Deborah Ann Harry (born Angela Tremble; July 1, 1945) is an American singer, songwriter, and actress, known as the lead singer of the new wave band Blondie. Her recordings with the band reached the number-one position in the United States and the United Kingdom on many occasions from 1978 to 1981 (and a sixth UK number-one in 1999). She is considered the first rapper to chart at number one in the U.S. owing to her work on "Rapture". Harry achieved success (mainly in Europe) as a solo artist before reforming Blondie in the late 1990s. Her acting career includes over 60 film roles and numerous television appearances.
Harry was born on July 1, 1945, in Miami, Florida. Initially named Angela Tremble, she was adopted at three months of age by Richard Smith Harry and Catherine (née Peters), gift shop proprietors in Hawthorne, New Jersey, and renamed Deborah Ann Harry. Harry learned of her adoption at four years old and later, in the late 1980s, she tracked down her birth mother, who refused to have any contact with her. Harry attended Hawthorne High School, from which she graduated in 1963. She graduated from Centenary College in Hackettstown, New Jersey, with an Associate of Arts degree in 1965. Before starting her singing career, she moved to New York City in the late 1960s and worked there as a secretary at BBC Radio's office for one year. Later, she was a waitress at Max's Kansas City, a go-go dancer in a Union City, New Jersey, discothèque, and a Playboy Bunny.
In the late 1960s, Harry began her musical career as a backing singer for the folk rock group The Wind in the Willows, which released an eponymously named album in 1968 on Capitol Records. The group also recorded a second album; it was never released, and the studio tapes remain lost.
In 1974, Harry joined the Stilettoes with Elda Gentile and Amanda Jones. Her eventual boyfriend and Blondie guitarist, Chris Stein, joined the band shortly after.
After leaving the Stilettoes, Harry and Stein formed Angel and the Snake with Tish Bellomo and Snooky Bellomo. Shortly thereafter, Harry and Stein formed Blondie, naming it after the term of address men often called Harry when she bleached her hair blonde. Members of Blondie quickly became regulars at Max's Kansas City and CBGB in New York City. After a debut album in 1976, commercial success followed in the late 1970s to the early 1980s, first in Australia and Europe and then in the United States.
1976–1979: Global success
With her distinctive photogenic features and two-tone bleached-blonde hair, Harry quickly became a punk icon. Her look was further popularized by the band's early presence in the music video revolution of the era. She was a regular at Studio 54.
In June 1979, Blondie was featured on the cover of Rolling Stone. Harry's persona, combining cool sexuality with streetwise style, became so closely associated with the group's name that many came to believe "Blondie" was the singer's name. The difference between the individual Harry and the band Blondie was highlighted with a "Blondie is a group" button campaign by the band in 1979.
Blondie released their debut album in 1976; it peaked at No. 14 in Australia and No. 75 in the UK. Their second album, Plastic Letters, garnered some success outside the United States, but their third album, Parallel Lines(1978), was a worldwide smash and shot the group to international success. It included the global hit single "Heart of Glass". Riding the crest of disco's domination, the infectious track hit #1 in the US and sold nearly two million copies. It also reached #1 in the UK and was the second highest-selling single of 1979. The band's success continued with the release of the platinum-selling Eat to the Beat album (UK #1, US #17) in 1979.
1980: Autoamerican & Warhol
Autoamerican (UK #3, US #7) was released in 1980. Blondie had further #1 hits with "Call Me", "The Tide Is High", "Atomic" (UK #1) and "Rapture" (US #1).
During this time, both Harry and Stein befriended graffiti artist Fab Five Freddy, who introduced them to the emerging hip-hop scene in the Bronx. Freddy is mentioned in "Rapture" and also makes an appearance in the video. Through him they were also able to connect with Grandmaster Flash.
Harry was immortalised by Andy Warhol in 1980, who produced a number of artworks of her image from a single photoshoot at the Factory. The artist created a small series of four acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas portraits of the star in different colours, as well as polaroids and a small number of rare silver gelatin prints from the shoot. Stein was also present that day to capture Warhol photographing Harry in a series of his own photographs, exhibited in 2013 in London. Harry joined Warhol's high profile subjects who included Jackie Kennedy and Elizabeth Taylor.
