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Soul Picnic: The Music and Passion of Laura Nyro is a biography of the pioneering singer-songwriter whose recordings and high-drama performances were both beloved and inspiring in the 1960s and '70s. With her groundbreaking honest and passionate lyrics, her unusual and innovative rhythms and melody, Nyro's influence is still felt by singers and songwriters today. Beginning Soul Picnic: The Music and Passion of Laura Nyro is a biography of the pioneering singer-songwriter whose recordings and high-drama performances were both beloved and inspiring in the 1960s and '70s. With her groundbreaking honest and passionate lyrics, her unusual and innovative rhythms and melody, Nyro's influence is still felt by singers and songwriters today. Beginning with her childhood and teen years in the Bronx, and ending with her untimely death from ovarian cancer in 1997, Soul Picnic details how Nyro was "discovered" as a prodigious eighteen-year-old songwriter, had her songs covered with great success by other singers (most famously, the Fifth Dimension, Blood, Sweat & Tears, Three Dog Night, and Barbra Streisand), and created her own remarkable albums, such as Eli and the Thirteen Confession and New York Tendaberry. It also tells how a young David Geffen, as her agent and then manager, helped boost her career, but how she ultimately rejected both Geffen and the glare of stardom for a quieter rural life. Nyro was a very private person, and Michele Kort has uncovered aspects of her life offstage never previously revealed, including a romance with famed rock musician Jackson Browne and the love affair that led to the birth of her son, Gil. It also fleshes out her long, loving relationship with painter Maria Desiderio. Kort features Laura Nyro's music, the making of each of her albums, the musical influences that informed her work, and the important legacy she has left behind. She interviewed nearly all of the producers and arrangers Nyro worked with, and many of the musicians who played on her albums. The book also includes a discography of both Nyro's recordings and many covers of her songs by well-known artists. With passion and style, acclaimed journalist Michele Kort has seamlessly joined thorough research with oral history in this beautifully rendered biography of an important, often-overlooked music icon.


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Soul Picnic: The Music and Passion of Laura Nyro is a biography of the pioneering singer-songwriter whose recordings and high-drama performances were both beloved and inspiring in the 1960s and '70s. With her groundbreaking honest and passionate lyrics, her unusual and innovative rhythms and melody, Nyro's influence is still felt by singers and songwriters today. Beginning Soul Picnic: The Music and Passion of Laura Nyro is a biography of the pioneering singer-songwriter whose recordings and high-drama performances were both beloved and inspiring in the 1960s and '70s. With her groundbreaking honest and passionate lyrics, her unusual and innovative rhythms and melody, Nyro's influence is still felt by singers and songwriters today. Beginning with her childhood and teen years in the Bronx, and ending with her untimely death from ovarian cancer in 1997, Soul Picnic details how Nyro was "discovered" as a prodigious eighteen-year-old songwriter, had her songs covered with great success by other singers (most famously, the Fifth Dimension, Blood, Sweat & Tears, Three Dog Night, and Barbra Streisand), and created her own remarkable albums, such as Eli and the Thirteen Confession and New York Tendaberry. It also tells how a young David Geffen, as her agent and then manager, helped boost her career, but how she ultimately rejected both Geffen and the glare of stardom for a quieter rural life. Nyro was a very private person, and Michele Kort has uncovered aspects of her life offstage never previously revealed, including a romance with famed rock musician Jackson Browne and the love affair that led to the birth of her son, Gil. It also fleshes out her long, loving relationship with painter Maria Desiderio. Kort features Laura Nyro's music, the making of each of her albums, the musical influences that informed her work, and the important legacy she has left behind. She interviewed nearly all of the producers and arrangers Nyro worked with, and many of the musicians who played on her albums. The book also includes a discography of both Nyro's recordings and many covers of her songs by well-known artists. With passion and style, acclaimed journalist Michele Kort has seamlessly joined thorough research with oral history in this beautifully rendered biography of an important, often-overlooked music icon.

