Cyndi Lauper began her career as a playful rebel, and matured into one of the best respected artists in American music. Lauper rose to fame in 1983 with the release of She's So Unusual, an album that provided an ideal showcase for her strong but girlish voice and her thrift-shop-genius personality. The album made her an overnight star and a darling of MTV, spawning two major hit singles ("Girls Just Want to Have Fun" and "Time After Time") and briefly making her a symbol of hip female empowerment on a par with Madonna. While Lauper wasn't truly a new wave artist, her multicolored hair, her eclectic fashion sense, and the implied inclusivity of her musical philosophy -- embracing elements of pop, reggae, funk, and dance music -- symbolized a free-thinking attitude that cleared a path between the underground and the mainstream. Lauper would never have another hit on the level of She's So Unusual, but with time her music matured as her persona evolved from a wacky street kid to a woman with ideas and the talent to make things of them. Her music remained eclectic, but with 1989's A Night to Remember and 1992's A Hat Full of Stars, she took greater control of her songwriting and explored serious themes that would have been outside her image a decade before. With 2003's At Last, Lauper showed she could tackle old standards in grand style, and by the 2010s she was a diva who could move from pop to blues (2010's Memphis Blues) and country (2016's Detour) with ease, even writing the songs for a successful stage musical.
Born in Brooklyn, New York, and raised in the neighboring borough of Queens, Lauper (born June 22, 1953) dropped out of high school in her late teens, choosing to sing in a number of local cover bands instead. Eventually, her voice was so strained she turned to voice lessons from Katherine Agresta, a well-known vocal teacher in New York. In 1977, Lauper began writing her own material with keyboardist John Turi. The duo formed a rockabilly-influenced rock band, Blue Angel, that same year. Over the next few years, the group built up a solid following in New York, culminating in the release of an eponymous debut album on Polydor in 1980. Blue Angel flopped, and shortly afterward Lauper filed for bankruptcy, which led to her group's disbandment.
Lauper subsequently sang in local clubs and restaurants. In 1983, her manager and boyfriend, David Wolff, managed to secure her a contract with with the CBS-distributed Portrait label. At the end of the year she released her debut album, She's So Unusual. Helped by heavy MTV support of the album's first single/video, "Girls Just Want to Have Fun," the album became a major hit in the spring of 1984, eventually climbing to number four on the U.S. charts; it would wind up going platinum five times, as well as becoming a hit in the U.K. and Europe. "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" peaked at number two, while its follow-up, the ballad "Time After Time," reached number one; two other songs, "She Bop" and "All Through the Night," went Top Ten.
With mainstream success under her belt, Lauper was an official star, yet she found maintaining her popularity wasn't easy. During 1985 she worked on her follow-up album; her only release of the year was "The Goonies 'R' Good Enough," the theme song from the children's adventure film The Goonies. Her second album, True Colors, appeared in the fall of 1986, and although it was successful -- the title track went to number one, while the album peaked at number four and went platinum -- its softer adult contemporary sound ran counter to the expectations of some fans. Lauper's career continued to lose momentum, as her feature film debut in 1988's comedy Vibes failed to find an audience. A Night to Remember, her third album, was released to weak reviews in 1989, and although it spawned the Top Ten hit "I Drove All Night," it suffered from disappointing sales, peaking at number 37. The next year, she severed her relationship with Wolff and married actor David Thornton.
After taking a few years off, Lauper returned in 1993 with Hat Full of Stars, an album where she co-produced and co-wrote all of the tracks. The record stiffed, peaking at 112. The following year, the hits compilation Twelve Deadly Cyns...and Then Some was released in the U.K.; the album reached number two, while a remixed "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" became a number one hit. Twelve Deadly Cyns was released in America the following year to less attention. Lauper released Sisters of Avalon, her first album of new material in four years, in the spring of 1997 to generally positive reviews, yet the record didn't chart. Merry Christmas...Have a Nice Life! followed in late 1998.
After a long hiatus, Lauper returned to the studio in 2003 for At Last, a collection of pop standards that garnered favorable reviews and spawned a live DVD, Live...At Last. The Body Acoustic, a collection of stripped-down reinventions of previous hits, followed in 2005. In 2008, Lauper released her tenth studio album, the dance-oriented Bring Ya to the Brink. She then switched gears for 2010's Memphis Blues, which featured her versions of several classic blues songs.
Lauper promoted the release of Memphis Blues with a stint on the reality show The Celebrity Apprentice, and over the next few years she specialized in multimedia projects. In 2012, she released an autobiography titled Cyndi Lauper: A Memoir and wrote the score and songs for the Broadway musical adaptation of the 2006 film Kinky Boots. The production earned 13 Tony nominations in 2013 and Lauper took home the trophy for Best Original Score, becoming the first woman to win this category alone. She celebrated the 30th anniversary of She's So Unusual with a tour in 2013 -- the album also saw a deluxe reissue that year -- and she continued to make appearances on TV. In the spring of 2016 she returned with Detour, a collection of country music covers featuring cameos from Emmylou Harris, Willie Nelson, and Alison Krauss. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine & Mark Deming