Lenny Kravitz Biography
In addition to singing lead and backing vocals, Kravitz often plays all the guitar, bass, drums, keyboards, and percussion himself when recording. He is known for his elaborate stage performances and music videos. Kravitz has had multiple number 1 hits on the US Top Singles Charts, though none by himself on the Hot 100, and many more worldwide. He won the Grammy Award for "Best Male Rock Vocal Performance" four years in a row from 1999 to 2002, breaking the record for most wins in that category and most consecutive wins in one category. He has been nominated and won other awards, namely American Music Awards, MTV Video Music Awards, Radio Music Awards, BRIT Awards and Blockbuster Entertainment Awards.
Kravitz was born in New York City, New York on May 26, 1964, the son of Roxie Roker, an actress known for her character Helen Willis in the 1970s hit television sitcom The Jeffersons, and Sy Kravitz, an NBC television news producer. Kravitz's father was of Russian Jewish descent from Kiev and his mother was of Bahamian descent. Kravitz was named after his uncle, PFC Leonard Kravitz, who was killed in action on March 6, 1951 near Yangpyeong, Korea at the age of 20.
Kravitz grew up spending weekdays on the Upper East Side of Manhattan with his parents, attending P.S.6 for elementary school and weekends at his grandmother Bessie Roker's house in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn. Kravitz began banging on pots and pans in the kitchen, playing them as drums at the age of three. At the age of five, he wanted to be a musician. He began playing the drums and soon added guitar. Kravitz grew up listening to the music his parents listened to: R&B, jazz, classical, opera, gospel, and blues. "My parents were very supportive of the fact that I loved music early on, and they took me to a lot of shows," Kravitz said. Around the age of 7, he saw The Jackson 5 perform at Madison Square Garden, which became his favorite group. His father, who was also a jazz promoter, was friends with Duke Ellington, Sarah Vaughan, Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Bobby Short, Miles Davis and other jazz greats. Ellington even played "Happy Birthday" for him one year when he was about 5. He was exposed to the soul music of Motown, Stax, James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Al Green, Stevie Wonder, Curtis Mayfield, Gladys Knight, The Isley Brothers and Gamble and Huff growing up, key influences on his musical style. Kravitz often went to see New York theater, where his mother worked. His mother encouraged his dreams of pursuing music.
In 1974, the Kravitz family relocated to Los Angeles when Kravitz's mother landed her role on The Jeffersons. At his mother's urging, Kravitz joined the California Boys Choir for three years, where he performed a classical repertoire, and sang with the Metropolitan Opera. He performed in Mahler's Third Symphony at the Hollywood Bowl. It was in Los Angeles that Kravitz was first introduced to rock music, listening to Led Zeppelin, Kiss, Aerosmith, Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, Cream, and The Who. "I was attracted to the cool style, the girls, the rock 'n' roll lifestyle," Kravitz said. Kravitz's other musical influences at the time included Fela Kuti, Bill Withers, Marvin Gaye and Miles Davis; John Lennon and Bob Marley proved later to be influential as well. Kravitz attended Beverly Hills High School. Maria McKee and guitarist Saul Hudson (better known as Slash) were his classmates. In 1978, Kravitz was accepted into the school's well-respected music program. He taught himself to play piano and bass, and made friends with Zoro who would later become his long-time collaborator. Kravitz wanted to be a session musician. He also appeared as an actor in television commercials during this time.
Kravitz went to school enough to pass, but was spending more and more time jamming with friends. His parents became concerned, wanting him to have something to fall back on. At the age of 15, determined to have a music career, Kravitz moved out of his house. He stayed with friends, slept in friends' cars, and at one point was even sleeping in his Ford Pinto. Inspired by David Bowie, Kravitz adopted the nom de guerre, "Romeo Blue," a new persona complete with straightened hair and blue contact lenses, and began performing. Kravitz's music at this time was heavily influenced by the synth-laden funk pop of Prince. In 1982, Kravitz graduated from Beverly Hills High School and convinced his father to give him money to record instead of spending money on college. With his first demo, Kravitz received offers from several record labels, including I.R.S. Records, but Kravitz was told he needed to change his music to make it "black enough" to fit in with current radio-friendly R & B styles. "I refused," Kravitz told the Los Angeles Times in 1989.
