Today is the 65th birthday of the singer/songwriter/actor/activist Cyndi Lauper. I remember when her “She’s So Unusual” album was released. She was unusual, she was different, she was everything that we needed, but didn’t know we needed. She has changed the landscape of music and activism over her 30+ year career and we are all the better for it.
BEST KNOWN FOR: Cyndi Lauper is an American singer-songwriter who rose to fame in the 1980s with a string of pop hits such as “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.”
Cynthia Ann Stephanie Lauper was born on June 22, 1953, in Astoria, New York. Her earliest childhood days were spent in Brooklyn, but when she was about four years old, the family moved to Ozone Park, Queens, where she lived in a railroad-style apartment through her teenage years. Growing up, Lauper felt like an outcast. Her parents divorced when she was five. Lauper and her two siblings were raised by her mother, who worked as a waitress to support the family — and who loved the arts and frequently took her children to Manhattan to see Shakespeare plays or visit art museums. Lauper did not do particularly well in school, and was reportedly kicked out of several parochial schools in her youth. Despite her hard times, she discovered a love of singing and music at an early age, and was writing her own songs by the age of 12.
After eventually getting a high school equivalency degree, Lauper worked a number of odd jobs before her music career took off. She waitressed, served as an office assistant, and even sang in a Japanese restaurant for a time. During this time, Lauper also played in a number of bands. She had her first taste of success with the band Blue Angel, which landed a record deal. The group made one record together before splitting up.
Going solo, Lauper burst onto the charts with her debut album, She’s So Unusual. With her eclectic clothes, flamboyantly styled hair, and contagious pop melodies, Lauper took the music world by surprise. The 1983 recording sold almost 5 million copies and featured her first hit, “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.” The song became a female party anthem, and the video for it went into heavy rotation on MTV. Lauper became wildly popular almost overnight, scoring a string of hits that included “Time After Time,” “She Bop” and “All Through the Night.” She was further rewarded for her work when she won the 1984 Grammy Award for Best New Artist. In 1985, she released “The Goonies ‘R’ Good Enough” for the soundtrack of the film The Goonies.
Her 1986 follow-up album, True Colors, sold nearly 1 million copies. Exploring new creative avenues, Lauper made her film debut in 1988 starring opposite Jeff Goldblum in the comedy Vibes. The movie performed poorly in both the commercial and critical realms. In 1989, Lauper released her third album A Night to Remember, which featured the hit “I Drove All Night,” but had weak overall sales compared to her previous albums.
Lauper had success as an actress in a recurring role on the TV sitcom Mad About You, which starred Helen Hunt and Paul Reiser. In 1995, Lauper won an Emmy for her work on the series. She later appeared on such shows as That’s So Raven and Bones.
While she explored acting, Lauper continued to make music. Although Hatful of Stars (1993) was not a commercial success, it was an artistic achievement for Lauper. The album was widely praised by critics for songs, which took on difficult topics such as domestic abuse and homophobia. Twelve Deadly Cyns, a compilation of her hits, was released in 1995. In 1997, Lauper received critical praise for Sisters of Avalon, which included all new music, and she followed up with a holiday album Merry Christmas. . .Have a Nice Life! (1998).
Lauper didn’t release new music until At Last (2003), a collection of pop standards. Her 2008 album Bring Ya to the Brink (2008) featured dance tracks including the Grammy-nominated song “High and Mighty.” Her album, Memphis Blues (2010), featured her take on several classic blues songs.
In 2012, the pop icon wrote her autobiography Cyndi Lauper: A Memoir. The following year, she took her talents to Broadway writing the music and lyrics for Kinky Boots with a book by Harvey Fierstein. Kinky Boots won six Tony Awards, including for best musical, best leading man and best original score. Directed and choreographed by Tony Award winner Jerry Mitchell, the production centers on the life of Charlie Price, who, after inheriting his father’s nearly bankrupt shoe factory, discovers the man he’s meant to be with the help of an entertainer named Lola.
In 2013, Lauper celebrated the 30th anniversary of the album that launched her career, She’s So Unusual, with a tour. In 2016, she released Detour, a country album featuring duets with Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris, Vince Gill, Jewel and Alison Krauss.
Outside of music, Lauper has been a tireless activist for the gay rights movement. “Civil rights have to be afforded to every American, no matter what their color, gender or sexual preference. You can’t say this is a democracy if that isn’t the case,” she told WWD. She helped establish the True Colors Fund, which works to promote awareness and fight for equality.
On the fund’s website, Lauper writes “Everyone—whether straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender—should be allowed to show their true colors, and be accepted and loved for who they are. Every American should be guaranteed equal treatment at school, at work, in their relationships, in service of their country . . . and in every part of their lives.” In addition to touring to raise money for the fund, Lauper competed on the reality show The Celebrity Apprentice to help out her charity.
Lauper has been married to actor David Thornton since 1991. The couple has a son, Declyn, together.