Her collaboration and friendship with Warhol continued and she was his first guest on the MTV show, Andy Warhol’s Fifteen Minutes. The first episode opened with Harry announcing the theme: "Sex, Vegetables, Brothers and Sisters."
Harry said of her relationship with Warhol, “I think the best thing [Andy Warhol] taught me was always to be open to new things, new music, new style, new bands, new technology and just go with it. Never get mired in the past and always accept new things whatever age you are.”
1981–1982: Blondie splits
In 1981, Harry issued a press release to clarify that her name was not "Debbie Blondie" or "Debbie Harry" but rather Deborah Harry, though Harry later described her character in the band as being named "Blondie", as in this quote from the No Exit tour book:
After a year-long hiatus, Blondie regrouped and released their sixth studio album, The Hunter. The album was not as successful as their previous works, and a world tour was cut short owing to slow ticket sales. It was around this time that Stein also fell seriously ill with the rare autoimmune disease pemphigus. His illness, along with declining record sales and internal struggles, led the band to split up.
1997 onwards: Blondie reforms
In 1997, Blondie began working together again for the first time in 15 years. The four original members (Harry, Stein, Clem Burke and Jimmy Destri) embarked on sessions for what would become Blondie's seventh studio album, No Exit (1999). The lead single from the album, "Maria", debuted at #1 in the UK, giving Blondie their sixth UK #1 hit. "Maria" also reached #1 in 14 different countries, the top 10 on the US Dance Charts, and Top 20 on the US Adult Top 40 Charts. No Exit debuted at #3 in the UK and #17 in the US.
The band continued to tour on an almost-annual basis for the next several years and continued to record, releasing the albums The Curse of Blondie (2003), Panic of Girls (2011), Ghosts of Download (2014), and Pollinator (2017), which debuted at #4 in the UK.
Harry also released her fifth solo album in 2007. During this time, she delineated the different personae (Blondie the band, her role in the band, and Deborah Harry the singer) to an interviewer who asked why she played only solo music on the 2007 True Colors Tour: "I've put together a new trio with no Blondie members in it. I really want to make a clear definition between Debbie's solo projects and Blondie, and I hope that the audience can appreciate that and also appreciate this other material." This was a longstanding issue with Harry, as the band name was often misconstrued as her own name. This led the band to feature a promotional slogan, "Blondie is a group."
Harry has released five solo albums. She began her solo career in 1981 with KooKoo. Produced by Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards of Chic, the album peaked at #25 in the US and #6 in the UK; it was later certified gold in the US and silver in the UK. The album's cover art was controversial, and many stores refused to stock it. "Backfired", the first single from the album, had a video directed by H. R. Giger (who also created the album's front cover featuring Harry's face with metal skewers through it). The single reached #43 on the Billboard Hot 100, #29 on the Hot Dance Club Songs, and #32 on the UK Singles Chart. "The Jam Was Moving" was lifted as the second single and peaked at No. 82 in the US.
After Blondie split up in 1982, Harry's solo output slowed down as she cared for ailing partner Chris Stein. She released the single "Rush Rush" in 1983 (produced by Giorgio Moroder and taken from the film Scarface), but this was unsuccessful. A new single, "Feel The Spin" (taken from the film Krush Groove), was released as a limited 12" single in 1985, but this also was unsuccessful.
In 1986, Harry released her second solo album, called Rockbird, which peaked at #97 in the US and #31 in the UK (where it has been certified gold for 100,000 sales by the BPI). The single "French Kissin' in the USA" gave Harry her only UK solo top 10 hit (#8) and became a moderate US hit (#57). Other singles released from the album were "Free to Fall" and "In Love with Love", which hit #1 on the US Dance Charts and was released with several remixes. "Liar, Liar" was recorded by Harry for the soundtrack album Married to the Mob in 1988 and was produced by Mike Chapman. It was their first collaboration since the 1982 Blondie album The Hunter.
