Leonard Albert “Lenny” Kravitz (born May 26, 1964) is an American rock singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, record producer, actor and arranger, whose “retro” style incorporates elements of rock, soul, R&B, funk, reggae, hard rock,psychedelic, folk and ballads.
In addition to singing lead and backing vocals, Kravitz often played all the guitar, bass, drums, keyboards and percussion himself when recording. He is known for his elaborate stage performances and music videos.
He won the Grammy Award for Best Male Rock Vocal Performance four years in a row from 1999 to 2002, breaking the record for most wins in that category as well as setting the record for most consecutive wins in one category by a male.
Kravitz was born in New York City on May 26, 1964. He is the son of Roxie Roker, an actress known for her character Helen Willis in the 1970s hit television sitcom The Jeffersons, and Sy Kravitz, an NBC television news producer. His father was from a Russian Jewish family (with origins from Ukraine). His mother was of Afro-Bahamian and African-American descent, and was from a Christian family.
Kravitz is the second cousin of television weather presenter Al Roker. During his early years, Kravitz did not grow up in a religious environment. After a spiritual experience when he was thirteen, he started attending church, becoming a non-denominational Christian.
Kravitz was named after his uncle, Private First Class Leonard M. Kravitz, who was killed in action in the Korean War at the age of 20, while defending against a Chinese attack and saving most of his platoon; he was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross but was denied the Medal of Honor. On March 18, 2014 Private First Class Kravitz received the Medal of Honor in a ceremony that awarded it to 23 other servicemen who were passed because of their ethnicity.
Kravitz grew up spending weekdays on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, with his parents, attending P.S.6 for elementary school, and weekends at his grandmother Bessie (Mitchell) Roker’s house in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn.
Kravitz began banging on pots and pans in the kitchen, playing them as drums at the age of three. At the age of five, he wanted to be a musician. He began playing the drums and soon added guitar. Kravitz grew up listening to the music his parents listened to: R&B, jazz, classical, opera, gospel, and blues.
“My parents were very supportive of the fact that I loved music early on, and they took me to a lot of shows,” Kravitz said. Around the age of seven, he saw The Jackson 5 perform at Madison Square Garden, which became his favorite group. His father, who was also a jazz promoter, was friends with Duke Ellington, Sarah Vaughan, Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Bobby Short, Miles Davisand other jazz greats.
Ellington even played “Happy Birthday” for him one year when he was about 5. He was exposed to the soul music of Motown, Stax, James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Al Green, Stevie Wonder, Curtis Mayfield, Gladys Knight, The Isley Brothers and Gamble and Huff growing up who were key influences on his musical style. Kravitz often went to see New York theater, where his mother worked. His mother encouraged his dreams of pursuing music.
In 1974, the Kravitz family relocated to Los Angeles when Kravitz‘s mother landed her role on The Jeffersons. At his mother’s urging, Kravitz joined the California Boys Choir for three years, where he performed a classical repertoire, and sang with the Metropolitan Opera. He took part in Mahler’s Third Symphony at the Hollywood Bowl.
It was in Los Angeles that Kravitz was first introduced to rock music, listening to The Beatles, The Stooges, Led Zeppelin, Kiss, Aerosmith, Black Sabbath, Queen,Cream, and The Who. “I was attracted to the cool style, the girls, the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle,” Kravitz said. Kravitz’s other musical influences at the time included Fela Kuti, Bill Withers, Marvin Gaye, Pharoah Sanders and Miles Davis; John Lennon and Bob Marley proved later to be influential as well.
Kravitz attended Beverly Hills High School. Maria McKee, actor Nicolas Cage and musician Slash were his classmates. In 1978, Kravitz was accepted into the school’s well-respected music program. He taught himself to play piano and bass, and made friends with Zoro who would later become his long-time collaborator. Kravitz wanted to be a session musician. He also appeared as an actor in television commercials during this time.
With record labels still telling him his music wasn’t “black enough” or “white enough,” Kravitz decided to record an album on his own. Kravitz had met recording engineer/keyboardist/bassist Henry Hirsch in 1985 when recording a demo at his Hoboken, New Jersey recording studio. The two shared an interest in using real instruments and vintage recording equipment, as well as a love of R&B, jazz, and rock. Kravitz would go on to collaborate with Hirsch on most of his albums.
