Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music


NYRO, Laura

(b Laura Nigro, 18 Oct. '47, Bronx, NYC; d 8 April '97, Danbury CT) Singer-songwriter, pianist. One of the best and brightest of the genre in the late '60s, still going strong with gospel/R&B-infl. songs and performance after the genre no longer captured charts or headlines. She had only one minor hit single, ironically not her own song (cover of Drifters' 'Up On The Roof' reached Hot 100 '70); her albums never sold all that well, but her own unique performance had a cult following, while her songs were smash hits for others, and her enormous influence emerged later. Her father was a piano tuner who also played trumpet; she wrote songs as a child, attended High School of Music and Art; music publisher Paul Barry helped get contract with Verve/Forecast: debut More Than A New Discovery '66 preceded appearance at Monterey Pop Festival '67, a disaster where she was hopelessly unsuited, an insecure performer jeered by Janis Joplin fans (she continued to suffer from stage fright). Of the songs from that album, the Fifth Dimension had no. 1 hit with 'Wedding Bell Blues' and took 'Blowing Away' to no. 21, Blood Sweat and Tears reached no. 2 with 'And When I Die', all '69; Barbra Streisand had no. 6 with 'Stoney End' '70, minor hit with 'Flim Flam Man' '71. Manager David Geffen meanwhile took her to Columbia; Eli And The Thirteenth Confession '68 made the top 200 LPs incl. 'Stoned Soul Picnic' and 'Sweet Blindness' (no. 3 and 13 respectively for Fifth Dimension), 'Eli's Coming' (no. 10 for Three Dog Night), all '69. New York Tendaberry '69 at no. 32 was her best seller, incl. 'Time And Love' (another hit for Streisand) followed by Christmas And The Beads Of Sweat '70 (prod. by Arif Mardin), Gonna Take A Miracle '71 (tribute to the '60s, with backing vocals by LaBelle). She retired to a fishing village in Massachusetts, married and had a son while her confessional art lost ground to MOR fodder; Columbia reissued the first LP as The First Songs '73. She came back after a divorce with the power of her urban blues perhaps diminished but more thoughtful: Smile '76 made top 100 LPs; live Season Of Lights '77 did less well; Nested '78 didn't chart. Impressions '80 was a best-of set (incl. '68 song 'Save The Country', top 30 '70 for Fifth Dimension, Hot 100 entry for Thelma Houston); Mother's Spiritual '84 was still in the top 200 albums; Live At The Bottom Line on Cypress was not. Walk The Dog And Light The Light '93 was back on Columbia. Her songs were also covered by Aretha Franklin, Frank Sinatra, Linda Ronstadt, others; Todd Rundgren wrote 'Baby Let's Swing' about their affair; she was admired by Joni Mitchell, and influenced generations: Kate Bush, Rickie Lee Jones, Suzanne Vega, Shawn Colvin, Jane Siberry; Patti LaBelle remained a close friend. She approved the two-CD compilation Stoned Soul Picnic: The Best Of Laura Nyro '97 on Columbia; though she knew she was dying of ovarian cancer, she was working on a new album with a female harmony sextet. Tribute album Time And Love will incl. Vega, Siberry, Phoebe Snow, Lisa Germano and others.