When Cyndi Lauper was told by doctors that she’d never sing again, she wouldn’t take no for an answer. After six months of professional voice lessons, Cyndi’s voice returned and she went on to become the first female rock star to have four singles in the top five on the music charts. This perseverance is a typical Cyndi trait. Throughout her life she has never let adversity get in the way of her becoming a success.
The middle child of working-class, second-generation immigrant parents, Cyndi grew up in the Ozone Park section of Queens, New York. Even as a small child, she was drawn to music, and her singing talent was evident as she crooned along to her mother’s recordings of Barbra Streisand, Marlo Lanza and Ethel Merman.
The difficulties in Cyndi’s childhood began at the age of five when her parents divorced and Cyndi’s mother remarried. Both Cyndi and her sister suffered physical and sexual abuse from their new stepfather, which caused incredible stress. One of the fallouts from this difficult home life was that Cyndi got expelled from two high schools. She turned to singing as a way to escape and cope with her troubled life.
In the mid-1970s, Cyndi moved to New York City where she worked odd jobs and sang with a few unsuccessful cover bands. During this time, she began to develop her signature offbeat fashion and hairstyles. Her career took a turn when she met band manager David Wolff.
They immediately formed an intimate relationship and Wolff introduced her to several higher-ups in the New York music scene, including Lennie Petze, who was the executive producer of the CBS affiliate label, Portrait Records. Petze, in need of a strong female rock/pop act for the label, observed Cyndi’s vocal talent and wacky fashion and signed her as a solo singer.
“She’s So Unusual,” Cyndi’s first album, went multiplatinum, and the singles “Girls Just Want to Have Fun, “She Bop” and “Time After Time” all reached the top five on the music charts. It was evident that a major talent had emerged. And through the new phenomenon of MTV, the music videos for those three songs made Cyndi Lauper a pop icon.
She received the 1985 Grammy Award for Best New Artist, two American Music Awards, eight MTV video awards and a spot on Ms. magazine’s list of the 12 most influential women of the year. Cyndi had secured her place in the music industry’s highest tier.
Cyndi had made it to the big time. There was a follow-up album, “True Colors,” world tours and a Manhattan loft. David Wolff, by now her manager as well as her lover, encouraged her to become involved in promoting professional wrestling and to star in the motion picture “Vibes.” Her third album, “A Night to Remember,” did not receive much critical success, despite a Grammy nomination for one of its singles. Unfortunately, the pressures of success began to take their toll, and Cyndi and David split up — both personally and professionally.
Just when everyone thought Cyndi had disappeared from the music scene, she returned with a new outlook, a new love — actor David Thornton — and a mature, personal album entitled “Hat Full of Stars.” She traded her red hair and crinolines for a more sophisticated, sexy style. Her 1995 compilation album, “12 Deadly Cyns,” became a huge hit in both Europe and Asia.
Cyndi began to regain the critical success she had in the United States, thanks to her latest album, “Sisters of Avalon.” Cyndi also rekindled her acting career by appearing on the hit television sitcom “Mad About You.” Cyndi’s appearance as Mary Ann on the show earned her the 1995 Emmy Award for Best Guest Appearance on a Series.
At 43, Cyndi Lauper is an accomplished musician, trendsetter, survivor and mother to her baby son, Declyn. In this Intimate Portrait, watch for interviews with Yoko Ono, David Thornton, David Wolff and Cyndi’s mother and brother.