30 review for Soul Picnic: The Music and Passion of Laura Nyro

  1. 5 out of 5

    Glen

    This is a loving tribute to the life and work of Laura Nyro, one of the relatively unheralded geniuses of pop music. The problem with a book-length story about Nyro thought is that her life was, well, not all that interesting after the early 70's. She shunned stardom, or rather the steps deemed necessary by the recording business to achieve it, and so her fame continued to dim after her halcyon days of 1966-1972, roughly, until her death from ovarian cancer at age 49 in 1997. She lived, she love This is a loving tribute to the life and work of Laura Nyro, one of the relatively unheralded geniuses of pop music. The problem with a book-length story about Nyro thought is that her life was, well, not all that interesting after the early 70's. She shunned stardom, or rather the steps deemed necessary by the recording business to achieve it, and so her fame continued to dim after her halcyon days of 1966-1972, roughly, until her death from ovarian cancer at age 49 in 1997. She lived, she loved, she continued to make music and write songs that were beautifully complex and idiosyncratic, she gave birth to a son. She is however oddly unknown compared to other women singer songwriters of the same generation like Joni Mitchell, Carole King, and Carly Simon, despite her influence, owning mostly to her lack of any chart-topping singles that weren't songs of hers covered by others. She was finally inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year, but she remains a musician's musician and cult hero. The book concludes with a fitting admonition to the reader to go to her music to really know Laura's soul, but that leaves the question of why a book of more than 250 pages about her? I did learn some interesting tidbits about her life, and she comes off as a person who knew herself well and insisted on living her life and producing her art her way. She was an arch-hippie to the end, and all of that is commendable in my book, but not compelling reading after all. Still, I liked the book, except that the photographs are often too dark to decipher, most notably and sadly the one of her with Miles Davis, but I am a fan, and was surprised that I didn't like it more.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Rabdrake Bruno

    Make no mistake this comment is both a rave and a query. Michele Kort's book is more than a loving tribute, it is an excellent biography. But, I am unsure about Ms Kort's claim that Laura came to her bi-sexuality in her mid 30's? There is overwhelming evidence, albeit circumstantial, that from 1967 on, Laura was involved with at least one woman, her eventual life partner, Maria Desiderio. Kort in SOUL PICNIC corroborates that "back in the day" Laura was doing drugs (pot & LSD), was sexually active, Make no mistake this comment is both a rave and a query. Michele Kort's book is more than a loving tribute, it is an excellent biography. But, I am unsure about Ms Kort's claim that Laura came to her bi-sexuality in her mid 30's? There is overwhelming evidence, albeit circumstantial, that from 1967 on, Laura was involved with at least one woman, her eventual life partner, Maria Desiderio. Kort in SOUL PICNIC corroborates that "back in the day" Laura was doing drugs (pot & LSD), was sexually active, and was an awesome talent in jazz, folk, R&B, soul & doo-wop. Michele Kort's research confirmed that Laura "...may..." have been leading the intense 60s lifestyle of drugs, sex and rock 'n roll. As to Laura's bisexuality, Pete Johnson in his June 1968 review of ELI AND THE THIRTEENTH CONFESSION in COAST FM & FINE ARTS (page 50) commented about the song "Emily." "There is a momentary shock at hearing a woman romancing another woman..." On April 25, 1997, seventeen days after Laura's death, Alanna Nash in her comment on E.W.COM, Passion Player celebrated "Emmie" as "pop's first lesbian love song." Also in ELI is the song "Timer." Any doubt as to the lover being a woman was dispelled by Laura's redacted version of "Timer" performed on May 30, 1971 in live concert at the Fillmore East. It becomes apparent when viewed in the context of the song "American Dove" which was Laura's love song to her fiancé, a decorated Vietnam war veteran. Both songs were released on SPREAD YOUR WINGS AND FLY. As originally released on ELI, "Timer" is a same-sex musing, with this denouement; "If you love me true - I'll spend my life with you - you and Timer." And, again in ELI, what about the silhouetted picture of Laura and the much younger woman on the album's back dust jacket? It is worth 1,000 confessions. Renderings of the image are an easy find on-line. In 1971, Laura released the album GONNA TAKE A MIRACLE. Her adapted version of the song "Desiree" remains one of the most undisguised expressions of love by one woman singing to another woman. A remarkable coincidence is that both the names Desiree and Desiderio mean desire. Both, Michele Kort confirmed through Lee Housekeeper (page 106) and Bob Sarlin, in his book TURN IT UP (page 131) witnessed that Laura's "hard core fans" were "dominated by thirteen- to sixteen-year-old girls..." This age range coincides exactly with Maria's age between June 1967 and June 1971. "So...let the wind blow Timer, I like her song and if the song goes minor - I won't mind. Laura 'n Maria '67 "carved in a heart on berry tree." If the Kort work has any flaw, it comes in the author being too readily willing to accept the 1980's as Laura's coming out. Ultimately, what lead me to the 5 stars was Michele's sensitivity in preserving some mystery about Laura's life. It was her thoroughness, tempered by her sensitivity that left things to be discovered. I am still gleaning facts and incites from the book. Among Michele's last words on the subject was a phrase that has become my mantra; "If you want to know her...go to the music." Get this book; buy or download and listen to "Désiree." Listen to "American Dove" and then compare both versions of "Timer." Your reply to Ralph A. Bruno's post: Guidelines Reply to this post | Permalink

