Sinead O'Connor Biography

8 December 1966, Dublin, Eire. This Irish singer combined her highly distinctive vocal range with striking post-feminist imagery to great commercial effect on both sides of the Atlantic, establishing herself in the late 80s and early 90s as one of the most potent left-field forces in popular music.

O’Connor endured a turbulent youth and diagnoses of ‘behavioural problems’, which included shoplifting and being expelled from school. She signed her first recording contract with Ensign Records in 1985. Her previous experience was limited to sessions with Dublin pop band Ton Ton Macoute. Nigel Grainge, the label’s co-manager, allowed her a full year to develop her knowledge of music and the industry by helping around the office, before the sessions for her debut album began. Through connections on the Dublin music scene, O’Connor provided the vocals to U2 guitarist The Edge’s soundtrack for The Captive. The track ‘Heroine’ was released by Virgin Records and stirred some interest when aired on BBC Television’s The Old Grey Whistle Test in 1986. O’Connor’s debut solo single, the disappointing ‘Troy’, emerged in late 1987, failing to capitalize on column inches seemingly generated only by the singer’s shaven head and striking features. Early 1988 saw ‘Mandinka’ reach the UK Top 20, and proved a more suitable showcase for O’Connor’s banshee-like attack. Although two subsequent singles failed to chart, The Lion And The Cobra sold well on the strength of ‘Mandinka’, and her media profile was bolstered by a series of highly opinionated interviews.

There was lull in O’Connor’s solo output during 1989 as she worked on a variety of collaborative projects. She also appeared in her first acting role as a 15-year-old Catholic schoolgirl in Hush-A-Bye Baby, a project developed by the Derry Film Workshop. It explored the moral dilemmas forced upon unmarried pregnant women in the province, and motherhood as a theme would become central in her work thereafter. To promote her second solo album, O’Connor chose the Prince -written ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’, originally recorded by Family for the Paisley Park label. A remarkable ballad that demonstrated the strength and vulnerability which are pivotal elements in the singer’s delivery, it transfixed audiences worldwide and topped the UK and US singles chart. The striking video, which focused on O’Connor’s face for four minutes and climaxed with her shedding a solitary tear, was given constant rotation on the MTV channel. Her second album, I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got, was a transatlantic number 1.

O’Connor’s 1990 tour of the USA prompted the first stirrings of a backlash. At the Garden State Arts Centre in New Jersey she refused to go on stage after ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ was played. It was her protest at the censorship that was sweeping the USA, but this fact was obscured under a wave of nationalistic vitriol from Frank Sinatra among others. It emerged in interviews that the artist was as troubled privately as her public persona may have suggested. Although the mother of a son, Jake, a series of miscarriages had been emotionally draining, catalogued in the tender singles ‘Three Babies’ and ‘My Special Child’. Her third album, 1992’s Am I Not Your Girl?, was a surprising collection of standards and torch songs which received mixed reviews.

Further controversy ensued later in 1992 when O’Connor tore up a photograph of the Pope on US television. Her appearance at the Bob Dylan celebration concert shortly afterwards was highly charged as she defied numerous hecklers by staring them out and performing a charged a cappella version of Bob Marley’s ‘War’, before being led from the stage by a reassuring Kris Kristofferson. In 1993, O’Connor appeared as a guest on Willie Nelson’s Across The Borderline, duetting as a substitute Kate Bush on Peter Gabriel’s ‘Don’t Give Up’. The following year’s Universal Mother found only marginal success compared to her previous efforts, leading to the suspicion that perhaps her sermonizing had begun to cloud the music. In 1997, she once again turned her hand to acting, ironically, as an Irish Virgin Mary in Neil Jordan’s The Butcher Boy, and released the low-key Gospel Oak EP.

In April 1999, O’Connor was ordained as a Catholic priest in an unofficial ceremony in Lourdes, France. The new Mother Bernadette Marie was immediately denounced by the Vatican. The following year’s Faith And Courage met with a warmer reception, but proved to be her final major label recording. She fulfilled a long-term ambition on her first independent label release Sean-Nós Nua, updating an album’s worth of traditional Irish songs. The following year the singer announced she was retiring from music, but true to form she later reversed her decision and announced a new recording contract with Sanctuary Records. Her first album for the label was 2005’s Sly And Robbie -produced roots reggae collection Throw Down Your Arms. Soon afterwards she parted company with Sanctuary and released the double disc Theology on the Rubyworks label. The album comprised an acoustic disc recorded in Dublin and a second CD featuring O’Connor backed by a full band and recorded in London.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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