Laura Ann Branigan (July 3, 1952 – August 26, 2004) was an American singer, songwriter, and actress best known for her 1982 platinum-certified hit “Gloria” and for the top-5 single “Self Control”. Branigan is also remembered for the top-10 song “Solitaire”, and for the No. 1 Adult Contemporary (AC) hit “How Am I Supposed to Live Without You”, as well as several other U.S. top-40 songs.
Branigan also contributed songs to notable motion picture and television soundtracks, including the Grammy and Academy Award-winning Flashdance soundtrack (1983), the Ghostbusters soundtrack (1984), and the Baywatch soundtrack (1994). Her signature song “Gloria” by Umberto Tozzi stayed on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 for 36 weeks, at the time a record for a female artist; the song holds a place in the top-100 singles of both 1982 and 1983.
Branigan died at her home in 2004 from a previously undiagnosed cerebral aneurysm.
Life and career
Branigan was born in Mount Kisco, New York, 4th of five children of Kathleen O’Hare-Branigan (1921-2006) and James H. Branigan, Sr. (1914-1984).
Laura grew up and lived in Armonk, New York, where she attended Byram Hills High School in 1966-1970, starring in the high school musical The Pajama Game in her senior year. In 1970-1972 she attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City. Working as a waitress until in 1972 she met acoustic guitarist Walker Daniels and his future wife Sharon Storm and acoustic guitarist Chris Van Cleave, forming the folk-rock band Meadow (named as a good place for Paul McCartney’s band Wings to land in) with bass player Stephen Trees (Replaced by Bob Valdez 1973), which in 1973 released their debut album The Friend Ship, featuring the singles When You Were Young, and Cane and Able, which featured the hook line “Throw away your cane and you are able”. The record was not properly promoted and never re-released. The band broke up, after which Walker Daniels committed suicide. Branigan preferred not to discuss her involvement with Meadow publicly.
During the years after Meadow broke up, Branigan had various jobs, including a stint as one of Leonard Cohen’s backup singers for his European tour in April–August 1976.
In December 1978 after meeting him at a party in Manhattan, New York, earlier in the year, Branigan married Larry Ross Kruteck (1936-1996), a lawyer 16 years her senior; he died of colon cancer on June 15, 1996.
In 1979, after a chance meeting with manager Sid Bernstein on her return from Europe, Branigan was signed by Ahmet Ertegun to Atlantic Records. The strength and range of her voice actually impeded her career for several years while the label went through the process of categorizing her as a pop singer, and her 1981 single “Looking Out for Number One”, from her unreleased album Silver Dreams, made a brief appearance on the U.S. dance chart, reaching No. 60. Two other early Atlantic singles, “Tell Him” and “Fool’s Affair”, followed. None of these three singles (or the B-side, “When”) were included on her first album, but all four songs were eventually released on CD over 30 years later in 2014 as bonus cuts on a U.S. CD reissue of Branigan’s first album. (Other bonus cuts include the 12″ extended single versions of “Gloria” and “Looking Out For Number One”, as well as a previously unreleased song intended as a B-side.) But by then the music fans were tiring of disco and wanted a new sound.
Branigan’s 9-track debut album, Branigan, was released in March 1982. The first single from the album was “All Night With Me”, which reached No. 69 on the Billboard charts in early 1982. The album alternated four energetic up-tempo songs with five ballads, including one of the few songs written solely by Branigan, “I Wish We Could Be Alone”. “Gloria”, an Italian love song recorded in 1979 by Umberto Tozzi and successful in several European countries, was released as the album’s second single. Branigan’s version was reworked with Tozzi’s own arranger, Greg Mathieson, who updated its production with fellow producer Jack White to give it what Branigan called “an American kick” to match the new English lyrics. U.S. radio stations were initially unreceptive to “Gloria”; the song’s combination of American and European sound predated the imminent second “British invasion” of popular music by several months, but after it was embraced by dance clubs it eventually won them over, becoming one of the biggest hits of the 1980s. The album went gold, and the single was eventually certified platinum (sales of more than two million U.S. copies).
Branigan’s performance of “Gloria” was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance alongside Linda Ronstadt, Olivia Newton-John, Juice Newton, and that year’s winner, Melissa Manchester, becoming her only solo nomination. The following year she received a second nomination as one of the various artists on the Flashdance original soundtrack album when it was nominated for album of the year. The album also won the Best Soundtrack Grammy, but as this award is given only to the composers, Branigan was not nominated.
