Lenny Kravitz

  • Biography:

    Lenny Kravitz survived the ridicule of being called "Mr. (Lisa) Bonet" and the scorn of critics who accused him of being a derivative neohippie to forge a successful career making anachronistic, soul-inflected, '60s-style rock for the '90s.

    The only child of white TV producer Sy Kravitz and black actress Roxie Roker (of TV's The Jeffersons), Kravitz spent the first 10 years of his life in Manhattan, then moved with his family to L.A., where his first musical experience came in the California Boys Choir. He taught himself guitar, bass, piano, and drums. Kravitz attended the exclusive Beverly Hills High School (classmates included Saul Hudson, later Slash, and Maria McKee), where he adopted the David Bowie-inspired, wild-party persona Romeo Blue. In 1985 Kravitz met actress Lisa Bonet of TV's The Cosby Show. They were married in 1987 and had one daughter, Zoe, before separating in 1991; their divorce became final two years later.

    Let Love Rule displayed Kravitz's voice, which sounded uncannily like Elvis Costello's, and his retro-rock style, which sounded uncannily like all sorts of people —The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix. While reviews were mixed, the album sold fairly well (#61, 1989), and the title track reached #89 in 1990.

    In 1990 Kravitz started writing and producing chores with Madonna on her "Justify My Love." A year later Prince discovery Ingrid Chavez (who costarred in his Graffiti Bridge) sued, claiming she had co-written the song with Kravitz. He admitted to having worked with Chavez, but maintained that they agreed to keep her role in writing that song "private." The matter was eventually settled out of court. The rhythm track, meanwhile, had been sampled from a Public Enemy song.

    In January 1991, as tensions in the Persian Gulf mounted, Kravitz hastily recorded an all-star cover of John Lennon's "Give Peace a Chance" (#54), with guitar work by Slash and vocal and video appearances by two dozen other artists, including Yoko Ono, Sean Lennon, Bonnie Raitt, Peter Gabriel, Run-D.M.C., L.L. Cool J and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

    Mama Said (#39, 1991) sold better than its predecessor, with the polished Curtis Mayfield-style "It Ain't Over Til It's Over" hitting #2, his highest-charting single to date. In 1993 Kravitz released Are You Gonna Go My Way (#12). The hard-rocking, extremely Hendrixesque title track was nominated for two 1994 Grammys. Two years later, Circus (#10, 1995), reflected the singer's reportedly newfound focus on Christianity, with such tracks as "God" and "The Resurrection." Meanwhile, Kravitz suffered the death of his mother that December. The performed joined the 1996 summer H.O.R.D.E. Tour, and in 1998 released 5(#36,1998), whose hit "Fly Away" (#12 pop, 1998) won a Grammy Award and received extensive exposure from usage in television commercials. A cover version of the Guess Who's 1970 hit "American Woman," included on the Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me soundtrack, reached #49 in 1999. His next move was a heavily hyped, triple-platinum Greatest Hits (#2, 2000) and the #4 album track "Again."

    This biography originally appeared in The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll (Simon & Schuster, 2001).