Laura Branigan burst upon the popular-music scene in 1982 with her hit single “Gloria.” Though “Gloria,” from the album Branigan, took months to climb to the upper regions of the pop charts, its rise was steady. The song began to gain popularity in the dance clubs Branigan toured in her efforts to promote it, and ended up, in the words of a Harper’s Bazaar critic, “the year’s summer beach anthem.” Branigan received a Grammy nomination for Best Pop Vocal Performance, and has since confirmed her star status with hits like “Solitaire,” “Self-Control,” and “Shattered Glass.”
Branigan grew up in Brewster, New York, a suburb of New York City. Though singing seemed to run in her family—her grandmother had studied opera in Ireland, and both her parents had good voices and led the family in singing at the dinner table—Branigan had no ambitions to pursue a vocalist’s career in her youth. In high school she was extremely shy; she did, however, enjoy singing harmony with friends and performing in her church choir. To help Branigan overcome her shyness, one of her teachers persuaded her to try out for the school musical in her senior year. Branigan did, won the lead in Pajama Game, and discovered her calling. She reminisced for a Seventeen interviewer: “It was amazing. Once I was up there, I felt a tremendous confidence. I realized this was my way of expressing myself—and that was it.”
After graduating from high school in 1975, Branigan enrolled at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City to prepare for her new vocation. At first she commuted from her parents’ home, but then she moved to Manhattan and worked as a waitress to pay her rent and tuition. Branigan found in waitressing a form of preparation for performing that wasn’t available in her classes. “In dealing with people all the time,” she told Seventeen, “I learned how to make them comfortable, and that helped me a lot to overcome my shyness. And I learned how to ignore hecklers.”
Meanwhile, Branigan was also trying to break into the music business. After landing a job as a backup singer for Canadian folk artist Leonard Cohen and touring Europe with him, she decided to become a soloist. Knowing that her chances would be better if she had a good manager, she sought one. Sid Bernstein, who had managed talents such as the Rascals and the Bay City Rollers and had promoted the Beatles’ first U.S. appearance, listened to Branigan sing in 1977 and agreed to help her become a star. According to Sarah Crichton in Harper’s, Bernstein started Branigan slowly, first featuring her in concerts held in his office for his friends, and gradually inviting record producers to these informal gatherings. At first, this tactic was unsuccessful. Branigan recalled in Seventeen: “Everyone
Born c. 1958 in Brewster, N.Y.; daughter of a mutual-funds broker and an account executive; married Larry Kruteck (an attorney), December 1981. Education: Attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, c. 1975.
Backup singer for folk artist Leonard Cohen; solo recording artist and concert performer, c. 1982—. Appeared in film Mugsy’s Girls, c. 1984; appeared on German television in “An American Girl in Berlin,” c 1981.
Awards: “Gloria” nominated for Grammy in category Best Pop Vocal Performance of the Year, c. 1982.
Addresses: Office— 128 N. LaPeer Dr., Beverly Hills, Calif. 90211.
said, ’Well, you don’t really sound like anyone else.’ That meant that [I] really didn’t fit in.”
Finally, in 1979, Branigan auditioned for Ahmet Ertegun, the chairman of Atlantic Records, and he signed her. An initial album session produced mixed results—Atlantic was unsure what style best suited their new talent. Eventually the company hired Jack White, a German producer famous for his efforts in what Crichton labels the “Euro-pop approach.” White selected the songs for what would become Branigan’s debut album, including “Gloria,” which had been a hit in Italy a few years previous. Before the single was released, White introduced Branigan to manager Susan Joseph. After talking to her, the singer became convinced that Joseph could represent her interests much better than Bernstein. Branigan switched managers, but while she did indeed become a star under Joseph’s guidance, she also became the object of a $15 million breach-of-contract lawsuit by Bernstein.
Despite this controversy, what Seventeen designated as Branigan’s “smoky vibrato” voice struck a chord with pop audiences. The success of “Gloria” was followed in 1983 by another European-style hit, “Solitaire,” originally done by another artist in France, and in 1984 Branigan had a smash with the title track from her third album, Self-Control. Though she has made her reputation by belting out danceable numbers, Branigan has also had success with ballads such as 1987’s “Power of Love.” She has modeled herself most after French torch singer Edith Piaf, and revealed her goal as a singer to Harper’s Bazaar: “I want to touch people’s hearts, to get right down to their souls.”
Branigan (includes “Gloria”), Atlantic, 1982.
Branigan II (includes “Solitaire”), Atlantic, 1983.
Self-Control (includes “Self-Control”), Atlantic, 1984.
Touch (includes “Power of Love” and “Shattered Glass”), Atlantic, 1987.
Harper’s, July, 1983.
Harper’s Bazaar, December, 1983.
People, July 18, 1983.
Seventeen, April, 1984.
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