sought the help of singing coach Katie Agresta. Her resolve was rewarded and the star has since credited Agresta with the return of her most precious instrument: her vocals.
Lauper began performing again and co-founded a band called Blue Angel. With her four octave voice at its forefront, the group found success in 1980, when it released a self titled album with Polydor Records. However, with this victory came one of Lauper’s most difficult setbacks. Following poor album sales, Blue Angel was sued by its manager. The claim left Lauper with no recourse but to file for bankruptcy.
The deflated artist had little choice but to work in the retail industry during the day, whilst trying to rebuild her musical career with appearances in her spare time. It was after one such performance at a local club in 1981 that Lauper first met a music manager called David Wolff. The two fell in love and Wolff became the singer’s manager. As their relationship blossomed, so did Lauper’s prospects. With Wolff behind her, she was signed to Portrait Records and began to record an album.
Excited by the challenge of creating her own sound, Lauper was determined to write her own songs, but faced a reluctant record label. Portrait had its own conception about the type of music that the new artist was to record and it was only following a ferocious battle that Lauper was able to put her own mark on the music. The result was groundbreaking.
In 1983, Lauper released ‘She’s So Unusual’ to rave reviews. Described by Rolling Stone as “really first-rate material”, the album went on attain six-time platinum and double platinum statuses in the US and UK respectively.
Lauper became a feminist idol. In addition to legions of fans clamouring to emulate her inimitable dress sense, her videos, such as the raucous clip for the hit, ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’, were constantly played on MTV.
Having proven herself a star, Lauper went on to explore a variety of projects. In 1985, she made the first of many charitable contributions, joining celebrities such as Lionel Ritchie and Michael Jackson in the 1985 USA for Africa single, ‘We Are the World’.
Lauper’s next move was one that few would have anticipated. With Wolff’s encouragement, she forged a contractual alliance with the World Wrestling Federation (WWF), appearing on the wrestling show and even participating in story lines. Even when she was presented with the 1985 Grammy Award for Best New Artist, Lauper was accompanied by WWF’s Hulk Hogan, who called himself her ‘bodyguard’.
Lauper’s second album release was ‘True Colours’ (1986). The dedicated artist was much more heavily involved in the follow-up to ‘She’s So Unusual’, co-writing many of the songs, such as the ballad ‘Change of Heart’, which reached number 3 in the US charts.
However, despite containing three hit singles and attaining platinum status, ‘True Colours’ was unable to replicate the success of Lauper’s debut album. A telling sign was that the fourth single from the album, entitled ‘Boy Blue’, was the first of the chart princess’s singles to fail to achieve top forty status in the US. Even so, Lauper donated the proceeds of sales for that single to AIDS research.
After a 1987 tour called ‘Cyndi: Live in Paris’, Lauper was keen to prove that she was a multifaceted performer. In 1988, she embraced the new challenge of acting, taking on the role of a zany psychic in the comedy, ‘Vibes’ (1988).
Unfortunately for the Grammy winner, this venture did not prove successful. Despite boasting a stellar cast, including Jeff Goldblum, the film failed to impress either the critics or the public, grossing less than million in the US box office. Even Lauper’s contributory track for the film, ‘Hole in My Heart (All the Way to China)’ (1985), only reached number 54 on the US charts, although it was very popular in Australia. The song did not feature on the film’s official soundtrack.
After a short break from the studio, Lauper’s released ‘A Night to Remember’ (1989). Despite the fact that one song on the album, called ‘I Drove All Night’, did return the pop star to number one in the singles charts, the record’s impact failed to compare to Lauper’s earlier achievements. Disillusioned by her inability to draw the attention she had once commanded, Lauper’s relationship with Wolff suffered. By the end of the year, the two had severed both their personal and professional ties.
Lauper would not release another album for almost four years. In the meantime, she lent her iconic status to a number of collaborations. In 1990, she joined an all star line-up to perform at Roger Waters’ concert, ‘The Wall – Live in Berlin’. She also joined her friend, Yoko Ono, in a tribute concert to John Lennon.
