With her distinctive little-girl voice, thrift-store style, and art-school training, Cyndi Lauper was one of the earliest female icons to harness MTV's influence and become a pop star. Her debut album was the first in history by a woman to have four Top Five singles; led by "Girls Just Want to Have Fun," it also won her the unlikely title of "Woman of the Year" from Ms. Magazine.
Lauper was raised in Brooklyn and Queens by her waitress mother, a life she paid homage to when her mother starred in the video for "Girls." After dropping out of high school and spending a few years "finding herself," Lauper sang for cover bands on Long Island. She almost ruined her voice and sought training from Katherine Agresta, an opera singer and rock & roll vocal coach. She then spent four years singing and writing songs for Blue Angel, a rootsy rock band whose strong New York following never translated into sales for their eponymous 1980 Polydor album.
Lauper filed for bankruptcy after Blue Angel split, and for a while sang in a Japanese restaurant dressed like a geisha until her manager and boyfriend David Wolff landed her a deal with the CBS imprint Portrait. She's So Unusual (Number Four, 1983) became an international hit, eventually selling more than 5 million records in the U.S. alone, led by "Girls" (Number Two, 1983), "All Through the Night" (Number Five, 1984), "She Bop" (Number Three, 1984), and "Time After Time" (Number One, 1984). The album, produced by Rick Chertoff and featuring Rob Hyman and Eric Bazilian of the Philadelphia band the Hooters [see entry], won Lauper a Grammy and put the singer on the brink of superstardom. On The Tonight Show, the rainbow-haired singer with the Betty Boop voice claimed that professional wrestler Captain Lou Albano was her mentor and had taught her the keys to fame: politeness, etiquette, and grooming.
Lauper was never able to match the success of her debut, although 1986's True Colors' title track went to Number One and featured "Change of Heart" (Number Three, 1986) and a cover of Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On" (Number 12, 1987). In 1985 she had a Number Ten hit with "The Goonies 'R' Good Enough," from the film The Goonies. (Lauper's own ventures into acting have proved ill-fated: One movie never made it out of the studio, and 1988's Vibes and 1993's Life With Mikey flopped.)
A Night to Remember was trashed by critics and stalled at Number 37 on the pop chart; it contained one hit, "I Drove All Night" (Number Six, 1989). In 1990 she ended her personal and professional relationship with Wolff; the following year she married actor David Thornton, with Little Richard presiding.
She returned in 1993 with Hat Full of Stars (Number 112), reasserting control over her career (coproducing and cowriting all tracks) and proving to critics that she had grown with the times. The album deals with such issues as racism, backstreet abortions, and incest; collaborators include Mary Chapin Carpenter, Junior Vasquez, and her old friends the Hooters. The album faltered commercially, however, yielding no hit singles.
In 1994 Lauper made a comeback of sorts in the U.K. with the release of the anthology 12 Deadly Cyns and Then Some, which reached Number Two, and "Hey Now (Girls Just Want to Have Fun)," a remix of her first hit, which topped the singles chart. Despite the remix's appearance in the movie To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar, the album fared less well when later issued in the U.S. (Number 81 pop, 1995). Its followup, Sisters of Avalon (Number 188 pop, 1997), Lauper's first album of new material in four years, also went nowhere.
Shine, was recorded in 2001, but due to label problems, was distributed only in Japan — and not until 2003. That same year saw the release of At Last (Number 38), a covers album featuring versions of Dionne Warwick's "Walk On By" and Édith Piaf's "La Vie En Rose"
The Body Acoustic (Number 12, 2005) was another album of re-interpretations, but this time it was Lauper recording new versions of older songs with such guests as Ani DiFranco and Shaggy. In 2007, she produced and headlined the True Colors Tour, a 15-city summer jaunt aimed at raising money for gay, lesbian an transgender rights; performers included Debbie Harry, Erasure and the Gossip.
In the spring of 2008 Lauper released Bring You To The Brink her first full-on dance album teaming up with the likes of Max Martin (Britney Spears, Kelly Clarkson) and the electronic dance music duo Basement Jaxx.
Portions of this biography appeared in The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll (Simon & Schuster, 2001).