Cynthia Ann Stephanie Lauper (born June 22, 1953) is an American singer, songwriter, actress and LGBT rights activist. Her career has spanned over 40 years. Her album She’s So Unusual (1983) was the first debut album by a female artist to achieve four top-five hits on the Billboard Hot 100—”Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” “Time After Time,” “She Bop,” and “All Through the Night“—and earned Lauper the Best New Artist award at the 27th Grammy Awards in 1985. Her success continued with the soundtrack for the motion picture The Goonies and her second record True Colors (1986). This album included the number one single “True Colors” and “Change of Heart,” which peaked at number three.
Since 1989, Lauper has released nine studio albums and participated in many other projects. In 2010, Memphis Blues, became Billboard’s most successful blues album of the year, remaining at number one on the Billboard Blues Albums chart for 13 consecutive weeks. In 2013, Lauper won the Tony Award for best original score for composing the Broadway musical Kinky Boots, making her the first woman to win the category by herself. The musical was awarded five other Tonys including Tony Award for Best New Musical. In 2014, Lauper was awarded the Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album for the cast recording. In 2016, the West End production won Best New Musical at the Olivier Awards
Lauper has sold over 50 million albums and 20 million singles. She has won awards at the Grammys, Emmys, Tonys, the New York’s Outer Critics Circle, MTV Video Music Awards (VMAs), Billboard Awards, and American Music Awards (AMAs). An inductee into both the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Lauper is one of the few singers to win three of the four major American entertainment awards (EGOT). Lauper won the inaugural Best Female Video prize at the 1984 VMAs for “Girls Just Want To Have Fun“. This music video is recognized by MTV, VH1 and Rolling Stone as one of the greatest music videos of the era. She is featured in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum‘s Women Who Rock exhibit. Her debut album is included in Rolling Stone‘s list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, while “Time After Time” is included in Vh1‘s list of the 100 Best Songs of the Past 25 years. VH1 has ranked Lauper No. 58 of the 100 Greatest Women of Rock & Roll.
Lauper is known for both her distinctive image featuring a variety of hair colors, eccentric clothing and is particularly known for her powerful and distinctive four-octave singing range.
Lauper has been celebrated for her humanitarian work, particularly as an advocate for LGBT rights in the United States. Her charitable efforts were acknowledged in 2013 when she was invited as a special guest to attend U.S. President Barack Obama‘s second-term inauguration.
Lauper was born at Boulevard Hospital in Astoria, Queens, New York City, to a Catholic family. Her father, Fred, was of German and Swiss descent. Her mother, Catrine (née Gallo), is Italian American (from Sicily). Lauper’s siblings are younger brother Fred (nicknamed Butch), and older sister, Ellen. Lauper’s parents divorced when she was five. Her mother remarried and divorced again.
Lauper grew up in the Ozone Park neighborhood of Queens and, as a child, listened to such artists as The Beatles and Judy Garland. At age 12, she began writing songs and playing an acoustic guitar given to her by her sister.
Lauper expressed herself with a variety of hair colors, eccentric clothing and even took a friend’s advice to spell her name as “Cyndi” rather than “Cindy” and her quirky sense of style led to classmates bullying her, with some cruel children literally throwing stones at her (presumably for being unashamedly “different”).
Lauper went to Richmond Hill High School, but was expelled, although she later earned her GED. She left home at 17, to escape her abusive stepfather, intending to study art. Her journey took her to Canada, where she spent two weeks in the woods with her dog Sparkle, trying to find herself. She eventually traveled to Vermont, where she took art classes at Johnson State College and supported herself working odd jobs.
In the early 1970s, Lauper performed as a vocalist with various cover bands. One, called Doc West, covered disco songs as well as Janis Joplin. A later band, Flyer, was active in the New York metropolitan area, singing hits by bands including Bad Company, Jefferson Airplane and Led Zeppelin. Although Lauper was performing on stage, she was not happy singing covers. In 1977, Lauper damaged her vocal cords and took a year off from singing. She was told by doctors that she would never sing again, but regained her voice with the help of vocal coach Katie Agresta.
