A Tribute To Laura Nyro, A Great 1960s Songwriter

A Tribute to Laura Nyro

Laura Nyro Was One of the Best Songwriters of the 1960s.

Laura Nyro was born on October 18th 1947 in the Bronx, New York. Her style is very much in the vein of the Brill Building team of Jerry Goffin, Neil Sedaka and Carole King. which all went on to greater achievements as songwriters (Goffin and King) and as artistes -Sedaka and King.

Laura Nyro did not achieve the fame and recognition of many of her contemporaries and she died in 1997, aged only 49.

This hub is my nod in the direction of her talents as a songwriter. I grew up listening to my parents records in the late-60s and I listened to a lot of Laura Nyro songs sung mainly by other people. I was a bit of a record anorak to be honest. Unlike a lot of my friends, I looked for the names in parenthesis after the song titles.

What could it all mean? Stoned Soul Picnic (L. Nyro). Who was L Nyro?

Her father was a jazz trumpeter and worked as a piano tuner. Music was in her genes and as a child she spent a lot of time listening to her mother's records. Her mother had eclectic tastes and this resulted in Laura being exposed not only to Billie Holliday but also to classical composers like Verdi and Debussy.

She taught herself to play the family's piano and wrote her first song at the age of 8. Imagine that? She had a gift and music was in her blood. Whilst attending Manhattan's High School of Music And Arts, she and her friends sang at parties to which they were invited and they also sang at subway stations with other vocal groups.

This type of 'free style' vocalising can be seen to good effect in the film, Rocky. Rocky is set in the 1970s,and features Sylvester Stallone's brother, Frank singing with his pals at the top fo the subway steps. Laura and her friends were doing the same thing in the early sixties.

This is a tradition that prevails today and there is a respect, even amongst modern day singers for this tradition - a way of publicly respecting the crowds and the sound of the streets.

I've included Jessie J's subway appearance - wonder if she knew that Laura stood here beofre her, they are both great songwriters.

The Lion Sleeps Tonight

1965 - Laura sells her first song

Laura's father has always denied giving her a helping hand because of his own connections. He says any talent she had was all her own and she didn't need any extra help.

She sold her first song to Peter, Paul and Mary in 1965. Here is a live recording of it at Sydney Opera House. The song has stood the test of time I think. Mary Travers was such an amazing, sensitive vocalist.

Laura performed at the Monterey Festival in 1967 but with limited success. She seems destined, even at this early age, to be a songwriter whose songs would be heard more being sung by other bands and singers, than by her. She released her first album, More Than A New Discovery in 1967 and followed this with her most well-known album Eli and The Thirteenth Confession in 1969.

The 5th Dimension

Stoned Soul Picnic

The 5th Dimension were a 5 piece vocal group who started as 2 or 3 separate bands, finally coming together as The Versatiles in 1966 before changing the name later that same year.

The 5th Dimension are probably most famous for two songs, Up, Up and Away and Aquarius; the latter was from the musical stage play, Hair - very much a song of its time.

The 5th Dimension were a band who really seemed to enjoy showcasing songwriting talent and they recorded songs by Burt Bacharac, Paul Williams and Jimmy Webb.

They also really liked Laura Nyro and their version of Stoned Soul Picnic is still one of my favourite songs from my childhood.

Laura recorded the song herself but it was The 5th Dimension who enjoyed success with it.

They also recorded three other songs by Laura Nyro, Sweet Blindness, Wedding Bell Blues and Save The Country.

Laura recorded her songs in a fairly raw state whereas the 5th Dimension's songs were usually fully orchestrated. Laura did have her own followers but 5th Dimension were using her songs in a different way and more people remember their version, rather than Laura's.

'Lu' by Laura Nyro, very like Feelin' Groovy by Paul Simon?

Sweet Blindness

Sweet Blindness

Another hit for the 5th Dimension, 'Sweet Blindness' was also one of her most popular live numbers though she played it with just honky tonk piano and a little more pace.

Elvis Costello and Elton John have both claimed that Nyro was a huge influence on them as songwriters.

Alice Cooper has also claimed that it's a tragedy that more people don't know about her.

