Born in Weehawken, New Jersey, on April 27, 1948, singer Kate Pierson started the B-52s in 1976 in Athens, Georgia. The group went on to become one of the most popular bands of the late 1980s and early '90s, with hits including "Love Shack," "Channel Z" and "Rock Lobster."
Catherine "Kate" Pierson was born in Weehawken, New Jersey, on April 27, 1948. A true child of the 1960s, Pierson spent her junior high school years worshipping at the altar of Bob Dylan. The future star even emulated her hero by joining a local folk group that sang primarily protest songs. But it wasn't long before pop music took hold as her true passion when the Beatles made their debut. Like millions of other Americans, Pierson first fell in love with the Fab Four while watching their famed 1964 appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. "I became a total fan," she later recalled. "I remember seeing them being interviewed on TV and was just wild about them. Of course, when the singles came, my best friend and I had big arguments about our favorite Beatle. I still have an 'I Love John' button from that time." Later on in high school, Pierson would join her first band, The Sun Doughnuts.
Pierson's next musical collaboration (with a similarly creative name), the B-52s, began spontaneously in Hunan's Restaurant in Athens, Georgia. One October night in 1976, Fred Schneider, Keith Strickland, Cindy Wilson, Ricky Wilson, and Pierson drank Flaming Volcano cocktails and then kicked off a jam session that would lead to the rise of a hit band. The name "B-52s" came from a southern slang expression for the outrageous 'bouffant' hairdo, a style that would later become Pierson's signature look.
The band's first gig came in 1977 at a friend's Valentine's Day party, but the B-52s would soon move on to bigger venues, frequently making weekend trips to New York City to perform. Trying to tap into the post-punk underground scene, the B-52s played all over the city at famed spots like CBGB and Max's Kansas City, slowly building a reputation as the next big thing. Looking back at the B-52s' rise to stardom, Pierson said, "we were in a vacuum, because we were always driving, so we didn't really have a sense about how our audience was building. We played Hurrah's one time, and we were looking out the window of the dressing room, and Ricky said, 'What are those people standing around in line down there?' And someone said, 'That's your line for people waiting to get in.' That was the first moment I was like, 'Oh my god, we're rock stars.'"
While their music was a genre-bending mix of garage rock and new wave, the B-52s' aesthetic was pure thrift store. The band quickly became known for their wild and wooly performances, attracting a mishmash of fans from all walks of life. "We always appealed to people outside the mainstream," says Pierson, "and I think more people feel they're outside the mainstream these days."
The band's first major hit was "Rock Lobster," a classic party track from their self-titled debut album. That 1979 record sold over half a million copies and the B-52s soon signed a major-label record deal. It wasn't long before the band enjoyed bountiful airtime on the radio and MTV. They began touring worldwide and working on more records, gathering steam as the years went by. Their next studio album (Wild Planet, 1980) delivered hits such as "Private Idaho" and "Strobe Light."
In 1985, Pierson and her bandmates suffered a tragic blow when guitarist Ricky Wilson died from AIDS. Wilson's death came just after the B-52s finished recording their album Bouncing Off the Satellites, which was released in 1986. After a brief hiatus, the band came back with what critics called their best album, Cosmic Thing, featuring singles like "Channel Z" and "Love Shack." The latter became the band's best-known song, eventually peaking at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States. In Australia, where the B-52s were perhaps most beloved, "Love Shack" held the top spot on the charts for eight weeks.
In 1990, Pierson collaborated with Iggy Pop on a song called "Candy," landing in the Top 40. The songstress would later collaborate on multiple hit songs with stars ranging from R.E.M. to Fatboy Slim. Rediscovering her love for the Beatles, Pierson also sang on the album From a Window: Lost Songs of Lennon and McCartney.
Between singing and touring, Pierson found the time to open and design Kate's Lazy Meadow Motel in upstate New York. She calls it her "cabin fever fantasy," and while the rustic cabins certainly overlook the Catskill Mountains, the decor is less log-cabin and more '50s cool, complete with wild colors and vintage appliances.
Still a musician first and foremost, Pierson continues to play and tour with the B-52s and shows no sign of slowing down. When a reporter asked her when might be the right time to retire, Pierson replied in true B-52s party-girl fashion: "When it's not fun anymore."
In August 2015, Pierson married her longtime girlfriend Monica Coleman in Hawaii.
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