In 1978, Lauper met saxophone player John Turi through her manager Ted Rosenblatt. Turi and Lauper formed a band named Blue Angel and recorded a demo tape of original music. Steve Massarsky, manager of The Allman Brothers Band, heard the tape and liked Lauper’s voice. He bought Blue Angel’s contract for $5,000 and became their manager.
Lauper received recording offers as a solo artist, but held out, wanting the band to be included in any deal she made. Blue Angel was eventually signed by Polydor Records and released a self-titled album on the label in 1980. Lauper hated the album cover, saying that it made her look like Big Bird, but Rolling Stone magazine later included it as one of the 100 best new wave album covers (2003). Despite critical acclaim, the album sold poorly (“It went lead”, as Lauper later joked) and the band broke up. The members of Blue Angel had a falling-out with Massarsky and fired him as their manager. He later filed an $80,000 suit against them, which forced Lauper into bankruptcy. After this Lauper temporarily lost her voice due to an inverted cyst in her vocal cord.
After Blue Angel broke up, Lauper spent time, due to her financial problems, working in retail stores, waitressing at IHOP (which she quit after being demoted to hostess when the manager made a pass at her), and singing in local clubs. Her most frequent gigs were at El Sombrero. Music critics who saw Lauper perform with Blue Angel believed she had star potential due to her four-octave singing range. In 1981, while singing in a local New York bar, Lauper met David Wolff, who took over as her manager and had her sign a recording contract with Portrait Records, a subsidiary of Epic Records.
On October 14, 1983, Lauper released her first solo album, She’s So Unusual. The album peaked at No. 4 in the US, and became a worldwide hit. The primary studio musicians were Eric Bazilian and Rob Hyman (of The Hooters), Rick Chertoff, Richard Termini and Peter Wood. Lauper became popular with teenagers and critics, in part due to her hybrid punk image, which was crafted by stylist Patrick Lucas.
Lauper was interested in writing her own songs, but the record company provided her with songs to record that were written by other writers. Lauper sometimes changed the lyrics in the material she was given by the record company; such is the case with “Girls Just Want to Have Fun“. Lauper found the original lyrics to be misogynistic, so she rewrote the song as an anthem for young women.
The album’s second single “Time After Time” was co-written by Lauper and Rob Hyman. “Time After Time” hit No. 1 on both the Billboard Hot 100 and Adult Contemporary charts. The song would earn Lauper an RIAA Gold certification for record sales that reached 500,000 copies, and was later covered by Miles Davis on his album “You’re under arrest”. It became a staple of Davis’s live shows at the time, featuring on the live album “Live around the world”.
The album includes five cover songs, including The Brains‘ new wave track “Money Changes Everything” (No. 27 on the Billboard Hot 100) and Prince‘s “When You Were Mine“. The album made Lauper the first female to have four consecutive Billboard Hot 100 top five hits from one album. The LP stayed in the Top 200 charts for more than 65 weeks, and since has sold 16 million copies worldwide.
Lauper won Best New Artist at the 1985 Grammy Awards. She’s So Unusual also received nominations for Album of the Year, Record of the Year, Best Female Pop Vocal Performance (for “Girls Just Want to Have Fun”), and Song of the Year (for “Time After Time”). It also won the Grammy for Best Album Package, which went to the art director, Janet Perr.
The video for “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” won the inaugural award for Best Female Video at the 1984 MTV Video Music Awards, and made Lauper an MTV staple. The video featured professional wrestling manager “Captain” Lou Albano as Lauper’s father, and her real-life mother, Catrine, as her mother, and also featured her attorney, her manager, her brother Butch, and her dog Sparkle. In 1984–85, Lauper appeared on the covers of Rolling Stone magazine, Time, and Newsweek. She appeared twice on the cover of People, and was named a Ms. magazine Woman of the Year in 1985.