Kravitz began working on his debut album with Hirsch over the next year and a half, with Kravitz‘s father paying for the studio time. Kravitz met saxophonist Karl Denson and invited him to play on the song, “Let Love Rule.” Kravitz was so impressed with his playing that Denson played on much of the album. Denson toured with Kravitz for the next five years. In October 1988, after completing most of the recording, Kravitz approached friend Stephen Elvis Smith who had served as the Music Supervisor on Lisa Bonet‘s spin-off of The Cosby Show, A Different World.
Smith had also worked with Kravitz‘ mother Roxie Roker, on the hit sitcom The Jeffersons. Kravitz urged Smith to manage his career and assist him in finding a record deal. In less than a month of shopping the recordings, five labels (Warner Bros, Elektra, Geffen, Capitol and Virgin) were in a bidding war for Kravitz. Eventually a deal was made with Virgin Records in January 1989, and signed by Virgin A & R executive Nancy Jeffries.
The label was excited about the music he was making, music inspired by his relationship with wife Bonet and their new daughter, Zoe. On Smith’s urging, Kravitz dropped the name Romeo Blue and reclaimed the Lenny Kravitz moniker. About his time as Romeo Blue, Kravitz said, “Ultimately, it got me back to myself. And when I finally did accept myself for myself, music started flowing out of me.”
Kravitz released his début album Let Love Rule on September 6, 1989, a combination of rock and funk with a general 1960s vibe. Music critics were mixed: some felt Kravitz was a gifted new artist, others felt he was overpowered by his musical influences. The album was a moderate success in the United States, but became an instant hit outside of the US, especially in Europe. Lisa Bonet directed the debut music video for the title track, “Let Love Rule.”
Stephen Smith signed Kravitz with talent booking agency CAA, who soon were fielding offers for Kravitz, first on a club tour, and then in opening slots for Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Bob Dylan and David Bowie. Having played essentially all of the instruments on the album, Kravitz had to quickly assemble a touring band to support the Let Love Rule release.
They included a childhood friend, Zoro on drums (formerly of Bobby Brown’s band), Adam Widoff (guitar), Lebron Scott (bass guitar, recruited out of Curtis Mayfield’s band after seeing them perform in a NYC club), Kenneth Crouch (keyboards) and Karl Denson on saxophone.
In May 2009, a 20th Anniversary Deluxe Edition of “Let Love Rule” was released worldwide by Virgin. The double disk includes a booklet with rare photos, and 18 additional demos, bonus tracks and live recordings. Kravitz launched a LLR(20) tour of Europe and the United States in support of the re-release.
In 1990, Kravitz produced the song “Justify My Love” for Madonna, which he co-wrote with Ingrid Chavez. The song, which appeared on her greatest hits album The Immaculate Collection and created controversy because of its explicit video, went to number 1 for two consecutive weeks. When MTV banned the video, the video was quickly made available for sale at record stores, and immediately sold over 500,000 copies. Kravitz separated from Lisa Bonet in 1991, amid rumors of an affair between him and Madonna. Kravitz has denied any infidelity. Kravitz and Bonet divorced in 1993.
In 1991, Kravitz produced the self-titled album Vanessa Paradis for French singer and actress Vanessa Paradis. He played most of the instruments and co-wrote most of the songs on the album. He also released his second album, Mama Said, which was his first album to reach the Top 40. The songs on the album were about Bonet and dedicated to her, documenting his depression over their breakup.
Kravitz‘s biggest single yet, “It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over,” went to number 2 on the Billboard Hot 100. The single “Always on the Run,” a tribute to his mother, featured Slash on guitar. “Stand By My Woman” and “What Goes Around Comes Around” followed. Sean Lennon co-wrote and played piano on the song “All I Ever Wanted”.
In 1993, Kravitz wrote “Line Up” for Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler, and appeared on Mick Jagger‘s solo album, Wandering Spirit, in a cover of the Bill Withers soul classic “Use Me“, and played guitar on the title track of David Bowie‘s The Buddha of Suburbia. That year Kravitz also got to work with idols Al Green and Curtis Mayfield.
In 1993, Are You Gonna Go My Way was released, reaching number 12 on the Billboard 200 and Kravitz earned a BRIT Award for best international male artist in 1994. The title track won a MTV Video Music Award for Best Male Video for the video produced by Mark Romanek, in which Kravitz slung his dreadlocks and wore high-heeled platform boots. During the presentation of the MTV Video Music Awards, he performed the song with John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin on bass.
Several singles from the album would follow including, “Believe,” “Is There Any Love In Your Heart,” and “Heaven Help/Spinning Around Over You.” This album was the first to feature guitarist Craig Ross, who has also played on all his subsequent albums. One song, “Eleutheria,” was influenced by the island Eleuthera in The Bahamas where Kravitz built a house and recording studio at that time.
