Laura Branigan

Pop singer best known for 'Gloria'

When she covered Umberto Tozzi's "Gloria" in 1982, the American singer Laura Branigan scored a huge worldwide smash which earned her the first of four Grammy nominations. But, even if she is best remembered for the supreme rendition of the Italian tune which became her signature song and a Hi-NRG disco classic, she was no one-hit wonder.

Laura Branigan, singer, songwriter and actress: born Brewster, New York 3 July 1957; married 1981 Lawrence Kruteck (died 1996); died East Quogue, New York 26 August 2004.

When she covered Umberto Tozzi's "Gloria" in 1982, the American singer Laura Branigan scored a huge worldwide smash which earned her the first of four Grammy nominations. But, even if she is best remembered for the supreme rendition of the Italian tune which became her signature song and a Hi-NRG disco classic, she was no one-hit wonder.

She also charted on both sides of the Atlantic with "Self Control" and "The Lucky One" and had further American hits with the power ballads "How Am I Supposed to Live Without You" and "The Power of Love", and the dramatic electro-pop of "Solitaire", written by Diane Warren. Branigan had studied acting in her teens and she appeared in films such as Mugsy's Girls (as a mud-wrestling college girl, 1985) and Backstage (1988) and guested on TV shows like CHiPs and Hill Street Blues. More recently, she starred as the Sixties rock icon Janis Joplin in the off-Broadway musical Love, Janis.

"Obviously, I look for a great song. A song that is made for my voice, and not only uses the bigness of my voice, but the emotion," Branigan said. "In the beginning, all I wanted was to express myself emotionally with my voice. That's all that mattered to me. But, over the years, I learned a lot about the different elements it takes to make a song work. I wanted to touch people's hearts, to get right down to their souls."

Born in Brewster, upstate New York, in 1957, Laura Branigan outshone her two brothers and sister when she took the lead role in a senior play in high school and never looked back. In the mid-Seventies, she studied at the Academy of Dramatic Arts in Manhattan and subsequently, along with hundreds of others, auditioned for the Canadian singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen. Her five-octave range impressed Cohen and Branigan joined his touring band as backing vocalist, taking part in the lengthy series of concerts around the release of the 1977 album Death of a Ladies' Man.

The world tour helped Branigan develop as a performer and she set her heart on becoming a solo artist, hoping to reach the heights of Gladys Knight, Aretha Franklin and Fleetwood Mac's Stevie Nicks, the singers who had influenced her style and delivery. Learning the hard way, Branigan was caught up in a breach of contract lawsuit with her first manager, but matters greatly improved when she signed to Atlantic Records at the turn of the Eighties. The label, headed by legendary figures such as Ahmet Ertegun and Doug Morris, had an impressive track record, with artists ranging from Led Zeppelin to Chic via Crosby, Stills and Nash and Foreigner, and Branigan benefited from her bosses' creative input.

Getting Branigan to re-record the Italian hit "Gloria" for the international market proved a master-stroke. Released in 1982, the song became a US No 1 and charted in most territories, including the countries where Tozzi's version had already been a smash. All this attention helped make Branigan's début album, Branigan, a million- seller and in 1983 she was favourite to record "All Time High", the title song of the James Bond film Octopussy, until the producers inexplicably switched their allegiance to Rita Coolidge (who only managed a minor hit with her version).

Undeterred, Branigan contributed songs to Flashdance (1983) and Ghostbusters (1984) and repeated the success of her début with Branigan 2, the 1983 album which featured the US hits "Solitaire" and "How Am I Supposed to Live Without You" (the original version of the Michael Bolton composition, which Bolton himself returned to the charts in 1990). Branigan also showed her sense of humour with a cover of "Squeeze Box", The Who's paean to the joys of sex gadgetry. Given her considerable gay following on both sides of the Atlantic, this made total sense.

The following year, her disco-slanted version of "Self Control", the Euro-disco smash by RAF, crossed from the Hi-NRG charts to the pop listings and became Branigan's biggest UK hit. The album of the same title achieved considerable sales around the world, thanks to covers of Carole King's "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow", the Rolling Stones' "Satisfaction" and " Ti Amo", another popular Umberto Tozzi song from the Seventies.

However, by the time Branigan issued Hold Me, her fourth album, in 1985, the pop planet was in thrall to Madonna. MTV put the videos to "Material Girl" and "Into the Groove" on heavy rotation and the more demure Laura Branigan didn't stand a chance against the sex icon of the decade. She could still call on the A&R skills of the top brass at Atlantic and recorded Michael Bolton's "I Found Someone" two years before Cher made the song a worldwide smash but, by 1987, the caravan was moving on.

Branigan worked with the British producers Stock, Aitken and Waterman and fought back with a rousing version of "The Power of Love" - the Jennifer Rush hit later covered by Céline Dion - which became her last US Top Thirty entry. Atlantic signed Debbie Gibson, a bouncy teenage singer who paved the way for Britney Spears and, although the label released another three albums by Branigan, she knew her time in the American spotlight was up.

In 1994 Branigan recorded "I Believe", a duet with David Hasselhoff, for the soundtrack to the television show Baywatch. The next year, she released a greatest hits compilation, but was spending much of her time looking after her husband Lawrence Kruteck, who had been diagnosed with colon cancer. He died in 1996.

Branigan returned to performance in 1999 with club dates and an album Back In Control containing remixes of "Gloria" and "Self Control". In 2002, she earned rave reviews for her role as Janis Joplin in the musical Love, Janis.

Having done so many television shows to promote her records throughout her career, Branigan especially enjoyed her live appearances. "When you're on stage, the audience becomes your other half. It's the ultimate high you can reach as a musician - an incredible feeling. And no matter where I am, it's the same. There's a reason we call music the universal language."

Pierre Perrone



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