British musician Peter Gabriel started the prog rock group Genesis in the 1960s. Since breaking from the band in 1975, he has gone on to enjoy tremendous success as a solo artist. His 1986 album So featured such hits as “Sledgehammer, “Big Time” and “In Your Eyes.” Gabriel later released Us (1992) and Up (2002). He is also one of the founders of the WOMAD Foundation and Real World Records.
Peter Gabriel was born on February 13, 1950, in Woking, England, and grew up on a farm in Coxhill near Chobham. His father, Ralph, was an electrical engineer and avid inventor. His mother, Edith, passed down her love of music to her son. After attending local schools in his early youth, in 1963 Gabriel attended boarding school at Charterhouse in Godalming.
At Charterhouse, Gabriel explored his interest in music, eventually forming the band Garden Wall with keyboard player Tony Banks, guitarist Anthony Phillips and bassist Mike Rutherford. In 1967, on the advice of a producer, they changed the name of their prog rock ensemble to Genesis.
The Genesis Years
With Gabriel serving as the group's frontman, Genesis released its first single, "The Silent Sun," in 1968, and the following year put out its debut album, From Genesis to Revelation. Though the record failed to attract much notice, its follow-up effort, Trespass, fared better, and by 1971’s Nursery Cryme the band had begun to catch on with listeners, just cracking the UK’s Top 40 album chart. (It was also the first album to feature their new drummer, future hitmaker Phil Collins.)
Genesis's next release, 1972’s Foxtrot, climbed higher, reaching the No. 12 spot, and Selling England by the Pound (1973) did even better, reaching No. 3 in England, as well as charting in the U.S. More than their studio recordings, however, by this point the band was perhaps best known for its live shows, which featured Gabriel's intriguing onstage performances involving costumes and props.
Genesis continued to thrive professionally over the next couple years, but at the same time, tensions began to emerge within the band, due in part to the fact that Gabriel took time away from the group to work on a project with director William Friedkin. As he later told Rolling Stone, "Genesis, at that time, were not into anyone having extracurricular activities. And there was also a certain jealousy, because as frontman I was being credited as sole creative source of the band, which was really unfair.”
Gabriel’s last album with Genesis was 1974’s The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. And following a tour to support the record, Gabriel left the band. Phil Collins took over as frontman of Genesis following his departure, and the group went on to enjoy a lasting period of success. In 2010 Gabriel and the other members were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
But Gabriel's notable talents would soon lead to an even greater solo career. In 1977, he released his first self-titled album, which featured the single "Solsbury Hill" and made both the U.K. Top 10 and the U.S. Top 40. Quickly following up this initial effort, Gabriel released his second self-titled record the next year. But it was with his third self-titled album, released in 1980, that he experienced his first major success on the music charts. The song “Games Without Frontiers” was a Top 5 hit in Britain and made the Top 40 in the U.S. It also included the track “Biko,” written about slain anti-Apartheid activist Steve Biko. Gabriel would later write on his website that it “became a very important song for me. I’d not written an overtly political song before and was wondering if it would be accepted.”
At the same time that he was exploring his political consciousness, Gabriel was also nurturing his interest in other forms of creative expression, and he helped found the World of Music, Arts and Dance (WOMAD). The first WOMAD international arts festival was held in 1982 and has enjoyed a successful run ever since.
Further branching out, Gabriel also made his first foray into soundtrack work, composing the music for the 1985 drama Birdy starring Matthew Modine.
With his fifth studio album, So (1986), Gabriel outdid all of his previous efforts, hitting No, 1 in the U.K. and No. 2 in the U.S. Its energetic, catchy single “Sledgehammer” became his first No. 1 song, propelled in part by a creative accompanying video, and the rhythmically driven “Big Time” reached No. 2. Gabriel also demonstrated his gift for slower, more dramatic songs, such as “Don’t Give Up” and "In Your Eyes," with the latter drawing a cult following after it was featured in the soundtrack of Cameron Crowe's iconic 1989 teen-romance film Say Anything.
But superstardom did not lessen Gabriel's personal convictions, and around this time he also participated in two tours for Amnesty International. His soundtrack work was thriving as well, and he won his first Grammy Award in 1990 for his score for Martin Scorsese’s film The Last Temptation of Christ.
Gabriel returned to the rock music scene with 1992’s Us, which featured such popular songs as “Steam” (No. 2) and "Digging in the Dirt” (No. 1), both of which earned Gabriel Grammy wins with their imaginative music videos.
Nearly a decade after Us, Gabriel released Up (2002), which failed to match the success of his earlier efforts. Still, songs such as “Signal to Noise” and “The Barry Williams Show” received positive notice. More recently, Gabriel worked on a pair of themed albums: First came Scratch My Back (2010), which offered listeners Gabriel’s take on the music of other artists. Many of these artists returned the favor by covering some of Gabriel’s classic songs on And I’ll Scratch Yours (2013). The following year, he received an even greater honor was he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a solo artist. In early 2016, Gabriel announced an upcoming tour with Sting, scheduled for the summer.
Gabriel is married to Meabh Flynn. The couple has two sons together, Isaac and Luc. Gabriel also has two daughters, Anna and Melanie, from his first marriage to Jill Moore.
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