A Look At The Carrer Of Bronx Born Songwriter Laura Nyro

Laura Nyro

Feature Photo: Columbia Records, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Originally, Laura Nyro was born as Laura Nigro on October 18, 1947, in the Bronx borough of New York City. Her father was a jazz musician who also made a living tuning pianos while her mother was a bookkeeper. While growing up, the Nigro’s last name was pronounced “nee-ro” in an effort to avoid racially-related issues with the community. Laura, along with her brother, Jan, learned how to play music since they were small children. This included attending the High School of Music & Art in Manhattan.

After her high school days were behind her, Laura officially changed her surname from Nigro to Nyro as she opted to further pursue her career in music. This would lead to an audition in 1966 that had Artie Mogull become her first manager as Nyro recorded her debut album, More Than a New Discovery. The songs featured on that album would be covered by musical artists such as The 5th Dimension, Blood, Sweat & Tears, and Barbra Streisand. Those songs were “Stoney End,” “Time and Love,” and “Wedding Bell Blues.” There was also “And When I Die,” a song that was sold to Peter, Paul, and Mary.

For Nyro, “Wedding Bell Blues” was released as a single in 1966. The 5th Dimension turned it into a big hit with their version in 1969. It topped the US Billboard Hot 100, as well as in Canada and New Zealand. In 1967, Laura Nyro began a busy schedule as a performer and public figure who appeared on stage and television. One appearance in particular was 1967’s Monterey Pop Festival, an event that left a negative impression on Nyro and the audience who were there. Right after this, David Geffen stepped in to take over Laura Nyro’s career as her new agent.

Nyro was able to successfully sue Mogull and the rest of her old management team as they signed her up while she was still a minor. As soon as the Mogull chapter was behind her, Nyro began a new era with Geffen as her new manager. It was he who arranged a recording contract with Clive Davis and Columbia Records. It would be during this time there was a consideration she would replace Al Kooper as the next lead singer for Blood, Sweat & Tears. However, she was dissuaded and her song, “And When I Die” became a huge hit for the group with David Clayton-Thomas performing this song as the band’s new vocalist.

Although Nyro didn’t join Blood, Sweat & Tears, her run with Columbia Records allowed her more freedom as a recording artist. In 1968, Eli and the Thirteenth Confession was released as her second album. This earned her critical acclaim, thanks to the rich mixture of jazz music and strong vocals. This was regarded as one of Nyro’s best works as a performer, as was 1969’s New York Tendaberry. “Time and Love” and “Save the Country” became her two signature singles. These, along with the two concert performances she did at Carnegie Hall, placed Laura Nyro as a key influencer for other performers to follow in her footsteps. 1969 also marked the year The First Songs would be reissued as an album. At the same time, Geffen and Nyro sold their Tuna Fish Music label to CBS for over four million dollars. The term of the duo’s partnership was to split the proceeds of the sale down the middle. This made Nyro a very wealthy woman.

In 1970, Nyro released her first-holiday album, Christmas and the Beads of Sweat. This featured Duane Allman and Richard Davis, along with The Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section. It was the third album of a trilogy belonging to Eli and the Thirteenth Confession and New York Tendaberry. In 1971, it was Gonna Take a Miracle, an album that featured Nyro’s favorite teenage-style songs. This would be the same year David Geffen established Asylum Records as his own label as a means to secure recording contracts for other artists.

At the time, Nyro was romantically linked to Jackson Browne, an artist Geffen originally had trouble getting a contract for. There was an attempt for Nyro to sign up with Asylum but it was learned she already signed with Columbia again and did so without notifying him. For Geffen, this felt like an act of portrayal by someone whom he thought was his best friend.

In 1971, Nyro married a carpenter named David Bianchini. It was also announced she was uncomfortable with the concept of being marketed as a celebrity so she opted to go into retirement from the music industry. She was twenty-four years old when she decided she had enough. However, the marriage didn’t last and it was dissolved in 1976. It would also be in 1976 that she’d make a comeback with Smile before going on a tour that would lead to the 1977 release of her first live album, Season of Lights. This was followed in 1978 with Nested, a recording that took place while she was pregnant with her only child. After this, she took a break as a new mother which would lead to 1984’s Mother’s Spiritual. After this, Nyro contributed musical material for 1985’s Broken Rainbow, an Academy Award-winning film that focused on the injustices the Navajo people faced when they were forced to relocate.

In 1989, Laura: Live at the Bottom Line was the recorded result of a tour she completed in 1988 that was dedicated to the animal rights movement. Four years after this, Laura Nyro recorded original music for 1993’s Walk the Dog and Light the Light. Her ninth studio album became her last and it would spark a new popularity wave for Nyro. Between the 1980s and the 1990s, Nyro’s influence sparked a women’s music subculture that continued to grow in size and popularity.

In the meantime, she was adamant to avoid television appearances as she was not comfortable with them. Going into 1996, Laura Nyro discovered she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. It was the same condition that claimed her mother’s life. On April 8, 1997, she lost her battle but was able to survive long enough to witness Stoned Soul Picnic: The Best of Laura Nyro released as a double disc compilation recording while she was signed to Columbia Records. She died in Danbury, Connecticut before her ashes were scattered beneath a maple tree on the grounds of the home she owned there.

In 2010, Laura Nyro was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. Two years later, she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. As a musician, Nyro’s impact influenced a long list of recording artists from a variety of genres such as Rosanne Cash, Elton John, Joni Mitchell, and Steely Dan, just to name a few. The Who’s Todd Rundgren admitted after listening to Laura Nyro’s brand of music he altered his songwriting style to emulate hers.

Even today, the influence of Nyro’s music is still heard as new and seasoned recording artists continue to draw inspiration from her material. Overall, Laura Nyro recorded and released nine studio albums. There was a tenth one, Angel in the Dark, that was released posthumously in 2001. She also has seven live albums to her credit and nine compilation albums. Although Laura Nyro has made the Bronx proud. She stands as one of the borough’s greatest musical artists.

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