In the spring of 1983 Branigan released her second album Branigan 2. By this time the dramatic European synthpop sound was on the rise, and Branigan’s vocals propelled her English-language version of the French song Solitaire toward the top of the U.S. charts. The original “Solitaire” was written and recorded in 1981 by French singer-songwriter Martine Clemenceau. In addition to cementing a place in pop history and ensuring she was not a one-hit wonder, her second album’s two big hits began the careers for two then-unknowns, who themselves became industry legends: The English translation of “Solitaire” was the first major hit for songwriter Diane Warren, while the album’s second hit single, the ballad How Am I Supposed to Live Without You was the first major hit for its co-writer Michael Bolton. Branigan’s version reached No. 12 on the hot 100 and spent three weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard adult contemporary chart.
The 1983 film Flashdance contained “Gloria” and a new Laura Branigan song Imagination; the latter song was included on the Grammy Award winning Flashdance soundtrack, which reached No. 1 and sold more than six million copies in the U.S. alone.
Height of her career
During the height of her career, Branigan also made acting appearances, first in 1979 in “Ein Unbekanntes Talent” for German television, and then after the success of “Gloria”, guest appearances on American television series such as CHiPs (“Fox Trap”, season 6, episode 16, in which she played Sarah, lead singer of the female rock band Cadillac Foxes), Automan and Knight Rider. She would later do independent films including Mugsy’s Girls (aka Delta Pi, 1985) with Academy Awards winner Ruth Gordon, and the Australian film Backstage. She sang on major national television and radio campaigns for products including Dr Pepper, Coca-Cola and Chrysler, which sponsored her 1985-1986 “Hold Me” tour.
The year 1984 was the height of the European synthpop era, and “Self Control”, the title track of Branigan’s third album, released in April 1984 became her biggest hit internationally, topping the charts in over six countries, most notably West Germany, where it spent six weeks at No. 1. The original version. recorded a few months earlier in 1984 by one of the song’s co-writers Raffaele Riefoli under the name “Raf” held the West German number 2 spot during this time period; outside of Raf’s native Italy, Branigan’s version enjoyed more success, hitting No. 4 in the U.S. The song was featured on episode #8 of the first season of the TV series Miami Vice titled “The Great McCarthy”, which aired on November 16, 1984.
Other pop, disco, and adult contemporary hits from Branigan’s Self Control album include “The Lucky One” (which won her a Tokyo Music Festival prize), the continental ballad “Ti Amo” (another Umberto Tozzi hit, and a No. 2 hit in Australia for Branigan) and the dance hit “Satisfaction”. The album also featured an understated version of Carole King’s “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow”; as a counterpoint to all the dance productions, it was a bare-bones piano version. (In concerts and television appearances throughout her career, Branigan accompanied herself on the piano for the song.)
Branigan’s vocal coach was Carlo Menotti, and she worked with Steve Lukather (Toto), Dann Huff (Giant) and Michael Landau; keyboardists Greg Mathieson, Harold Faltermeyer, Michael Boddicker and Robbie Buchanan; bassists Nathan East and Dennis Belfield (Rufus); drummers Carlos Vega and Doane Perry (Jethro Tull); percussionists Paulinho Da Costa and Lenny Castro; and guest vocalists including Joe “Bean” Esposito and background vocalists including The Waters Sisters (Maxine and Julia), James Ingram, and Richard Page and Stephen George (Mr. Mister). As her stature grew, she attracted Grammy-winning producers including Phil Ramone, Richard Perry and David Kershenbaum. She performed duets with John Farnham as well as Latin pop artist Luis Miguel.
In 1984 Branigan’s live show was recorded twice, for a syndicated radio concert series and a concert video. Branigan was also nominated for an award at the American Music Awards of 1985 for favorite pop/rock female video artist, won by Cyndi Lauper. Also in 1985 Branigan performed the main theme song for the television mini-series Hollywood Wives, based on the novel by Jackie Collins.