For her own part, she dislked the limelight.  When asked to appear on TV, she always appeared to be uneasy.  When Clive Davis, boss at Columbia Records came to her home to see her just after he had signed her for her first album, she played piano for him by the light of the TV screen only; other than that they were in complete darkness.

She explained that this was the 'mood' she intended for the songs she played.  She was an incredibly sensitive songwriter and performer but she was not at ease when trying to promote her own talents.

Luckily for us, other bands and artistes, like the 5th Dimension, Peter, Paul and Mary and Barbra Streisand were happy to 'sing' her praises for the rest of us.

Laura Nyro - Too long a neglected talent

Laura didn't ever properly retire in spite of her reticence to TV and fame.

She toured on and off right into the 1990s, even opening for Bob Dylan at his 4th of July concert in 1991.

She eventually oversaw the putting together of a retrospective album called Stoned Cold Picnic, The Best of Laura Nyro which was released in 1997.

She died of Ovarian cancer at the age of 49. Her mother had died at the same age of the same disease.

Thank you You Tube for keeping her talent alive through the archive footage posted by other fans around the world (not just of her but of all the bands and artistes who covered her songs).

I hope you have enjoyed my hub, I enjoyed putting it together. I hope you will go and seek out some more of Laura Nyro's amazing songs, they are timeless, magical and beautiful.

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Comments 13 comments

Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Audra, $3.50.....what a find! Hope you enjoy it - she is the best!

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iamaudraleigh 4 years ago

Hi Jools! I went to a garage sale...know what I found??! I found Laura Nyro's double cd entitled "Stone Soul Picnic"! I got it for $3.50! It has 34 songs in her collection! What a great deal!

Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Audra, I came to her first through Fifth Dimension and just love her songwriting. I have since discovered her doing her own stuff on You Tube and have found out more about just how great she was with lyrics and melody - just amazing. Thanks so much for commenting.

Audra Leigh Fisher 4 years ago

It is always interesting for me to read bios of people, especially songwriters. I have never heard of Ms. Laura Nyro ...a shame indeed.

When she played for Clive Davis, She performed her songs her way. She was not afraid to take a stace, but perhapse was fearful to play them in front of a crowd any other way. I see pride there...overshadowing fear. I wish I was in the room at that moment.

Thank you for writing this :)

Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Sally's Trove, she is inextricably linked to my childhood and my early musical tastes - I have my dad to thank for 5th Dimension, Laura Nyro, Harry Nillson and Brazil 66 and I still listen to them all now on You Tube.

Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 4 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

Thanks so much for writing this and also putting it up in a fb group today. I haven't thought about Laura Nyro for a long time, but her songs and her voice were very much a part of my life in the late 60s and early 70s. This brought back many good memories...not to mention The Lion Sleeps Tonight, the Tokens' version from 1961. I had such a lovely place in memories today. :)

Jools99 profile image

Jools99 5 years ago from North-East UK Author

Artamus, I think she is THE most underrated songwriter (and artiste) of her time. I just love her songs. They were part of my childhood so are special as part of my own past but I still listen to her today. I hope she eventually gets the recognition she deserves. Thanks for commenting, I appreciate it!

Artamus 5 years ago

Thanks for acknowledging this GREAT Artist! I grew up listening to the radio covers, and I loved them but.... I recently heard Laura's originals, and I was frankly astonished at how much better they are! Laura has now taken over as my favorite Musical Artist, I listen to her albums every day.

Cogerson profile image

Cogerson 5 years ago from Virginia

Thanks for sharing this information on a person I was not aware of being reading this hub. I did enjoy the video/audio songs you have included in the hub. She has a great voice...and has the respect of some great artists. It was sad to read that she has already passed away and at very young age. Voted up and very interesting.

nyrogrl 5 years ago

Very nice tribute to the ONE.

Jools99 profile image

Jools99 5 years ago from North-East UK Author

Thanks for your comments, this was the favourite hub I've done so far, a real trip down memory lane for me. I've been singing Stoney End all day today, driving my hubby and daughter mad!

FloraBreenRobison profile image

FloraBreenRobison 5 years ago

Thank-you for this. Of her songs, I'm most familiar with "And When I Die." I've always loved it.

Uninvited Writer profile image

Uninvited Writer 5 years ago from Kitchener, Ontario

Great tribute to a great artist.

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