chapter  7
Bellbottoms, Bluebelles, and the Funky-Ass White Girl
Pages 22

At one point in Danzy Senna's nave! CaucaJia, the primary character, fifteen-year-old Birdie Lee, is derisively described as "Qyeer." Such a term would have likely heen a fitting description ofLaura Nyro. As a taddlert Nyro 5ar at the feet of her piano-tuning, trumpet-playing farher and "composed" little melodies, effectively haniog the songwriting and vocal skills that would mark her 1966 debut, More Than a New Discovery (Verve,later reissued by Columbia as The First Songs in 1973). "Q1leer" indeed was this teenaged white-girl, who could be seen standing on the corner of the High School of the Performing Ans singing doo-wop, challenging our romantic sensibilitics that somehow these corners were solely the provinces of masculine fantasies. Like Birdie Lee, who with her sister Cole created a mysticallanguage called "Elemeno" and devel-

oped an affinity for passing, Nyro found some comfort in crossing borders and challenging conventions. (Nyro regularly created words in her songwriting, the term surry from the chorus to "Stone Soul Picnic" being a prime example.) Never formally trained as a pianist, Nyro developed her own unique style. According to her father, Nyro "didn't even have a knowledge of chords; she'd figure them on her own and memorize them."l The shifting, sliding textures ofNyro's 1968 recording, Eli and the Thirteenth Confession, are apt metaphors for those comforts. As the Bronx-born bohemian girl who helped define the female singersongwriter a few years before Carole King's Tapestry, Nyro could claim a long line of progeny including Suzanne Vega, Tori Amos, Rickie Lee Jones, Teena Marie, Kate Bush, and Patti LaB elle. It was with LaBelle and her "soul sisters" Nona Hendrix ("I Sweat ... ") and Sarah Dash that Nyro recorded her groundbreaking 1971 album Conna Take a Miracle. Released over thirty years ago, the recording encapsulates the risktaking, note-bending, genre-bounding style that made Nyro one of the most fascinating and evocative pop vocalists of the late 1960s and early 1970s.