The performer also took the opportunity to try acting again. Starring as a lounge singer on a mission to identify her boyfriend’s killer, Lauper began filming ‘Off and Running’ (1991). The movie was only released in Europe, seemingly indicating another doomed attempt to break into Hollywood. However, for the 38-year-old, the film marked a new beginning. It was on the set of this endeavour that Lauper met and fell in love with actor, David Thornton. On 24 November 1991, the singer and the Englishman wed in New York.
With her personal life blossoming, Lauper turned her attention back to business. After contributing two songs to the 1992 French stage show, ‘Starmania’, one of which earned double platinum status in France, she set her mind to releasing her fourth album.
Soul, funk and hip-hop influences filled ‘A Hat Full of Stars’ (1993), allowing the vibrant artist to showcase her diversity. Despite its poor sales, the album, which dealt with difficult issues such as incest and domestic abuse, was critically applauded, Rolling Stone praising the record’s “fresh sound”.
Critical acclaim also followed in 1992, as the aspiring thespian finally fulfilled a long term ambition by joining the cast of the sitcom, ‘Mad About You’ (1989). Her portrayal of the quirky Marianne Lugasso earned her an Emmy award and further recurring appearances on the show. For Lauper, the accolade represented acceptance as an actress.
Lauper returned to the recording studio in 1996. The result was the upbeat dance record, ‘Sisters of Avalon’ (1996), which sold a respectable one million copies worldwide. With issues such as the conflicts of being a drag queen dominating the album, its main impact was in the gay community, where Lauper was hailed as a heroine.
In November 1997, Lauper and Thornton welcomed their son, Declyn Wallace Thornton, into the world. Lauper relished her new role as a mother, flaunting her pregnant belly in the video for the song ‘The Ballad of Cleo and Joe’. However, she refused to allow her two worlds of parent and rocker to conflict, and in fact the proud mother cited Declyn as a major inspiration for her 1998 album, ‘Merry Christmas, Have a Nice Life’. She even included his vocals on the song ‘First Lullaby’.
Lauper continued to act, appearing in ‘The Simpsons’ (1989) and independent films such as ‘The Opportunists’ (2000). She also enjoyed touring, joining Cher on her celebrated ‘Do You Believe?’ (1999) and ‘Living Proof’ (2002) tours.
The songstress intended to release her sixth studio album in 2001, but the ill-fated project stalled just weeks before its intended release date as Lauper’s record company collapsed. The final result, ‘Shine’ (2004), would only be released in Japan.
In fact, it was Lauper’s 2003 studio performances which would form her follow-up to ‘Sisters of Avalon’. ‘At Last’ (2003) was a collection of cover songs including a Grammy nominated version of ‘Unchained Melody’. Whilst gaining mixed reviews, the effort was a commercial hit, selling 4.5 million records and reaching the top 40 in the US and Australia.
As Lauper grew into a self-proclaimed ‘hockey mom’, her social conscience never failed her. She continued to champion gay causes as well as headlining a charitable ‘True Colours’ tour in 2007.
Always keen to adapt to changing styles and fashions, Lauper stepped onto the dance floor for her 2008 album, ‘Bring Ya to the Brink’. With input from the likes of Basement Jaxx and Scum Frog, praise such as The Guardian’s statement that this was “the album Madonna should have made instead of ‘Hard Candy’” proved Lauper to be an adept chameleon of the arts.
The image of a fun loving Cyndi Lauper exploding onto the eighties pop scene is emblazoned onto the hearts and minds of the era of women who heeded her message of freedom and self-expression. Yet, as her audience has matured, Lauper has had to call upon the same tenacity that had helped her overcome financial ruin in order to maintain her star status. Now a mother, philanthropist and revered performer, it can truly be said that she is the Queen of Queens.