  3. 4 out of 5

    Bethany

    Although Laura Nyro has been on my radar for over two years, I only recently downloaded one of her albums. That album was New York Tendaberry and, let's put it this way: if I had it on vinyl, it would never leave my turntable My almost 13-year-old brother who hangs around me a lot, detests her; he identifies her as "the woman who wails." And, while it's a bit of an exaggeration, he's right - she's a wailer! But that's what I love about her: how she sings her heart out. I have a great admiration fo Although Laura Nyro has been on my radar for over two years, I only recently downloaded one of her albums. That album was New York Tendaberry and, let's put it this way: if I had it on vinyl, it would never leave my turntable My almost 13-year-old brother who hangs around me a lot, detests her; he identifies her as "the woman who wails." And, while it's a bit of an exaggeration, he's right - she's a wailer! But that's what I love about her: how she sings her heart out. I have a great admiration for singers who convey a lot of power and emotion in their singing. As someone who expresses herself through the medium of singing/songwriting, I would love and strive to have that sort of emotional strength in my voice, and even lyrics. I don't, though. Or at least, I feel like I don't. Sure, nice adjectives have been used to describe my voice, but something in me wants to have a rough, emotive voice like, say, Janis Joplin. So I'm going to take up drugs and alcohol and see where that gets me. Anyway, I tell my entirely too-judgmental brother that Laura is an acquired taste, and I suppose she is. For a while, even I was ambivalent about whether I liked her or not. But I kept an open mind and now I'm basically in love with her. So there you go! All this to say, this biography was mahvelous; an excellent look on Laura's life and her groundbreaking musical influences. This book has further fueled my passion for all things Laura Nyro; I am resisting the urge to go out and buy her entire discography. My favourite photograph in the book of the lovely Laura: [Caption: Nyro taking a dance break during New York Tendaberry recording sessions, 1969. (Photo by Stephen Paley, courtesy of Michael Ochs Archives)]

  4. 5 out of 5

    Melissa

    This novel documents the life of one of the first great female singer-songwriters, Laura Nyro. Her music was unprecedented and often criticized by the music critics. However, up until her untimely death, Nyro remained true to herself and her fans when it came to her music. Nyro has inspired many, including Joni Mitchell, and continues to inspire many musicians today with her timeless sound.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Roni Arnold

    Reading this book finally gave me that special "secret key" into a world no one was privy to until now. Laura Nyro's mysterious persona was always very compelling. She was someone you never could get too much of, because there never was much we were allowed to know. So, those of us who fell in love with her amazing music always were forced to read into the lyrics, to wonder, to get lost in a trance while listening as we saw visions of New York streets and imagined the people and scenes in her so Reading this book finally gave me that special "secret key" into a world no one was privy to until now. Laura Nyro's mysterious persona was always very compelling. She was someone you never could get too much of, because there never was much we were allowed to know. So, those of us who fell in love with her amazing music always were forced to read into the lyrics, to wonder, to get lost in a trance while listening as we saw visions of New York streets and imagined the people and scenes in her songs. I was 16 years old the first time I escaped into Laura's music, and that was decades ago. My reaction as I listened to each song, was that I was stunned. The songs were stunning. Her voice: stunning. It was that melding of jazz, gospel, Broadway and how every note she played on the piano was intentionally placed and significant. And how her voice captured all the raw emotion of real New York life. She made me yearn to go there, to feel what she felt, to see what she saw. She was the pioneer, a woman whose creative abilities were, in my opinion, up until that time, unsurpassed by anyone, male or female. That's why the book is such a treasure. It unlocks so many of the mysteries that many of us had resigned ourselves to never know. Unlike the other reviewer, I relished the details of the recording sessions and everything else, every other detail about Laura's life, personality, art. At the risk of sounding snobbish, I suppose you have to be the following to truly appreciate what is offered here: 1) an absolute die-hard Laura Nyro follower and fan from the 70s, and 2) probably a songwriter and musician yourself in order to understand what it takes to create the kind of work she created. (I am both). I suppose to sum it up it just felt really great to finally have the real Laura, unshrouded and revealed to us. The great thing is that--it was refreshing to know that she really was just a regular girl, not someone who particularly wanted or even warranted that dark aura, just someone who had a real life and didn't go for the showbiz thing very much. And, even better: someone very wonderful in her personal life as far as her generosity and kindness--and full of laughter, humor, delight, and loving friendships. I took away the details of a woman who had an unparalleled musical gift, many friends, a happy relationship, loved her child, and had a generally beautiful life. After all these years, and with her death, it is nice to know that she could have just been one of us. I guess you might say this book gave me some "closure". And, I felt happier as a result of reading AND re-reading it, for its endearing, real-life stories about this lovely human being.

