DEBORAH HARRY bio
Deborah Harry’s pioneering work with Blondie established her as one of popular music’s most enduring icons. Yet she’s always staunchly resisted the option of coasting on her pop-diva status, instead following an idiosyncratic career path that’s demonstrated her restless creative spirit, wide-ranging interests and diverse performing skills.
In addition to her output as vocalist and songwriter on Blondie’s nine studio albums (the most recent being 2011’s Panic of Girls) and five solo releases (most recently 2007’s Necessary Evil), Harry has been featured as a guest vocalist on a dizzying array of recording projects, while winning acclaim for her acting in numerous feature films and television shows.
As a recording artist, Harry has consistently broken new ground, absorbing and incorporating ideas from the worlds of disco, hip-hop and avant-garde art into her sound, look and sensibility, while maintaining a distinctive voice and persona that are wholly her own. Since Blondie’s successful reformation in the late 1990s, she’s retained her place on rock’s cutting edge, making new music that matches the band’s early work in its vision and craft.
Deborah Ann Harry was born in Miami and grew up in Hawthorne, New Jersey. After moving to New York City and serving stints as Playboy Bunny, secretary at BBC Radio’s Manhattan office and member of the folk-rock group the Wind in the Willows, she gravitated towards the excitement of Manhattan’s downtown music scene, joining the pre-punk combo the Stilettos, which also included Chris Stein on guitar. The Stilettos disbanded, but her collaboration with Stein endured, and the pair launched Blondie, which quickly became a fixture at such downtown clubs as CBGB and Max’s Kansas City.
“The scene was very stimulating,” she recalls, adding, “They call it the punk scene, but every band was different and every band was creative. We were always open to experimentation, and that’s what gave us an edge in terms of crossing over, and that’s why the music’s stood the test of time. We were just doing what we liked, and trying to bring what we liked into what we were doing.”
Blondie’s self-titled debut album appeared in 1976. Beginning with their third LP, 1978’s Parallel Lines, the sextet reaped massive worldwide success. The combination of the band’s tough, infectious songcraft and Harry’s cool charisma made Blondie one of the era’s seminal recording acts, selling an eventual 40 million albums around the world, and storming the charts with such albums and Eat to the Beat and Autoamerican, and such indelible hit tunes as “One Way Or Another,” “Dreaming”, “Call Me,” “Atomic,” the boundary-breaking rock/dance smash “Heart of Glass” and the revolutionary new-wave/rap hybrid “Rapture,” all of which Harry wrote or co-wrote.
The band’s ubiquity on the radio, in the press, and in the emerging medium of music video, helped to establish Harry as the era’s preeminent female pop icon. “I think that I had a certain awareness of myself and my image,” she says. “I wasn’t trying to be cute. I was aggressive, and I was singing things that people were not used to hearing from a female singer.”
By the time Blondie disbanded in the early ’80s, Harry had already launched a solo career that continued her pattern of testing stylistic boundaries and audaciously mixing and matching genres. She also contributed songs to numerous films, including Scarface, Krush Groove, Married to the Mob and Prelude to A Kiss, and recorded tracks for such notable multi-artist album projects as Amarcord Nino Rota, the Red Hot + Blue AIDS charity album and the Edgar Allan Poe tribute album Closed on Account of Rabies, and teamed with former Blondie keyboardist Jimmy Destri to record a track for the Otis Blackwell tribute Brace Yourself.
In addition to her recording efforts with Blondie and on her own, Harry remains in demand as a collaborator with other artists. She teamed up with noted New York avant-garde ensemble the Jazz Passengers on three albums as well as tours of the U.S. and Europe, and has been sung on recordings by Moby, the Ramones, Nick Cave, the Talking Heads spinoff act the Heads, Los Fabulosos Cadillacs, the Gun Club, German alt-metal band Die Haut, Police guitarist Andy Summers, Fall Out Boy, Jazz Passenger Bill Ware’s side project Groove Thing, and even the Muppets.
Despite her busy musical life, Harry found time to develop a prolific acting career, building an impressive resume that includes performances in more than 30 films, including David Cronenberg’s Videodrome, John Waters’ Hairspray, Forever Lulu, Roadie, Union City, Six Ways to Sunday, Copland, Heavy, My Life Without Me, Intimate Stranger, Spun and Full Grown Men. Her television work includes roles on Tales from the Darkside, Will and Grace, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Absolutely Fabulous, the Adventures of Pete and Pete and Wiseguy.
The long-awaited Blondie reunion became a reality with the release of 1999’s No Exit, whose first single “Maria” became a #1 hit in 14 different countries. In the years since—punctuated by the band’s 2006 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame—Blondie has continued to record and tour successfully.
“Making new music is really, really important to us,” Harry states. “When we first got back together, one of the stipulations I had was that we had to move ahead and do new music, and not just play our greatest hits.”
While continuing to move into the musical future with Blondie, Harry continues to embrace other new creative challenges. In addition to pursuing new acting roles and musical collaborations, she’s planning a series of solo shows that will emphasize songs that Blondie doesn’t perform. “Something a little more personal,” she explains. “A Blondie show is so big, and this would be much more intimate, but I’d also make it interesting and strange as well.
“I want to entertain people, but I also want to make things challenging and thought-provoking,” Harry concludes. “That’s what we’ve always done, I think. In some ways, that’s more of a challenge, because the audience is more sophisticated and because what was alternative is now mainstream. But it’s important to me.”