Laura Nyro is best known for her musical career as a singer-songwriter, which began in the 1960s.
Laura Nyro was born on October 18, 1947 in the Bronx, New York. Nyro began singing as a teenager, in New York subways and streets. She would eventually receive a record contract that led to a performance at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967. After a brief retirement, she returned to recording before her early death from ovarian cancer in 1997.
Early Songwriting Career
Laura Nyro was born as Laura Nigro on October 18, 1947 in the Bronx, New York. Nyro was the daughter of Gilda Mirsky Nigro, a bookkeeper with the American Psychoanalytic Association, and Louis Nigro, a piano tuner and jazz trumpeter. Nyro showed an early interest in music and started composing songs at the age of 8. She attended the High School of Music and Art in New York, which also counted among its alum fellow singer-songwriter Janis Ian.
As a teenager, Nyro often sang doo-wop in New York subway stations. As she later wrote, "I would go out singing, as a teenager, to a party or out on the street, because there were harmony groups there, and that was one of the joys of my youth. I mean you could just go out and sing. If I look back now, all these years later, I must have had a spiritual, holistic feeling from all of that."
At age 17, she wrote the song "And When I Die," which she sold to the famous folk group Peter, Paul and Mary for $5,000. In 1966, she won a record contract of her own after auditioning before record company executive Artie Mogull, who had earlier signed Bob Dylan to his first major-label contract. Having long experimented with various stage names, she released her 1967 debut album, More Than a New Discovery, under the name Laura Nyro, which stuck as her professional name. That same year, she performed at the famous Monterey Pop Festival. While Nyro believed that her performance at the festival had been a failure and, subsequently, rarely performed in large venues, documentary footage of the concert shows that the crowd actually responded quite enthusiastically to her set.
After her performance at Monterey, record producer David Geffen signed Nyro to a $4 million contract with Columbia Records. This gave her more creative control over her next albums, including the two widely regarded as her best, 1968's Eli and the Thirteenth Confession and 1969's New York Tendaberry. The Columbia contract also allowed for Nyro's songs to be covered by other, more established artists such as The Fifth Dimension and Barbra Streisand.
Retirement at Age 24
In 1971, a 24-year-old Laura Nyro announced her retirement from the music business. "When I was very young," she said in an interview about her decision, "everything happened so quickly for me. I hadn't really contemplated being famous. I was writing music, I was just involved in the art of it at that young age. Then, when it all happened, I didn't know how to handle it." Her father remembered, "Laura was always very sensitive. She didn't like collaboration. She didn't like compromise. She was an artist, and she didn't like—hated—the show-biz part." Nyro took a five-year hiatus from the music business, and during that time, she married and then divorced carpenter David Bianchini.
Nyro returned to playing and recording music in 1976, with the album Smile. She continued to release sporadic albums over the next 20 years, writing and performing the music she wanted to write, often with strong feminist and pantheist lyrical themes, and playing occasional concerts in small venues. In 1978, she had a son, Gil Bianchini, the product of a short-lived relationship to a man named Harinda Singh. By the early 1980s, she had retreated to Connecticut with her son and her partner, painter Maria Desiderio. "Laura lived a woman-identified, goddess-driven existence," one of her close friends later rcalled. "Everything was about female energy, with the exception of her son."
Death and Legacy
Nyro was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 1995. Shortly after the release of her greatest-hits album, The Best of Laura Nyro: Stoned Soul Picnic, Nyro died on April 8, 1997, at the age of 49—the same age that her mother was when she had succumbed to ovarian cancer years earlier.
In the years since her death, Nyro has remained an inspiration to a generation of artists; her songs are still frequently covered and performed live. Nyro carved out a niche for young female singer/songwriters to perform behind a piano, heralding the popularity of artists like Tori Amos, Ani DiFranco and Fiona Apple. While Nyro may not have the name recognition that her biggest fans might desire for her, her songs live on—in tribute albums and concerts, as well as in her son Gil Bianchini, a hip-hop artist who performs as Gil-T and samples her songs in his raps.
In the very first song she ever sold, "And When I Die," Nyro wrote: "I'm not scared of dyin' and I don't really care/ If it's peace you find in dyin' well then let the time be near/ And when I die and when I'm gone/There'll be one child born in this world to carry on."