As the face and sound behind one of new wave's most influential bands to emerge during the punk heyday of the '70s, Debbie Harry was the ultimate diva. She was the Blondie frontwoman, a vixen with hypnotically wild stage moves and an edgy cool voice. A killer sneer matched her signature blonde mop and made her a star.
Born in the summer of 1945 in Miami, Debbie Harry was adopted and raised by Richard and Catherine Harry in suburban New Jersey. She spent most of her young adult life working various jobs. Her initial start in music came in the late '60s with the folk-rock act Wind in the Willows. They'd only release one album, their eponymous debut for Capitol in 1968, but Harry had other plans. Her stint as a Playboy Bunny wasn't exactly what she had in mind, but her waitressing gig at Max's Kansas City eventually led her to the punk rock cliques taking over New York City during the '70s.
In 1973, Harry met Chris Stein, a graduate of New York's School of Visual Arts. Stein was impressed with Harry's tough persona and her all-girl rock group the Stilettos, and within a year Harry left the band and formed Angel & the Snake with Stein. By 1974, they'd christened themselves Blondie. Contrary to popular belief, their moniker wasn't derived from Harry's famous blonde mane; she took the phrase from the obnoxious truck drivers who catcalled "Hey Blondie, give us a screw" as she'd pass by. With drummer Clem Burke and ex-Knickers keyboardist Jimmy Destri, Blondie spent eight years winning the world over with their infectious post-punk sound. Singles "Heart of Glass," the reggae-tinged "The Tide Is High," and "Call Me" were major chart-toppers in America while Blondie's third album, Parallel Lines sold 20 million copies worldwide.
Harry went solo while Blondie was still hot. KooKoo, which was produced by Chic man Nile Rodgers, marked her solo debut in August 1981. It wasn't nearly as accessible or as polished as her work with Blondie, and perhaps because of that KooKoo earned a dismal number 28 position on the U.S. charts. The next year, Blondie issued Hunter and called it quits, or at least a break. Stein had fallen ill with a rare and generally fatal genetic disease called Pemphigus, and Harry stepped out of the spotlight to nurse her partner back to health. It would be five years until she'd sing again.
She returned in 1986 with Rockbird; critics loved it, and the Chuck Lorre-penned "French Kissin'" was a moderate radio hit. But almost as soon as she arrived, Harry disappeared, and she'd spend the latter part of the decade working on her acting skills. Going by "Deborah Harry," she appeared in an episode of Wiseguy on CBS in 1989 and, returning to music, released a third album, the Euro-dance inflected Def, Dumb & Blonde.
The '90s saw a much more reserved Debbie Harry, in the sense that she was enjoying her pop culture status and the simple life as well. She'd appeared in countless films by this time, most notably Videodrome (1982), Hairspray (1988), and the black comedy Six Ways to Sunday (1997). In 1993 she released Debravation, and she was also recording and touring with the avant-garde jazz troupe the Jazz Passengers, which she'd joined for their 1997 debut, Individually Twisted. She'd been working with Stein, Destri, and Burke again, too. A Blondie reunion was official in 1999 when the four of them released their first album in 17 years. No Exit showed an always stylish pop/rock sound from the band, and as a seasoned artist, Harry was as brilliant as ever. The album was a success, as was the accompanying tour, and in 2003 the follow-up, The Curse of Blondie, came out. Three years later the group was inducted in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and in 2007 Harry's next solo full-length (she had been involved in a variety of side projects in the break), Necessary Evil, was released. ~ MacKenzie Wilson