  6. 4 out of 5

    blue-collared mind

    I never really got Laura Nyro, even though I knew some of her hits like 5th Dimension's "Wedding Bell Blues" Blood, Sweat and Tears's "Eli's Coming" and of course, Barbra Streisand's "Stoney End". So, when I saw this book in a used bookstore, I picked it up for my post-surgical vacation (gallbladder safely removed, thank you for your concern), because I thought I could get a lot about the 1970s from her life, more than any interest in reading about her. Well, I really liked her. I had no idea of I never really got Laura Nyro, even though I knew some of her hits like 5th Dimension's "Wedding Bell Blues" Blood, Sweat and Tears's "Eli's Coming" and of course, Barbra Streisand's "Stoney End". So, when I saw this book in a used bookstore, I picked it up for my post-surgical vacation (gallbladder safely removed, thank you for your concern), because I thought I could get a lot about the 1970s from her life, more than any interest in reading about her. Well, I really liked her. I had no idea of the devotion of her friends and family, the musicians she worked with and her fans. Laura always lived in a world of art and music, whether living on a houseboat in India, in Japan, in New Orleans, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, Ithaca, or wherever she felt like hanging out. She is constantly described by those who knew her as funny, warm, campy, lively and certainly comes across as someone who enjoyed her life. I even put the book down for a bit before getting to the last 3-4 years of her life, as it was bumming me out to leave this charming, kooky woman. Since finishing it, I keep her on a regular playlist and now hear her influence in so many other artists work.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Nancy

    I LOVED this book. Am amazing story with the perfect amount of detail. Not only do you get to know Laura and her life story, but you get a rundown of how her life impacted every album and every song down to the last studio musician who played on them. It also brings you right into the business and the people who started the singer/songwriter genre and how they were inspired by LR. Excellent read.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Linda Murtagh

    I loved this book because I love Laura Nyro. She was such an amazing artist who followed her own passion. I found the info about her relationships with other singers to be fascinating. She was able to produce a wonderful repertoire of songs and had a unique style of her own. The book was great. However, I did find it to be a bit long. Definitely a good read if you're into the artist.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Ken

    A rather workmanlike biography of the great singer/songwriter, but to date the only one we have. I would recommend it to fans of Laura.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Tom Martin

    I have to say right up front that I love Laura Nyro and was very interested at the prospect of a well done biography. Unfortunately, this book contains about a Wikipedia article's amount of biographical information spread over the course of the book, and mostly consists of fan girl post-modern critique deep dives into the possible meanings of nearly every lyric Nyro ever wrote. I found myself skipping page after page after page, until I got past the author's personal interpretations of lyrics an I have to say right up front that I love Laura Nyro and was very interested at the prospect of a well done biography. Unfortunately, this book contains about a Wikipedia article's amount of biographical information spread over the course of the book, and mostly consists of fan girl post-modern critique deep dives into the possible meanings of nearly every lyric Nyro ever wrote. I found myself skipping page after page after page, until I got past the author's personal interpretations of lyrics and back to a little bit of biographical data. And there is no critical distance or evaluation of Laura Nyro here, just pure adulation of everything she ever wrote, said or did. Incredibly disappointing book.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Scott Schneider

    Laura Nyro was an amazing performer and song writer who died much too young. This biography is a bit over the top but gives a clear portrait of her as an uncompromising artist who cared about the music and not the music business. Lots of singers and songwriters have credited her as an inspiration including Joni Mitchell. This biography though intends to be comprehensive and discusses each album, each song and the critical reaction to each one chapter by chapter. It opened my eyes to how central Laura Nyro was an amazing performer and song writer who died much too young. This biography is a bit over the top but gives a clear portrait of her as an uncompromising artist who cared about the music and not the music business. Lots of singers and songwriters have credited her as an inspiration including Joni Mitchell. This biography though intends to be comprehensive and discusses each album, each song and the critical reaction to each one chapter by chapter. It opened my eyes to how central she was to pop music in the late 60s, early 70s. I hope it encourages more young people to discover her music.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Matt Jones