1989-1990: Virgin Records and the career début
With record labels still telling him his music wasn't "black enough" or "white enough," Kravitz decided to record an album on his own. Kravitz had met recording engineer/keyboardist/bassist Henry Hirsch in 1985 when recording a demo at his Hoboken, New Jersey recording studio. The two shared an interest in using real instruments and vintage recording equipment, as well as a love of R&B, jazz, and rock. Kravitz would go on to collaborate with Hirsch on most of his albums. Kravitz began working on his debut album with Hirsch over the next year and a half, with Kravitz's father paying for the studio time. Kravitz met saxophonist Karl Denson and invited him to play on the song, "Let Love Rule". Kravitz was so impressed with his playing that Denson played on much of the album. Denson toured with Kravitz for the next 5 years. In October 1988, after completing most of the recording, Kravitz approached friend Stephen Elvis Smith who had served as the Music Supervisor on Bonet's spin-off of The Cosby Show, "A Different World". Smith had also worked with Kravitz' mother Roxie Roker, on the hit sitcom "The Jeffersons". Kravitz urged Smith to manage his career and assist him in finding a record deal. In less than a month of shopping the recordings, five labels (Warner Bros, Elektra, Geffen, Capitol and Virgin) were in a bidding war for Kravitz . Eventually a deal was made with Virgin Records in January 1989, and signed by Virgin A & R executive Nancy Jeffries. The label was excited about the music he was making, music inspired by his relationship with wife Bonet and their new daughter. On Smith's urging, Kravitz dropped the name Romeo Blue and reclaimed the Lenny Kravitz moniker. About his time as Romeo Blue, Kravitz said, "Ultimately, it got me back to myself. And when I finally did accept myself for myself, music started flowing out of me."
Kravitz released his debut album Let Love Rule on September 6, 1989, a combination of rock and funk with a general 1960s vibe. Music critics were mixed: some felt Kravitz was a gifted new artist, others felt he was overpowered by his musical influences. The album was a moderate success in the United States, but became an instant hit outside of the US, especially in Europe. Lisa Bonet directed the debut music video for the title track, "Let Love Rule". Stephen Smith signed Kravitz with talent booking agency CAA, who soon were fielding offers for Kravitz, first on a club tour, and then in opening slots for Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Bob Dylan and David Bowie. Having played essentially all of the instruments on the album, Kravitz had to quickly assemble a touring band to support the Let Love Rule release. They included a childhood friend, Zoro on drums (formerly of Bobby Brown's band), Adam Widoff (guitar), Lebron Scott (recruited out of Curtis Mayfield's band after seeing them perform in a NYC club), Kenneth Crouch (keyboards) and Karl Denson on saxophone.
In May 2009, a 20th Anniversary Deluxe Edition of "Let Love Rule" was released worldwide by Virgin. The double disk includes a booklet with rare photos, and 18 additional demos, bonus tracks and live recordings. Kravitz launched a LLR(20) tour of Europe and the United States in support of the re-release.
1991-96: popularity established
In 1990, Kravitz co-wrote with Ingrid Chavez and produced the song "Justify My Love" for Madonna. The song, which appeared on her greatest hits album The Immaculate Collection and created controversy because of its explicit video, went to #1 for two consecutive weeks. When MTV banned the video, the video was quickly made available for sale at record stores, and immediately sold over 500,000 copies. Kravitz separated from Lisa Bonet in 1991, amid rumors of an affair between him and Madonna. Kravitz has denied any infidelity. Kravitz and Bonet divorced in 1993.
In 1991, Kravitz produced the self-titled album Vanessa Paradis for French singer and actress Vanessa Paradis. He played most of the instruments and co-wrote most of the songs on the album. He also released his second album, Mama Said, which was his first album to reach the Top 40. The songs on the album were about Bonet and dedicated to her, documenting his depression over their breakup. Kravitz's biggest single yet, "It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over", went to #2 on the Billboard Hot 100. The single "Always on the Run", a tribute to his mother, featured Slash on guitar. "Stand By My Woman" and "What Goes Around Comes Around" followed. Sean Lennon co-wrote and played piano on the song, "All I Ever Wanted".