In 1993, he also released the EP Spinning Around Over You, which included four live tracks from his “Universal Love Tour”. A feature documentary about his 1994 tour entitled Alive From Planet Earth was directed by Doug Nichol and released.
In 1994, Kravitz recorded a funk-rock version of the song “Deuce,” for the KISS cover album KISS My Ass: Classic KISS Regrooved. The track featured Stevie Wonder on harmonica and background vocals. This song was one of three radio singles from the album, and was also the album’s lead-off track.
Roxie Roker, Kravitz‘s mother, died in California on December 2, 1995, of breast cancer at the age of 66.
In 1995, Lenny Kravitz released the album Circus, which went to number 10 on the Billboard chart on the back of his past achievement. However, the album only had two hit singles: “Rock and Roll Is Dead” and “Can’t Get You Off My Mind.”
With 5 (1998), Kravitz embraced digital technology such as Pro Tools and samplers for the first time. 5 introduced his music to an even wider audience thanks to the hit single “Fly Away” being featured prominently in both car manufacturer and airline commercials. 5 would reach number 28 on the Billboard 200, with “Fly Away” reaching number 12 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number 1 in the United Kingdom.
He would win the first of his four consecutive Grammy for Best Male Rock Vocal Performanceat the Grammy Awards of 1999. Other hits from the album included “If You Can’t Say No”, that was also remixed by dance producer Brian Transeau, and “I Belong to You.” For the I Belong to You video Lenny can be seen without his signature dreadlocks. In 1999 he produced and sang with Cree Summer on her solo album Street Faerie.
His cover version of The Guess Who’s hit “American Woman” won him another Grammy at the Grammy Awards of 2000 and helped The Guess Who’s song reach a new audience. Kravitz‘s version of the song originally came from the soundtrack of Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me and was added to 5 as a bonus track in 1999.
Kravitz released a Greatest Hits album in 2000. It proved to be his most successful album, reaching #2 on the Billboard 200 and selling nearly 11 million copies worldwide and ultimately becoming one of the most commercially successful albums of the decade. The single “Again” earned him his third consecutive Grammy for the Best Male Rock Vocal in the Grammy Awards of 2001 and peaked at number 4 on the US Billboard Hot 100. Kravitz also co-wrote the song “God Gave Me Everything” with Mick Jagger in this period, appearing on Jagger’s 2001 solo album Goddess in the Doorway and in the film Being Mick.
In 2001, Kravitz participated in a benefit auction for the Red Hot Organization, in conjunction with Amazon.com to increase public AIDS awareness, which ran from February 28 until April 11, 2001. The event featured rare RHO memorabilia and the work of Rolling Stone photographer Mark Seliger.
Kravitz released his sixth album Lenny in October 2001. The album was recorded in Miami. Kravitz wrote the song “Bank Robber Man” after the Miami Police Department detained and cuffed him while walking to the gym with his trainer because police stated that he matched the description of a bank robber. Kravitz did not have any identification with him at the time and the police on the scene did not believe that he was indeed Lenny Kravitz.
The bank teller who was robbed was then brought to the scene and said Kravitz was not the bank robber. Miami Police later sent officers to Kravitz‘s home to apologize for the detention. When asked if he thought the incident was a case of racial profiling, Kravitz said he wasn’t sure although some of the lyrics in the song suggest otherwise. The first single from the album, “Dig In“, went to number 1 in Argentina and the top 10 in Italy and Portugal.
The video for “Dig In” was originally supposed to be shot at the top of the Empire State Building on September 12, 2001 but the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 caused the location to be moved. The video was later shot off the coast Miami. He won his fourth Grammy in 2002. “Stillness of Heart”, “Believe in Me”, and “If I Could Fall In Love” were subsequent singles from the album.
Kravitz was the subject of a photo book by former chief photographer for Rolling Stone, Mark Seliger. Published in November 2001, Seliger captures Kravitz on tour, with family, with friends and in posed portraits.
Jay-Z invited Kravitz to appear on the track “Guns and Roses” on his 2002 The Blueprint²: The Gift & the Curse. Kravitz would also join P. Diddy, Pharrell and Loon on the track “Show Me Your Soul” from the Bad Boys II Soundtrack.
In September 2002, Kravitz appeared alongside other rock stars in the episode “How I Spent My Strummer Vacation” of The Simpsons. In early 2003, Kravitz released the track “We Want Peace” as a download-only track as a protest against the 2003 invasion of Iraq, he performed this alongside famous Iraqi singer Kazem Al Saher at Rock The Vote.
