Born in Florida in 1945, Debbie Harry met guitarist Chris Stein in the 1970s, and the two started a band that would later become the world-famous Blondie. Categorized as new wave (a genre of music shaped by styles that include punk, electronica, reggae and funk), Blondie eventually met commercial and critical success. The band's third album, Parallel Lines, catapulted Harry to stardom and the song "Heart of Glass" reached No. 1, later followed by other chart-toppers like "Call Me," "The Tide Is High" and "Rapture." With her musical know-how and mesmerizing aesthetics, Harry became a pop icon, influencing many female singers to come.
Background and Early Life
Debbie Harry was born Deborah Ann Harry on July 1, 1945, in Miami, Florida, and was adopted by Richard and Catherine Harry when she was 3 months old. Growing up in Hawthorne, New Jersey, Harry sang in the church choir. She tried college for two years before dropping out and moving to New York City. Having sang with the 1960s' band Wind in the Willows and worked as a Playboy Bunny, Harry ended up waiting tables at Max's Kansas City, a popular club that was part of the downtown art and music scene.
Harry later joined the Stilettos, a female trio, and met guitarist Chris Stein, who became a member of the group. Over time, Stein and Harry became romantically involved. In 1974, the two started the band which would eventually be known as Blondie. The burgeoning new wave act played many of the legendary clubs in New York, including CBGB.
Blondie's self-titled debut was released in 1976. The following year, the band toured in support of their second album, Plastic Letters, which scored a No. 2 spot on the British charts with single "Denis." Over the years, Blondie would continue to be a formidable force in the U.K.
Commercial Breakthrough: 'Parallel Lines'
Blondie's third album, the critically exalted Parallel Lines, helped catapult the band to pop music stardom. The disco/glam single "Heart of Glass" reached the top of the U.S. charts in 1978, while the campy, more traditionally rock-ish "One Way or Another" became a top 25 hit. Harry served not only as lead vocalist for the group but wrote many of its songs with Stein. With her white-blond hair, high cheekbones and commanding, cool style partially inspired by comic books and movies, Harry became a pop music icon. Harry was one of the few female recording artists to rise to the top and paved the way for later acts like Madonna.
Blondie continued to be successful with the group's next two albums Eat to the Beat (1979), which included "Dreaming" and "Atomic," and Autoamerican (1980), which featured two more No. 1 hits—the reggae/mariachi-influenced "The Tide Is High" and dance-rap number "Rapture." The band had also landed another No. 1 with the rock song "Call Me," a collaboration with producer/songwriter Giorgio Moroder that was featured on the soundtrack for American Gigolo (1980). Besides her work with the band, Harry found time to act in a few film projects as well, including Union City (1980) and Videodrome (1983).
Blondie broke up in 1982, as around this time Stein became ill with a rare skin disease. Harry took time out from her career to look after him. He recovered but their relationship didn't survive, though the two remained friends. Harry later revealed that she has also been romantically involved with women, though her longer-term relationships were with men. The singer has pointedly spoken about desire and intimacy throughout her life via interviews and her work.
Solo Career and Acting Projects
Harry also developed her craft as a solo artist, having released her debut album KooKoo, produced by Nile Rodgers, in 1981. Another solo effort, Rockbird, came forth in 1986, and she scored a minor domestic hit with the single "French Kissin'." (The track however reached the top 10 in Britain.) Her third album, Def, Dumb & Blonde, dropped in 1989, featuring top 20 U.K. hit "I Want That Man." She also continued to act in such films as John Waters's Hairspray (1988), Heavy (1995) and Six Ways to Sunday (1997), in addition to appearing on television series like Wiseguy and The Adventures of Pete & Pete.
Switching musical styles, Harry joined the Jazz Passengers as lead vocalist for their 1997 album Individually Twisted. That same year, she reunited with her Blondie bandmates to tour in Europe. Their first album together in more than 15 years, No Exit, was released in 1999. The album's song "Maria" hit the top of the charts in England but wasn't received as well in the U.S. The group was later inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2006.
Harry has continued to perform and act. In 2006, she appeared in the theatrical dance production The Show (Achilles Heels) and the independent film Full Grown Men. More recently, she has had her music with Blondie featured on several popular TV series, including Ghost Whisperer, Smash and Glee. More than a decade after her 1993 album Debravation, Harry released another solo project, Necessary Evil (2007).
After Blondie reunited and released No Exit, they continued to work together on several projects. In 2004 they released their eighth studio album, The Curse of Blondie, featuring the top 20 U.K. single "Good Boys." Then in 2008 the group went on tour to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Parallel Lines, followed by the release of the album Panic of Girls (2011).
In 2014, the band released its tenth studio album, Ghosts of Download, bundled with re-recorded versions of greatest hits. The following year Harry appeared on the Hulu original series Difficult People. She has also campaigned for fair pay to artists in an age of streaming, citing what she deems as the lack of appropriate compensation given to musicians/singers by online video site YouTube.
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