Her next solo venture was the album Def, Dumb and Blonde in 1989. At this point Harry reverted from "Debbie" to "Deborah" as her professional name. The first single "I Want That Man" was a hit in Europe and Australia and on the US Modern Rock Charts. The success of the single propelled the album to #12 on the UK chart, where it earned a silver disc. However, with little promotion from her record company in the US, it peaked at #123. She followed this up with the ballad "Brite Side" and the club hit "Sweet and Low". "Maybe for Sure", a reworked version of "Angel's Song" she'd recorded for the Rock and Rule animated film, was the fourth single released from the album in June 1990 to coincide with a UK tour (her second in six months). The track "Kiss It Better" was also a Top 15 Modern Rock single in the US.
From 1989 to 1991, Harry toured extensively across the world with former Blondie guitarist Chris Stein, Underworld's Karl Hyde, and future Blondie bassist Leigh Foxx. In July 1991 she played Wembley Stadium, supporting INXS. In 1991, Chrysalis released a new "best of" compilation in Europe entitled The Complete Picture: The Very Best of Deborah Harry and Blondie, containing hits with Blondie as well as her solo hits. The collection reached #3 in the UK album chart and earned a gold disc. The album also included her duet with Iggy Pop of the Cole Porter song "Well, Did You Evah!" from the 1990 Red Hot + Blue AIDS charity album.
Harry's fourth solo album, Debravation, appeared in July 1993. The album's first single was "I Can See Clearly", which peaked at #23 in the UK and #2 on the US dance charts. This was followed by "Strike Me Pink" in September. Controversy surrounded the latter track's promotional video, which featured a man drowning in a water tank, resulting in its being banned. US editions of the album feature two additional tracks recorded with prerecorded music by R.E.M.: "Tear Drops" and a cover of Skeeter Davis's 1961 hit "My Last Date (with You)".
In November 1993, Harry toured the UK with Stein, guitarist Peter Min, bassist Greta Brinkman, and drummer James Murphy. The set list of the Debravation Tour featured an offbeat selection of Harry material including the previously unreleased track Close Your Eyes (from 1989) and Ordinary Bummer (from the Stein-produced Iggy Pop album Zombie Birdhouse, a track that, under the moniker Adolph's Dog, Blondie covered in 1997). Tentative plans to record these shows and release them as a live double CD never came to fruition. However, a cover of the Rolling Stones' "Wild Horses" is available as a bootleg. In early 1994, Harry took the Debravation tour to the US. In the UK, Harry's long tenure with Chrysalis Records also came to an end after lacklustre sales of Debravation, but the label released all of Blondie's albums and Harry's KooKoo album (for the first time on CD) as remastered editions with bonus tracks.
As Blondie had reconvened in the late 1990s, it was several years before Harry resumed her solo career. In 2006, Harry started work in New York City on tracks for her fifth solo album, Necessary Evil (released in 2007). Working with production duo Super Buddha (who produced the remix of Blondie's "In the Flesh" for the 2005 Sound and Vision compilation), the first music to surface in was a hip-hop track titled "Dirty and Deep" in which she spoke out against rapper Lil' Kim's incarceration.
Throughout 2006, a number of new tracks surfaced on Harry's Myspace page, including "Charm Alarm", "Deep End", "Love with a Vengeance", "School for Scandal", and "Necessary Evil", as well as duets she recorded with Miss Guy (of Toilet Böys fame). These were "God Save New York" and "New York Groove". A streaming version of the lead single, "Two Times Blue", was added to Harry's Myspace page in May 2007. On June 6, 2007, an iTunes downloadable version was released via her official website.
Also in 2007, Harry joined Cyndi Lauper's True Colors Tour for the Human Rights Campaign. She is a strong advocate for gay rights and same-sex marriage.
Harry's fifth solo album, Necessary Evil, was released in 2007 on Eleven Seven Music after Harry completed both a solo tour of the US in June 2007 and a European tour with Blondie in July 2007. The first single, Two Times Blue, peaked at #5 on the US Dance Club Play chart. The album peaked at #86 in the UK and #37 in the US Billboard Top Independent Albums chart. To promote the album, Harry appeared on various talk shows to perform Two Times Blue. She also started a 22-date US tour on November 8, lasting until December 9, playing small venues and clubs across the country. On January 18, 2008, an official music video for If I Had You was released.