The track reached #1 on the world internet download charts and MP3.com download chart. Kravitz also appeared on Unity, the official album of the 2004 Athens Olympics, and performed a cover of “Have You Ever Been (To Electric Ladyland)” on the album Power of Soul: A Tribute to Jimi Hendrix.
Kravitz‘s seventh album Baptism was released in May 2004. The first single was “Where Are We Runnin’?“. The single “California” failed to be commercially successful, but “Storm”, featuring Jay-Z, reached the charts. “Calling All Angels” was successful in various countries and a huge hit in Brazil, however it was “Lady” that became the album’s surprise hit, making the US Top 30 and propelling Baptism to gold status.
Also in 2004, he appeared on N.E.R.D‘s album Fly or Die. From March 2005, Kravitz toured all over the world with the tour Electric Church, which ended at the Brixton Academy, London in July 2005. Kravitz served as the opening act for Aerosmith who are long term friends of Kravitz on their fall 2005 tour. The tour began on October 30 at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut. The night before that tour started, October 29, 2005, Lenny’s father TV Producer Sy Kravitz died.
During that first show, Lenny broke the news to the stunned crowd and stated it was not a time to be sad but rather a time to celebrate because he is now in Heaven. Lenny then dedicated Let Love Rule to his father. That tour was so successful that it was extended through February 25, 2006 and ended in Anaheim, California.
Kravitz appeared in the audience of Madonna’s Confessions Tour (2006) during numerous shows. He later joined Madonna live on stage to play guitar on the song, “I Love New York,” at the last of four Paris shows.
Kravitz founded a design firm named Kravitz Design, stating if he hadn’t been a musician he would have been a designer. Kravitz Design, focused on interior and furniture design, has designed residential spaces, as well as a chandelier for the crystal company Swarovski, named “Casino Royale.”
On July 7, 2007, Kravitz performed at the Brazilian leg of Live Earth in Rio de Janeiro, making him one of three major international rock stars to perform two huge free concerts at the world-famous Copacabana Beach along with Macy Gray and the Rolling Stones. Kravitz had already played there on March 21, 2005, drawing 300,000 people on a concert of his own. The Live Earth concert, with eight other acts on the bill, including Pharrell and Macy Gray, took 400,000 to the beach.
Also in 2007, Kravitz released a version of “Cold Turkey” by John Lennon on the charity CD Instant Karma: The Amnesty International Campaign to Save Darfur. Kravitz also spent time recording his latest album, It Is Time for a Love Revolution, released February 5, 2008.
On September 25, 2007, the Fats Domino tribute album “Goin’ Home ; A Tribute To Fats Domino” was released. Kravitz was on the song “Whole Lotta Lovin'” along with Rebirth Brass Band, Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews, Fred Wesley, Pee Wee Ellis and Maceo Parker.
The original video for “I’ll Be Waiting” was shot in Central Park in New York City with Marc Webb directing but that video was later shelved and a new version, which Kravitz co-directed with Philip Andelman, was filmed in Lenny‘s New York City recording studio. The video premiered on VH1’s Top 20 Countdown at number 3.
On January 17, 2008, Kravitz embarked on a 9 city mini-tour to promote his new album It Is Time for a Love Revolution. The tour started in Santa Monica, California and ended in New York City on February 1. The tour was done in association with Myspace and called the “Get on the Bus” tour. At each stop on the tour, they would pick up one contest winner and their guest and they rode on the “Love Revolution” bus until the end of the tour.
Steven Tyler of Aerosmith, a close friend of Lenny‘s would appear at The Orpheum Theater in Boston. The New York City winner, Tyrone Good was presented a train ticket from Penn Station to travel to Philadelphia and rode with the tour the rest of the way starting in Philadelphia (The Electric Factory), Boston (The Orpheum Theater), and finally New York City (The Hammerstein Ballroom).
The winners were featured in the YRB February Edition alongside Lenny Kravitz in a magazine pull-out. The photo shoot took place at the Electric Factory in Philadelphia on stage. The winner’s pull out was featured in another issue of YRB which had Lil’ Wayne on the cover.
On February 11, 2008, Kravitz was admitted to Miami Hospital suffering from severe bronchitis. He had been suffering from a series of severe respiratory tract infections since mid-January, and the illness developed into bronchitis.
Kravitz‘s illness had forced him to postpone Canadian dates and his trip to Europe to promote his album It Is Time for a Love Revolution. On March 19, 2008 he canceled the South American part of his tour due to the same illness. The decision affected planned concerts in Colombia, Mexico, Brazil and Argentina. In Argentina Kravitz had a performance in the biggest rock festival there, Quilmes Rock Fest.