In 1993, Kravitz wrote "Line Up" for Aerosmith's Steven Tyler, and appeared on Mick Jagger's solo album, Wandering Spirit, in a cover of the Bill Withers' soul classic, "Use Me". That year Kravitz also got to work with idols Al Green and Curtis Mayfield.
In 1993, Are You Gonna Go My Way was released, reaching #12 on the Billboard 200 and Kravitz earned a BRIT Award for best international male artist in 1994. The title track won a MTV Video Music Award for Best Male Video for the video produced by Mark Romanek, in which Kravitz slung his dreadlocks and wore high-heeled platform boots. During the presentation of the MTV Video Music Awards, he performed the song with John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin on bass. Several singles from the album would follow including, "Believe", "Is There Any Love In Your Heart", and "Heaven Help/Spinning Around Over You". This album was the first to feature guitarist Craig Ross, who has also played on all his subsequent albums. One song, "Eleutheria", was influenced by the island Eleuthera in The Bahamas where Kravitz built a house and recording studio at that time. In 1993, he also released the EP, Spinning Around Over You, which included four live tracks from his "Universal Love Tour". A feature documentary about his 1994 tour entitled "Alive From Planet Earth" was directed by Doug Nichol and released.
In 1994, Kravitz recorded a funk-rock version of the song "Deuce", for the KISS cover album KISS My Ass: Classic KISS Regrooved. The track featured Stevie Wonder on harmonica and background vocals. This song was one of three radio singles from the album, and was also the album's lead-off track.
Roxie Roker, Kravitz's mother, died in California on December 2, 1995 of breast cancer at the age of 66.
In 1995, Lenny Kravitz released the album Circus, which went to number 10 on the Billboard chart on the back of his past achievement. However, the album only had two hit singles: "Rock and Roll Is Dead" and "Can't Get You Off My Mind".
1997-2000: Increasing success, 5 and first Grammy Awards
With 5 (1998), Kravitz embraced digital technology such as Pro Tools and samplers for the first time. 5 introduced his music to an even wider audience thanks to the hit single "Fly Away" being featured prominently in both car manufacturer and airline commercials. 5 would reach #28 on the Billboard 200, with "Fly Away" reaching #1 on multiple charts. He would win the first of his four consecutive Grammy for Best Male Rock Vocal Performance at the Grammy Awards of 1999. Other hits from the album included "If You Can't Say No", that was also remixed by dance producer Brian Transeau, and "I Belong to You". For the I Belong to You video Lenny can be seen without his signature dreadlocks. In 1999 he produced and sang with Cree Summer on her solo album Street Faerie.
His cover version of The Guess Who's hit "American Woman" won him another Grammy at the Grammy Awards of 2000 and helped The Guess Who's song reach a new audience. Kravitz's version of the song originally came from the soundtrack of Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me and was added to 5 as a bonus track in 1999.
Lenny worked on two songs for Michael Jackson's Invincible album released in 2001; those tracks are still unreleased but a snippet of "Another Day" has leaked.
Kravitz released a Greatest Hits album in 2000. It proved to be his most successful album, reaching #2 on the Billboard 200 and selling nearly 11 million copies worldwide and ultimately becoming one of the most commercially successful albums of the decade. The single "Again" earned him his third consecutive Grammy for the Best Male Rock Vocal in the Grammy Awards of 2001. Kravitz also co-wrote the song "God Gave Me Everything" with Mick Jagger in this period, appearing on Jagger's 2001 solo album Goddess in the Doorway and in the film Being Mick.