Lauper appeared with professional wrestler Hulk Hogan, who played her “bodyguard” and would also later make many appearances as herself in a number of the World Wrestling Federation‘s “Rock ‘n’ Wrestling Connection” events, and played Wendi Richter‘s manager in the inaugural WrestleMania event. Dave Wolff, Lauper’s boyfriend and manager at the time, was a wrestling fan as a boy, and engineered the rock and wrestling connection.
In 1985, Lauper released the single “The Goonies ‘R’ Good Enough“, from the soundtrack to the movie The Goonies, and an accompanying video which featured several wrestling stars. The song reached number 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
Lauper released her second album, True Colors, on September 18, 1986. It reached No. 4 on the Billboard 200 and sold 2 million copies in the US. She increased her involvement in production and songwriting on her second album, co-writing most of the songs with Essra Mohawk, John Turi, Billy Steinberg, and Tom Kelly. Guests included Angela Clemons-Patrick, Nile Rodgers, Aimee Mann, Billy Joel, Adrian Belew, The Bangles, Ellie Greenwich and Rick Derringer.
True Colors was not as commercially successful as She’s So Unusual, but it did contain three high-charting singles, including the title track, “True Colors“, which became Lauper’s second song to hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100; “Change of Heart” (No. 3); and a cover of Marvin Gaye‘s “What’s Going On” (No. 12). A fourth single from the album, “Boy Blue“, did not reach the top-40. She donated the proceeds of that song to AIDS research. The song “True Colors” (written by Steinberg and Kelly) was licensed to Kodak for use in its commercials.
In 1986, Lauper appeared on the Billy Joel album The Bridge, with a song called “Code of Silence”. She is credited as having written the lyrics with Joel and she sings a duet with him. In the same year, Lauper also sang the theme song for the series Pee-wee’s Playhouse, credited as “Ellen Shaw”. In 1987, David Wolff produced a concert film for Lauper called Cyndi Lauper in Paris. The concert was broadcast on HBO.
Lauper made her film debut in August 1988 in the quirky comedy Vibes, alongside Jeff Goldblum, Peter Falk, and Julian Sands. Lauper played a psychic in search of a city of gold in South America. Deborah Blum and Tony Ganz produced the film, with David Wolff as associate producer. To prepare for the role, Lauper took a few classes in finger waving and hair setting at the Robert Fiance School of Beauty in New York, and studied with a few Manhattan psychics. The film flopped and was poorly received by critics, but would later be considered a cult classic.
Lauper contributed a track called “Hole in My Heart (All the Way to China)” for the Vibes soundtrack, but the song was not included. A music video was released, a high energy, comic action/adventure romp through a Chinese laundry. The song reached No. 54 on the US charts, but fared better in Australia, reaching No. 8. “Hole in My Heart (All the Way to China)” became the opening song on her 2008 Australian tour.
A Night to Remember – Lauper’s third album – was released in the spring of 1989. The album had one hit, the No. 6 single “I Drove All Night“, originally recorded by Roy Orbison, three years before his death on December 6, 1988. Lauper received a Grammy nomination for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance at the 1990 Grammy Awards for “I Drove All Night”, but overall album sales for A Night to Remember were down. The music video for the album’s song “My First Night Without You” was one of the first to be closed-captioned for the hearing impaired in which Cyndi would later drop from the music industry due to feeling miserable and Depressed about her singing career and the company that own rights to her music.
On July 21, 1990, Lauper joined Roger Waters and other artists performing “Another Brick in the Wall, Part II” as part of the concert The Wall in Berlin. As part of the concert, Lauper also performed “The Tide Is Turning” with Waters, Joni Mitchell, Bryan Adams, Paul Carrack and Van Morrison. Three hundred thousand people attended the concert and over five million people worldwide watched on live television.
Because of a friendship with Yoko Ono, Lauper took part in the May 1990 John Lennon tribute concert in Liverpool, performing the Beatles song “Hey Bulldog” and the John Lennon song “Working Class Hero”. She also took part in Ono and Lennon’s son Sean‘s project called “The Peace Choir”, performing a new version of Lennon’s “Give Peace a Chance“.
On November 24, 1991, Lauper married actor David Thornton.