Laura's Legacy: Why Do Gays Still Love Laura Nyro? Michele Kort, Author of the New Nyro Biography Soul Picnic, Explains the Pioneering Bisexual Singer-Songwriter's Allure. (Music)

By Kort, Michelle | The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine), April 30, 2002 | Go to article overview

Laura's Legacy: Why Do Gays Still Love Laura Nyro? Michele Kort, Author of the New Nyro Biography Soul Picnic, Explains the Pioneering Bisexual Singer-Songwriter's Allure. (Music)


Kort, Michelle, The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)


When we fell head over heels for pioneering female singer-songwriter Laura Nyro in the late 1960s, it wasn't because we thought of her as gay. Rather, Nyro--who died of ovarian cancer in 1997--helped us realize we were gay.

It Wasn't just her soulful, whisper-to-a-scream voice that inexorably drew us out (gays do adore their divas) nor her brilliant albums (including Eli and the Thirteenth Confession, New York Tendaberry, Christmas and the Beads of Sweat, Gonna Take a Miracle) nor the disarming Tin Pan Alley-meets-street-comer doo-wop compositions that were hits for other artists ("Wedding Bell Blues" and "Stoned Soul Picnic" for the Fifth Dimension, "Eli's Comin'" for Three Dog Night, "And When I Die" for Blood, Sweat & Tears, and "Stoney End" for Barbra Streisand). It wasn't even Nyro's long black hair, deep-as-a-well dark eyes, luscious full lips, and voluptuous figure that brought us to terms with other-than-straight sexuality.

Instead, it was Nyro's mystical combination of music and lyrics and stage persona--rich with complexity, confession, and the exquisite pain of love lost and found--that helped us acknowledge we were bent. For some gay men, it was Nyro's powerful femininity that most moved them. (For her sometime manager David Geffen, who was then struggling with his own sexual identity, Nyro's draw was clearly erotic as well as creative.)

As I quote one male fan in my new biography of Nyro, Soul Picnic: The Music and Passion of Laura Nyro (Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin's Press, $25.95), "In my queer life it was Laura Nyro who taught me to scream and wail. And it was Laura Nyro who molded my image and concept of what is feminine."

For other gay men, such as songwriter Desmond Child (who co-wrote Ricky Martin's "Livin' la Vida Loca," Cher's "We All Sleep Alone," and countless other hits), Nyro's music awakened the very idea of same-sex attractions even when she wasn't singing about men. "At that time I didn't know what was gay, straight, or bi," Child told me, "but when Laura sang songs like `Emmie' [her provocative 1968 love song to a woman friend], it evoked this sexual revolution inside of me."

For lesbians too, Nyro's songs, redolent of female mystery and desire, triggered our own longings and encouraged us to confront our subterranean urges. Many took "Emmie" as a sort of lesbian anthem, even if that wasn't Nyro's intention (she claimed it was about universal womanhood, pointing out that it was her mother's favorite song of hers). …

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