    If you want to know everything about Laura Nyro, this book is for you.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Silvio111

    I read this book a few years ago, but I just re-read it and like it even more. Laura Nyro's music had a formative influence on me since the mid-60s when she released her first album, and I consider her and Joni Mitchell to be equally responsible for my tastes in music and songwriting. This book is tirelessly researched with many, many interviews with musicians and other music professionals (as well as friends and loved ones; many of these categories intersect) that give a good picture of her creat I read this book a few years ago, but I just re-read it and like it even more. Laura Nyro's music had a formative influence on me since the mid-60s when she released her first album, and I consider her and Joni Mitchell to be equally responsible for my tastes in music and songwriting. This book is tirelessly researched with many, many interviews with musicians and other music professionals (as well as friends and loved ones; many of these categories intersect) that give a good picture of her creative, loving, passionate, kind, and quirky approach to her music and in fact, her life. What comes through strongest is the fact that she had a definite yet intuitive of idea of how she wanted her work recorded and she managed to persist in her preferences against record executives, producers and other decision-makers in the record business. This in itself was a significant achievement, given the fact that her affect was somewhat spacey and she believed in treating people with fairness and compassion. But in protecting her music, she was fearless and formidable. The second thing that comes through (and all her fans already know this) was how absolutely beautiful and transformative her singing was. She was a truly inspired artist and she had the gift of passion that let her deliver her vision to her listeners. I think that Bette Midler's speech inducting her into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame said it all (you can look it up on YouTube.) Reading this biography was inspiring and comforting. There are so many biographies of male rock and rollers that just document how they got drunk and addled, misbehaved, threw tantrums, etc, with a bit of their musical performances thrown in. This book is so different. It is the story of a truly fine human being who retained her passion for writing and performing music her entire life. We should all be so lucky.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Richard

    What this mysterious woman was able to do with just a handful of very nicely voiced chords amazes me. I believe her lack of knowledge in terms of music theory worked greatly to her advantage; she wasn't aware of any rules and therefore wasn't restricted by any. She did it differently. I enjoyed the book very much, but I have to be honest, I find some folks preoccupation with the details of her bisexuality a bit annoying and shallow. I mean, of what importance is it really? But that's just me.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Gayle Zawilla

    A thorough, if somewhat starry-eyed, account of the life of Laura Nyro. I often wondered what was behind the image of the soul/R&B-tinged, gypsyish woman with the incredible octave range. Fans will learn some little known facts, both musical and personal, about the reclusive performer whose life was cut short too soon. A readable, well-written biography. A thorough, if somewhat starry-eyed, account of the life of Laura Nyro. I often wondered what was behind the image of the soul/R&B-tinged, gypsyish woman with the incredible octave range. Fans will learn some little known facts, both musical and personal, about the reclusive performer whose life was cut short too soon. A readable, well-written biography.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Nicholas Barrett

    An enjoyably sensitive portrait of a most gifted musician. Laura Nyro was never fashionable and that's much to her advantage now, in light of some hopeful signs of a newly emergent counterculture where she would find her place. I'm only sad Laura died so young and I'm grateful to Michele Kort for doing her justice.

  17. 5 out of 5

    ron

    Every fan of this wonderfully talented woman should make this a must read book. This is such an insightful look into a beautiful soul who sadly, left us much too soon. It resonates, much like her incredible wealth of music she left us with.

  18. 4 out of 5

    konami

    she IS my favorite singer and the book gave a great backdrop to her life.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Jill

    This is a wonderful book about the life and music of the fabulous Laura Nyro. Largely forgotten today, she left behind an amazing legacy through her music.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Ginny Messina

  21. 5 out of 5

    Michael Mcguire

  22. 5 out of 5

    Gina

  23. 5 out of 5

    B vanHaagen Herbert

  24. 5 out of 5

    John Arnold

  25. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

  26. 5 out of 5

    Bob

  27. 4 out of 5

    Bob

  28. 4 out of 5

    Perri McGowan

  29. 5 out of 5

    Tim Thelen

  30. 5 out of 5

    mick winnett

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