k.d. (Kathryn Dawn) lang. Singer, songwriter, born Edmonton 2 Nov 1961; hon LLD (Alberta) 2008.
k.d. (Kathryn Dawn) lang. Singer, songwriter, born Edmonton 2 Nov 1961; hon LLD (Alberta) 2008. Raised in Consort, Alta, the youngest of four children of a druggist and a primary school teacher, k.d. lang began singing and tap-dancing at five, and as a teenager entertained at weddings and sang folk and country music locally.
After studying music at Red Deer College, she began her career in Edmonton, appearing in a musical, Country Chorale, in 1981, and subsequently performing under her own name at the Sidetrack Café. In 1984, the second of two recordings she made for the independent Bumstead label formed the basis for a raucous live show featuring lang's band, The Reclines, that was equal parts performance art and rockabilly. Claiming to be the reincarnation of US country star Patsy Cline, k.d. lang adopted punk elements to create a persona that was both attractive and baffling. In Canada, she drew attention by appearing at the 1985 Juno awards in a wedding dress, while US appearances at the influential Bottom Line club in New York City and on television talk shows attracted positive reviews in major media. She toned down her eccentricities to record in Nashville in the late 1980s, and won mainstream success in 1988 for a duet recording with Roy Orbison.
In the 1990s, lang became the centre of controversy for her stance against the beef industry and for announcing her lesbianism in 1992. A natural iconoclast, she has for years eschewed the use of capital letters in her name.
She took up acting briefly, appearing in the films Salmonberries and Eye of the Beholder. By the late 1990s she was confounding fans and journalists yet again, by disappearing from music for several years and endorsing MAC cosmetics in contradiction to her earlier stance against makeup. By 2004, k.d. lang had settled into an unclassifiable niche, living in Los Angeles, recording for the specialty label Nonesuch, and keeping the focus squarely on her unique voice.
Launching her career at the peak of the 1980s' independence-minded post-punk era, lang recorded "Friday Dance Promenade"(1983) and A Truly Western Experience (1984) for the Bumstead label. The latter recording, which was re-released by WEA International in 1999, included rockabilly tunes like "Bopalena," a Cline song, "Stop, Look and Listen," and originals by k.d. lang and her bandmates. In 1985, lang signed with Sire Records, which released Angel with a Lariat in 1987. The album continued the rootsy rockabilly feel of her early recordings and introduced lang's new collaborator, violinist Ben Mink. In 1987, two projects with Nashville veterans Orbison and producer Owen Bradley set the stage for lang's international breakthrough. Released in 1988, the duet "Cryin'" revealed the power and purity of lang's voice, allowing her to match Orbison's tenor to great effect. Shadowland: The Owen Bradley Sessions (1988) established lang's country bona fides, bringing her together with Cline's producer as well as Nashville legends Loretta Lynn, Kitty Wells and Brenda Lee. The album stayed on the country charts for 121 weeks and sold more than 100,000 copies in Canada. Her follow-up, Absolute Torch and Twang (1989), bridged her country roots and her future in pop music and represented the full flowering of her collaboration with Mink, with whom she co-wrote eight of 12 songs. Three singles from the album ("Full Moon of Love," "Three Days," and "Luck in My Eyes") hit the charts.
In 1992, k.d. lang released Ingenue, her first true pop recording, which spawned the international hit "Constant Craving." Her next recording, released in 1993, was a soundtrack for a film adaptation of Tom Robbins's novel Even Cowgirls Get the Blues; it failed to find commercial success. All You Can Eat (1995) was another disappointment, drawing savage reviews. Switching to Warner Brothers Records, lang released the concept album Drag in 1997, playing up her androgynous sexuality on the cover and performing a dozen songs related to smoking. Invincible Summer (2000) showed a new, upbeat side of her songwriting, buoyed by dreamy, string-heavy production. Although a live recording was released in 2001, it was four years before lang released another studio album, Hymns of the 49th Parallel (2004), a showcase for Canadian songwriters from Leonard Cohen to Ron Sexsmith. While the record was a hit in Canada, it failed to crack the top 50 in the US. In 2008, lang released Watershed, a collection of previously unreleased demos. A retrospective album, Recollection, followed in 2010.
k.d. lang's early shows in support of her first independent recordings established her as an unpredictable performer with a well-developed sense of theatricality. Showcases in New York City and on live television were important in establishing her in the US, and led directly to her signing with an international label. Later tours in the mid-1980s toned down her manic energy in favour of an increased focus on her voice, helping her to win over a more sophisticated audience. As her career moved closer to the mainstream, so did her venues, including high-profile concert halls in major cities around the world, sometimes backed by symphony orchestras. Her touring schedule grew lighter in the 1990s, and included a three-year hiatus. While the popularity of her recordings flagged after the success of Ingenue, she has remained a compelling concert draw, and in 2002 launched a successful tour with singer Tony Bennett. Lang's memorable rendition of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah," performed at the opening ceremonies of the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, won a Juno nomination for single of the year in 2011.
Awards and Recognition
Lang has won numerous Juno awards since being named the most promising female vocalist in 1985, along with four Grammy awards. In 1996, she was named an Officer of the Order of Canada. She was honoured with the Governor General's National Arts Centre Award in 2005 and was inducted into the Canadian Walk of Fame in 2008. In 2013, lang was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame.
A musical chameleon with exceptional vocal range and clarity, k.d. lang is one of several singers who have made Canadian women a force in popular music around the world.
For a complete list of recordings, please visit k.d. lang's official website linked in the Links to Other Sites below.
Lacey, Liam. "Country's punk queen," Toronto Globe and Mail, 1 Nov 1984
Stern, Perry. "Sustaining the edge," Canadian Musician, vol 9, Apr 1987
Jennings, Nicholas. "A bracing breeze from Western Canada," Maclean's, 30 May 1988
Lacey, Liam. "'I enjoy an odd kind of stardom,'" Toronto Globe and Mail, 3 Jun 1989
Druckman, Howard. "Hot dawg," Toronto Metropolis, 19 Oct 1989
Jones, Christopher. "Canada's country sensation leaves cartoon caricature behind for musical maturity," Toronto Now, 26 Oct-1 Nov 1989
"The k.d. lang interview," Toronto StarWeek, 11-18 Nov 1989
Gillmor, Don. "The reincarnation of Kathryn Dawn," Saturday Night, Jun 1990
Robertson, William. k. d. lang: Carrying the Torch (Toronto 1992)
Starr, Victoria. k. d. lang: All You Get is Me (Toronto 1994)
Pareles, Jon. "k.d. lang leaves metaphor behind," New York Times, 8 Oct 1995
Lang, Robert, ed. Contemporary Canadian Musicians (Toronto 1997)
Collis, Rose. k. d. lang (Bath 1999)
Teel, Gina. "Disappearance of k.d. lang: Millions of fans want to know: Has Consort's famous singer run out of breath?" BC Report, 27 Sep 1999
Hajdu, David. "Queer as folk," New York Times, 18 Aug 2002
Shorto, Russell. "The next cultural establishment," New York Times Magazine, 3 Oct 2004