Rufus Wainwright

Rufus Wainwright is a Canadian American singer and songwriter best known for his pop albums Rufus Wainwright (1998) and Poses (2001).


Rufus Wainwright is a Canadian-American singer and songwriter born on July 22, 1973, in Rhinebeck, New York. Raised in Montreal, Canada, he showed musical talent as a pianist and singer at a young age. During his teen years he composed the song "I’m Runnin’" which earned him Juno and Genie Award nominations. Wainwright studied music composition in college, but dropped out to pursue a music career. He released his debut pop album Rufus Wainwright (1998) to critical acclaim in Canada. He followed up with Poses (2001) and eight additional albums through 2012.

Early Life

Singer and songwriter Rufus Wainwright was born on July 22, 1974, in Rhinebeck, New York. With melodies and instrumentation more reminiscent of Cole Porter than Britney Spears, Wainwright has managed to carve out a unique space for himself in the world of contemporary pop music.

Wainwright was raised by his mother, Canadian songstress Kate McGarrigle, in Montreal, Canada. His father, sardonic crooner Loudon Wainwright III, and McGarrigle divorced when Wainwright was 4 years old. Even before he had picked up an instrument, Rufus had been immortalized in song. The dubious honor came when Loudon Wainwright composed the song Rufus is a Tit Man, a ballad about his failings as a new parent.

Wainwright began playing the piano at the age of 6. By his early teens he had already joined the family ensemble, an act billed as "The McGarrigle Sisters and Family." When Kate McGarrigle was given the opportunity to compose music for a children's film, she encouraged her son to make a contribution. Wainwright's inaugural effort, "I'm Runnin," earned nominations for both Juno and Genie Awards, Canada's equivalents to the Grammy and the Oscar.

After a stint at a boarding school in upstate New York — at his father's insistence — Wainwright entered McGill University to study music composition. However, the strictures of college life and the academic study of music proved contrary to his goals. Wainwright dropped out of school and his mother agreed to support him while he pursued a professional music career.

Big Break

He began by performing at local Montreal nightspots. He self-produced a demo tape of his work and, through family connections, managed to put the tape before record executive Lenny Waronker, who had just established the music production wing of DreamWorks Studios. Impressed by Wainwright's unique vocal style, he partnered him with a series of record producers. Throughout 1996 and 1997, Wainwright pared and polished his material. The net result, 1998's Rufus Wainwright is a piano-driven work backed by complex string arrangements. Wainwright's dry wit and plaintive, world-weary singing style set him apart from the mainstream of pop music.

Commercial Success

His debut album was an immediate critical success. In Canada, Wainwright was awarded with a Juno for Best Alternative Album. Across the border, he was named Best New Artist by Rolling Stone magazine.

With his sophomore effort, Poses (2001), Wainwright expanded on the themes and styles of its predecessor. The characters that populate Wainwright's songs comment self-deprecatingly on their excesses, creating dark comedy without delving into the petty angst that tends to permeate contemporary pop. Although still piano-focused, Poses incorporates varying types of instrumentation without losing the charm and simplicity that has critics likening Wainwright to musical greats like Cole Porter and George and Ira Gershwin.

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