2001-05: Lenny and Baptism
Kravitz released his sixth album Lenny in October 2001. The album was recorded in Miami. Kravitz wrote the song "Bank Robber Man" after the Miami Police Department detained and cuffed him while walking to the gym with his trainer because police stated that he matched the description of a bank robber. Lenny did not have any identification with him at the time and the police on the scene did not believe that he was indeed Lenny Kravitz. The bank teller who was robbed was then brought to the scene and said Lenny was not the bank robber. Miami Police later sent officers to Lenny's home to apologize for the detention. When asked if he thought the incident was a case of racial profiling, Kravitz said he wasn’t sure although some of the lyrics in the song suggest otherwise. The first single from the album, "Dig In", went to number 1 in Argentina and the top 10 in Italy and Portugal. The video for "Dig In" was originally supposed to be shot at the top of the Empire State Building on September 12, 2001 but the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 caused the location to be moved. The video was later shot off the coast Miami. He won his fourth Grammy in 2002. "Stillness of Heart", "Believe in Me", and "If I Could Fall In Love" were subsequent singles from the album.
Kravitz was the subject of a photo book by former chief photographer for Rolling Stone, Mark Seliger. Published in November 2001, Seliger captures Kravitz on tour, with family, with friends and in posed portraits.
Jay-Z invited Kravitz to appear on the track "Guns and Roses" on his 2002 The Blueprint²: The Gift & the Curse. Kravitz would also join P. Diddy, Pharrell and Loon on the track "Show Me Your Soul" from the Bad Boys II Soundtrack.
In September 2002, Kravitz appeared alongside other rock stars in the episode "How I Spent My Strummer Vacation" of The Simpsons. In early 2003, Kravitz released the track "We Want Peace" as a download-only track as a protest against the 2003 invasion of Iraq, he performed this alongside famous Iraqi singer Kazem Al Saher at Rock The Vote. The track reached #1 on the world internet download charts and MP3.com download chart. Kravitz also appeared on Unity, the official album of the 2004 Athens Olympics.
In late 2004, Kravitz dated superstar actress Nicole Kidman and reportedly dedicated his hit song "Lady" to her. They split in 2005.
Kravitz's seventh album Baptism was released in May 2004. The first single was "Where Are We Runnin'?". The single "California" failed to be commercially successful, but "Storm", featuring Jay-Z, reached the charts. "Calling All Angels" was successful in various countries and a huge hit in Brazil, however it was "Lady" that became the album's surprise hit, making the US Top 30 and propelling "Baptism" to gold status. Also in 2004, he appeared on N.E.R.D's album Fly or Die. From March 2005, Kravitz toured all over the world with the tour Electric Church, which ended at the Brixton Academy, London in July 2005. Kravitz served as the opening act for Aerosmith who are long term friends of Kravitz on their fall 2005 tour. The tour began on October 30 at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut. The night before that tour started, October 29, 2005, Lenny's father TV Producer Sy Kravitz died. During that first show, Lenny broke the news to the stunned crowd and stated it was not a time to be sad but rather a time to celebrate because he is now in Heaven. Lenny then dedicated Let Love Rule to his father. That tour was so successful that it was extended through February 25, 2006 and ended in Anaheim, California.
2006-present: Live Earth, charity work and It Is Time For A Love Revolution
In January 2006, Kravitz contributed "Breathe" to absoluttracks, a project sponsored by Absolut Vodka. This song was re-mixed by ten musical producers and distributed via the internet.
Kravitz appeared in the audience of Madonna's Confessions Tour (2006) during numerous shows. He would later join Madonna live on stage to play guitar on the song, "I Love New York," at the last of four Paris shows.
Lately, Kravitz has founded a design firm named Kravitz Design, stating if he hadn't been a musician he would have been a designer. Kravitz Design, focused on interior and furniture design, has designed residential spaces, as well as a chandelier for the crystal company Swarovski, named "Casino Royale."
On July 7, 2007, Kravitz performed at the Brazilian leg of Live Earth in Rio de Janeiro, making him one of major international rock star to perform two huge free concerts at the world-famous Copacabana Beach along with Macy Gray and the Rolling Stones. Kravitz had already played there on March 21, 2005, drawing 300,000 people on a concert of his own. The Live Earth concert, with eight other acts on the bill, including Pharrell and Macy Gray, took 400,000 to the beach.