During the Italian leg of his 53 date Let Love Rule (20)09 European tour, Kravitz had been instructed to cancel some shows due to a bad bout of bronchitis. Under strict orders from his doctor, the singer was told to rest so that he could make a quick recovery and return to the stage for the rest of his tour. Shows scheduled for Rome on June 5 and Brescia on June 6 were postponed to late July.
Kravitz‘s next album, tentatively titled Funk, was tentatively re-titled Negrophilia and was due out sometime in 2010. This is believed to be a project that Kravitz has been working on since 1997. Some of the original tracks for Funk were recorded while he was in New Orleans at Allen Toussaint‘s studio while taking a break for several months from recording in New York City.
A video on Kravitz‘s Twitter page shows him working on one of the songs for the album, called “Super Love“, in his GTS studios in the Bahamas. Another video shows him working on another track titled “Life Ain’t Never Been Better Than It Is Now” in his GTS Studios. On his Twitter page, Kravitz said that the album title was Negrophilia but then “felt like something else”. Eventually the album was later named Black and White America. The album was released on August 22, 2011 in Europe and August 30, 2011 in the U.S.
On February 20, 2011 the first single “Come on Get It” was released. On June 6, 2011 the second single “Stand” was released.
It was announced that Kravitz would be supporting U2 on their 360 Tour on the second North American leg in 2010. Kravitz agreed to support them for four shows. Though the shows were postponed until 2011, Kravitz remained committed for four of the shows.
In June 2010 it was announced that Kravitz would guest star on an episode of the upcoming season of Entourage. On May 23, 2011, Lionsgate announced that Kravitz would be joining the cast and crew of The Hunger Games, as Katniss’ creative stylist, Cinna. The movie was released on March 23, 2012.
On December 1, 2011, Kravitz was honored with one of the highest cultural awards in France when he was made an Officer of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by French cultural minister Frederic Mitterrand in Paris. Kravitz stated he was “particularly touched” to receive the award in France as his success in the country pre-dated his success in the United States and still enjoys great record sales in the country today. Kravitz joins other American recipients such as Martin Scorsese, George Clooney, and Bob Dylan.
On February 26, 2012, he performed at the Daytona International Speedway (several songs carried live on Fox) for the Daytona 500, the opening race of the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup season. A sample of “Are You Gonna Go My Way” was used in American singer Chris Willis‘s single “Too Much In Love”, released on August 16, 2011. On November 22, 2012, Lenny Kravitz performed during halftime of the Jets-Patriots Thanksgiving night game.
On September 23, 2014 Lenny Kravitz released his tenth studio album Strut on his own Roxie Records via Kobalt Label Services. On June 13 he announced that “The Chamber” will be the album’s first single. The single was released on June 24. On August 6 The song “Sex” was the album’s second single. On October 21 “New York City” was released as the album’s third single.
In 1985, Kravitz‘s parents divorced, which had a profound impact on him. His relationship with his father became extremely strained. Kravitz focused on his music to help him get through this period. That year, Kravitz met actress Lisa Bonet backstage at a New Edition concert. Bonet worked on The Cosby Show, the number one rated show on television.
They were close friends for two years before falling in love. Like Kravitz, Bonet is half African American and half Russian Jewish. Kravitz moved back to New York City where The Cosby Show was produced in 1987, moving in with then girlfriend Bonet. Kravitz and Bonet eloped to be married on November 16, 1987, her 20th birthday, in a Las Vegas ceremony. Kravitz, still known as Romeo Blue at the time, suddenly found himself in the headlines of tabloid newspapers.
They had a daughter,Zoë Isabella Kravitz, born on December 1, 1988. Kravitz and Bonet divorced in 1993. He then dated French singer and actress Vanessa Paradis until 1997. In 2001, he began dating model Adriana Lima. In 2002, the couple was engaged, but less than a year later, the engagement was called off.
Kravitz identifies himself as a Christian in a religious sense, “through choice but I’m also a Jew, it’s all the same to me”. During another interview Kravitz stated, “I’m half Jewish, I’m half black, I look in-between.” He also notes that spirituality “has been an important issue in my growth”, given his upbringing by parents of different faiths.
Such spirituality is prominently featured in many of his songs, such as the lyrics on his album Baptism, and having his back inscribed with a tattoo stating, “My Heart Belongs to Jesus Christ.” As late as 2011, Kravitz stated that his 2005 religious commitment to remain celibate until remarriage was unchanged.
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