In March 2015, Harry started a residency of several weeks at the Café Carlyle in New York.
Other musical projects
Marky Ramone of the Ramonesand Harry attend a screening of Burning Down the House, a 2009 documentary about CBGB's heyday.
While recording her fourth album in 1992, Harry collaborated with German post-punk band Die Haut on the track "Don't Cross My Mind" and released the song "Prelude to a Kiss" on the soundtrack to the film of the same name. She also released a cover of "Summertime Blues" from the soundtrack to the film That Night in Australia.
In the mid 1990s, Harry teamed up with New York avant-garde jazz ensemble the Jazz Passengers. Between 1994 and 1998 she was a permanent member of the troupe, touring North America and Europe. She was a featured vocalist on their 1994 album In Love, singing the track "Dog in Sand". The follow-up album, 1997's Individually Twisted, is credited as the Jazz Passengers featuring Deborah Harry, and Harry sings vocals throughout, teaming up with guest Elvis Costello for a cover of "Don'cha Go 'Way Mad". The album also features a rerecorded version of the song "The Tide Is High". A live album titled Live in Spain, again featuring Harry on vocals, was released in 1998.
Harry collaborated on a number of other projects with other artists. She is featured as vocalist on Talking Heads side project the Heads' 1996 release No Talking, Just Head, performing the title track and "Punk Lolita". She also sings on a cover of the Beatles' "Strawberry Fields Forever" and on the song "Estrella de Mar" by Argentine band Los Fabulosos Cadillacs from their 1995 album Rey Azúcar. In 1997 she collaborated with Jazz Passengers' Bill Ware in his side project Groove Thing, singing lead vocals on the club hit "Command and Obey". Another Jazz Passengers collaboration, "The City in the Sea", appeared on the Edgar Allan Poe tribute album Closed on Account of Rabies (1997). Harry also reunited with Blondie keyboardist Jimmy Destri for a cover of Otis Blackwell's "Don't Be Cruel" for the 1995 album Brace Yourself! A Tribute to Otis Blackwell. During this period, she also recorded a duet with Robert Jacks titled "Der Einziger Weg (The Only Way) - Theme from Texas Chainsaw Massacre", which was recorded in German and in English, although these did not surface until 1999.
Harry appears on the 2001 Bill Ware album Vibes 4 singing the track "Me and You" as well as on former Police guitarist Andy Summers's album Peggy's Blue Skylight on the track "Weird Nightmare". A techno cover of Stan Jones' "Ghost Riders in the Sky" was featured on the soundtrack to the 1998 film Three Businessmen, and was available on her website to download. Harry sings on two tracks on Andrea Griminelli's Cinema Italiano project: "You'll Come to Me" (inspired by Amarcord's main theme) and "When Love Comes By" (from Il Postino), as well as on a tribute album reinterpreting the music of Harold Arlen, on which she sings the title track "Stormy Weather". In May 2002, she accompanied the Jazz Passengers and the BBC Concert Orchestra in a performance of her jazz material at the Barbican Centre in London. In 2003, she was featured vocalist on the song "Uncontrollable Love" by DJ duo Blow-Up. She also sang on the version of " "Waltzing Matilda" recorded by Dan Zanes and Friends, released on the 2003 album House Party.
Harry also contributed to Fall Out Boy's 2008 album Folie à Deux, singing on the chorus of the album's closer "West Coast Smoker".
In 2010 Debbie Harry began a series of duets with Nick Cave for The Jeffrey Lee Pierce Sessions Project.
In 2014, Harry made a guest appearance with Arcade Fire at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.
In 2015, Blondie members Debbie Harry and Chris Stein made a guest appearance alongside The Gregory Brothers in an episode of Songify the News, and they collaborated again to parody the United States presidential election debates, 2016.
She appears on Future Islands 2017 LP "The Far Field" on the song "Shadows".