Also in 2007, Kravitz released a version of "Cold Turkey" by John Lennon on the charity CD Instant Karma: The Amnesty International Campaign to Save Darfur. Kravitz also spent time recording his latest album, It Is Time for a Love Revolution, released February 5, 2008. Another album, Funk, is scheduled to be released in early 2010. This is believed to be a project that Kravitz has been working on since 1997. Some of the original tracks for Funk were recorded while he was in New Orleans at Allen Toussaint's studio while taking a break for several months from recording in New York City.
On September 25, 2007, the Fats Domino tribute album "Goin' Home ; A Tribute To Fats Domino" was released. Kravitz was on the song "Whole Lotta Lovin'" along with Rebirth Brass Band, Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews, Fred Wesley, Pee Wee Ellis and Maceo Parker.
Kravitz performed at the Grey Cup halftime show in Toronto at the Rogers Centre on November 25, 2007, where the Saskatchewan Roughriders beat the Winnipeg Blue Bombers 23-19.
The original video for "I'll Be Waiting" was shot in Central Park in New York City with Marc Webb directing but that video was later shelved and a new version, which Kravitz co-directed with Philip Andelman, was filmed in Lenny's New York City recording studio. The video premiered on VH1's Top 20 Countdown at number 3.
On January 17, 2008, Kravitz embarked on a 9 city mini-tour to promote his new album It Is Time for a Love Revolution. The tour started in Santa Monica, California and ended in New York City on February 1. The tour was done in association with Myspace and called the "Get on the Bus" tour. At each stop on the tour, they would pick up one contest winner and their guest and they rode on the "Love Revolution" bus until the end of the tour. Steven Tyler of Aerosmith, a close friend of Lenny's would appear at The Orpheum Theater in Boston. The New York City winner, Tyrone Good was presented a train ticket from Penn Station to travel to Philadelphia and rode with the tour the rest of the way starting in Philadelphia (The Electric Factory), Boston (The Orpheum Theater), and finally New York City (The Hammerstein Ballroom). The winners were featured in the YRB February Edition alongside Lenny Kravitz in a magazine pull-out. The photo shoot took place at the Electric Factory in Philadelphia on stage. The winner's pull out was featured in another issue of YRB which had Lil' Wayne on the cover.
On February 11, 2008, Kravitz was admitted to Miami Hospital suffering from severe bronchitis. He had been suffering from a series of severe respiratory tract infections since mid-January, and the illness developed into bronchitis.
Kravitz's illness had forced him to postpone Canadian dates & his trip to Europe to promote his album It Is Time for a Love Revolution. On March 19, 2008 he canceled the South American part of his tour due to the same illness. The decision affected planned concerts in Colombia, Mexico, Brazil and Argentina. In Argentina Kravitz had a performance in the biggest rock festival there, Quilmes Rock Fest.
On July 15[year missing], Lenny was honored in Milan, Italy with the key to the city in a special toast ceremony for his work with the United Nations Millennium Campaign to end world poverty.[dead link]
Kravitz made his feature film acting debut in Precious which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2009.
During the Italian leg of his 53 date Let Love Rule (20)09 European tour, Kravitz had been instructed to cancel some shows due to a bad bout of bronchitis. Under strict orders from his doctor, the singer was told to rest so that he could make a quick recovery and return to the stage for the rest of his tour. Shows scheduled for Rome on June 5 and Brescia on June 6 were postponed to late July.
Kravitz's next album, tentatively titled Funk, will now be called Negrophilia and is set to be due out sometime in 2010. A video on Kravitz's Twitter page shows him working on one of the songs for the album, called Super Love, in his GTS studios in the Bahamas . Another video shows him working on another track titled Life Ain't Never Been Better Than It Is Now in his GTS Studios.
It was announced that Kravitz would be supporting U2 on their highly successful 360 Tour on the second North American leg in 2010. Kravitz agreed to support them for 4 shows. Though the shows were postponed until 2011, Kravitz remains committed for 4 of the shows.
In June 2010 it was announced that Kravitz would guest star on an episode of the upcoming season of Entourage.