Born in 1970 in Brooklyn, New York, singer Debbie Gibson got her start in the entertainment industry at a young age. After writing her first song at age 5, she became a teen pop star in the late '80s with hits like "Only in my Dreams," "Shake Your Love" and "Foolish Beat" before even graduating from high school. After the release of her successful album Electric Youth (1989), Gibson took a hiatus from music and began finding work on Broadway. While performing on the stage, she was praised for her performances in productions such as Beauty and the Beast (1997) and Gypsy (1998).
Deborah Ann Gibson was born on August 31, 1970, in Brooklyn, New York, and grew up in Merrick, New York. Gibson began taking piano lessons from Morton Estrin (who also taught Billy Joel) at the age of 5, and quickly proved herself a musical prodigy. She wrote her first song, "Make Sure You Know Your Classroom," at age 6, and in fifth grade she composed an opera. "It was called Alice in Operaland," Gibson recalls. "Alice encountered characters in famous operas."
In addition to composing, Gibson also started performing at a very young age. She began acting in community theater productions from the age of 5, and as an 8-year-old she joined the children's chorus at New York City's famed Metropolitan Opera House. Despite her busy schedule as a young songwriter and performer, Gibson found time to enjoy the pleasures of childhood. "I don't ever feel I was robbed of my childhood," she says. "I hung on to all that I could."
Gibson built a makeshift studio in her family's garage and began dedicating what little free time she had to writing and recording music. When she won $1,000 in a songwriting contest as a 12-year-old (for a song she had written called "I Come From America") Gibson's parents realized their daughter's musical talents might translate into a career. They hired Doug Breibart to serve as Gibson's manager, and Breibart taught her how to arrange, engineer and produce her own music. By the time she turned 15 in 1985, Gibson had recorded more than 100 of her own songs.
Teen Pop Star
Later that year, Gibson signed with Atlantic Records and began recording her debut album with famous music producer Fred Zarr. She released Out of the Blue in 1987, which rocketed to the top of the charts and made Debbie Gibson a pop icon virtually overnight. The album reached No. 7 on Billboard's Hot 100 Albums chart and was certified three times platinum. Her first two singles, "Only in my Dreams" and "Shake your Love," both peaked at No. 4 on the Billboard charts. The album's third single, "Foolish Beat," reached No. 1, making Gibson the youngest person in history to write, perform and produce a No. 1 single—a record she still holds today.
Debbie Gibson managed to live a double life as both a chart-topping recording artist and a seemingly normal student at Calhoun High, her local public school in Merrick. "I'd put on a baseball cap and no makeup, and nobody would recognize me," Gibson recalls. She graduated with honors in 1988 and even attended her senior prom after giving the DJ one condition: "I asked them not to play my records that night," Gibson remembers. "I didn't want to intrude on the evening."
Upon graduating from high school in 1988, Gibson immediately began work on another album. She released her second and most famous album, Electric Youth, in 1989, and it held the No. 1 spot on the Billboard charts for five weeks. The first single, "Lost in Your Eyes," also peaked at No. 1 on the charts, and Gibson shared the 1989 ASCAP Songwriter of the Year award with Bruce Springsteen. However, after Electric Youth Gibson's popularity as a pop star began to fade. In 1990, she released a third album, Anything is Possible, which peaked at No. 41, and in 1992 her fourth album, Body, Mind, Soul, failed to crack the top 100.
Gibson then took a hiatus from the pop music that defined her youth to remake herself—as Deborah rather than Debbie Gibson—as a stage actress. She made her Broadway debut as Eponine in the 1992 production of Les Miserables. Immediately after concluding her run in Les Mis, Gibson traveled to London to star as Sandy in a West End production of Grease. The production sold out for Gibson's entire nine-month run, shattering West End box office records.
Gibson switched parts to portray Rizzo in the Grease U.S. national tour before returning to Broadway for turns as Belle in Beauty and the Beast (1997) and Gypsy Rose Lee in Gypsy (1998). Fully established as a musical theater star, Gibson went on to land leading roles in virtually every popular Broadway musical of the time. Her notable performances include the narrator in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (2000); the title role in Cinderella (2001); Velma Kelly in Chicago (2002); and Sally Bowles in Cabaret (2003).
A versatile and enduring talent, Gibson's musical theater career in the 1990s and 2000s proved every bit as successful as her remarkable run as a 1980s pop sensation. In more recent years, Gibson has turned to educating and mentoring young girls hoping to make it in the entertainment industry. She founded Deborah Gibson's Electric Youth, a youth camp for arts education, in 2008, and a year later she founded the Gibson Girl Foundation to provide scholarships for underprivileged youngsters to study the arts.
Deborah Gibson still has her youthful good looks—something she credits to her longtime boyfriend, anti-aging specialist Dr. Rutledge Taylor. And while she is no longer a blonde-haired teenager hopping around to catchy dance hooks while sporting bangs, a leather jacket and her signature black hat, Gibson stays in touch with her youth in a more meaningful way.
She makes regular visits to the town where she was raised, Merrick, where she still knows her old friends and teachers by their first names, and where the faded green paint of her hopscotch board still marks the sidewalk outside of her childhood home. "When you hear the name Debbie Gibson," a childhood friend said, "the lights go on in Merrick."
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