By the time Branigan’s fourth album Hold Me was released in July 1985, “Self Control” was a worldwide success. The hits continued with “Spanish Eddie”, which was her sixth U.S. Billboard top 40 pop hit in two and a half years. The subsequent single release “Hold Me” was a U.S. top-40 dance hit, and Branigan’s introduction of the rock ballad “I Found Someone” (co-written by Michael Bolton, a later hit for Cher) scored even higher on the adult contemporary chart. However, neither song was supported by a music video and stalled at the low end of the hot 100 chart. On June 13, 1985 Branigan made her fourth appearance on legendary TV music show American Bandstand, performing “Spanish Eddie” and “Hold Me”. On July 4, 1985 she performed in Point State Park in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Branigan’s fifth album Touch (released July 7, 1987) marked a change in her career. Under new management and using different producers, Branigan took a more active role in her work and in the studio, seeing her return to dance floors with the Stock-Aitken-Waterman-produced track “Shattered Glass” written by Bob Mitchell and Steve Coe, of the band Monsoon. “Shattered Glass” was performed by Branigan on the last episode of American Bandstand (hosted by Dick Clark) on September 5, 1987, becoming their last guest performer. The album also included a return to the Billboard top-40 with her cover of Jennifer Rush’s “Power of Love”, which was one of the 20 bestselling singles in the U.S. during the Christmas season. The album’s third single “Cry Wolf”, a top-30 AC hit, did not capture the attention of pop radio stations and stalled; the ballad was recorded two years later by Stevie Nicks, and more recently by writer Jude Johnstone.
Branigan’s sixth album Laura Branigan (March 21, 1990) brought her back to the Hi-NRG charts and gay clubs with “Moonlight On Water”, and she scored a top-30 adult contemporary hit with “Never in a Million Years”. Branigan added production to her list of credits with her cover of Vicki Sue Robinson’s disco-era “Turn the Beat Around” and the atmospheric “Let Me In,” a cover of an Eddie Money song. The album also includes Unison, which was the title track for Celine Dion’s English debut CD in the same year. The album’s closing track, a cover of Bryan Adams’ “The Best Was Yet to Come” was produced and arranged by Branigan. The 1990-1991 Laura Branigan Tour, which was kicked-off with an appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson on July 13, 1990 was followed by a performance in the Trump Regency Showroom in Atlantic City, N.J. on July 14, and filmed for a syndicated U.S. television show SRO in Concert, which was released on videocassette and laserdisc (not DVD); on July 15, 1990 she performed at the Warwick Musical Theatre in Rhode Island.
On Branigan’s seventh and final studio album Over My Heart (August 17, 1993), the singer again produced (with Phil Ramone), and wrote and arranged. It included “Didn’t We Almost Win It All” (by Branigan and Brian BecVar) (released as the first single), a cover of Cher’s song “Hard Enough Getting Over You” (released as the second single), a cover of the Patty Loveless single “How Can I Help You Say Goodbye”, a cover of Roxette’s song “The Sweet Hello, the Sad Goodbye”, and “Is There Anybody Here But Me?” (Pessis, Wells), a smooth mid-tempo number.
After 1993 Branigan’s chart success cooled in the U.S., though she was still in demand around the world and went on several global tours. Not long after the Over My Heart album’s release, Branigan left the music industry in 1994 to spend more time with her husband (since 1978) Larry Kruteck following his colon cancer diagnosis.
Branigan had official greatest hits collections released in South America, Japan, Germany, South Africa, and the U.S.; the U.S. collection was released in 1995. The 13-track The Best of Branigan included two newly recorded covers: “Show Me Heaven” (written by Maria McKee) and the Donna Summer hit “Dim All the Lights”, which Branigan released in several remixes.
On August 15, 1995 Branigan was a guest on the TV show Talking Food, hosted by Robin Leach and broadcast by the Food Network, where she promoted the album and sang the Donna Summer hit before preparing her Summer Delight pasta dish on the show.
In early 2001 Branigan’s return to the stage was postponed when she broke both of her femurs in a 10-foot fall from a ladder while hanging wisteria outside her three-bedroom lakeside home in Westchester County, New York, which landed her in physical therapy for six months. In 2002 she performed twice as the “singing” Janis Joplin in the off-Broadway musical Love, Janis, before dropping out of the show. “I left Janis because the producers didn’t file with Equity properly,” she told the Sunday News in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. “I was sort of relieved. My voice isn’t anything like Janis Joplin’s, and there were 19 of her songs in the show.”
Also in 2002 her second official United States hits collection The Essentials: Laura Branigan was released, including the long out-of-print hit “I Found Someone”.
Branigan died in her sleep at her lodge in East Quogue, New York, on August 26, 2004. The cause was attributed to a previously undiagnosed ventricular brain aneurysm. It was reported in the media that she had been experiencing headaches for several weeks before her death but did not seek medical attention. Her ashes were scattered over Long Island Sound.
Atlantic Records 1985
Atlantic Records 1984
Atlantic Records 1983
Atlantic Records 1982