Remembering Laura Branigan on Her Birthday
By Stig-Åke Persson
July 1, 2016
Laura Ann Branigan was born on July 3, 1952 in Mount Kisco, New York at Northern Westchester Hospital. The Branigans lived at 8 Brundage Street, Armonk. As did many of the families who were members of Armonk’s Church of St. Patrick, Laura attended grade school at the Parish School of Saint John and Saint Mary in Chappaqua.
Since Saint John and Saint Mary Parish School stopped at eighth grade, most of the Armonk students then attended Byram Hills High School. In 1966, Branigan went to Byram Hills High School. She was a member of the Bobcats Junior Varsity Cheerleader Team and a member of the Byram Hills Track and Field Team.
During Laura's senior year in 1970, under the guidance of Gene Bissell, who was the Byram Hills High School Theater Director, she privately auditioned and was given the leading role in the musical ”The Pajama Game.” In a video interview, Bissell said Branigan told him that she wanted to pursue a career on Broadway. Byram Hills High School’s Laura Branigan Memorial Scholarship Award is still awarded to a senior for excellence in the performing arts.
Following her 1970 graduation from Byram Hills, Branigan attended The American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Manhattan until 1972. She played Pirate Jenny in Beggar's Opera.
Another American Academy of Dramatic Arts graduate was Walker Daniels, who played the lead role of Claude in the Off-Broadway production of Hair. Daniels, Chris Van Cleave, and Branigan formed the folk-rock group Meadow in 1972. Steve Mitchel and then Bob Valdez later joined the group.
Van Cleave mentioned in his “The Meadow Story” how he enjoyed visiting Armonk to meet Laura's family. During the summer of 1972, Meadow performed in several Armonk concerts at the gazebo in Wampus Brook Park.
Laura was a backup singer to Leonard Cohen, a Canadian entertainer, on his European tour from April to July 1976. In a video interview, Branigan said, “I learned from that, but that was the end of that. After that, I didn’t want to be a background singer.” She then started to audition for record companies. She said, “One thing I was sure of was my talent and nothing was going to stop me.”
In 1977, Branigan met Sid Bernstein, an American producer and concert promoter for some great British bands that he brought to the United States: The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Herman’s Hermits, The Moody Blues and The Kinks. He organized concerts for Branigan, as well as some other well-known performers: Frank Sinatra, Jimi Hendrix, Sly & the Family Stone, and The Rascals. Bernstein guided many talented people to find their spotlight.
In 1979, Branigan signed a contract with Ahmet Ertegun, Atlantic Records co-founder and president. “I was quite impressed with her after she sang two songs,” said Ertegun. He told her, “Laura, you are going to sign with Atlantic Records, and I think you are going to be a star.”
In 1982, “Gloria,” from Branigan’s debut album, was a turning point in her career as it became a Platinum hit single with Atlantic Records. She had success with other singles--“Solitaire,” “How Am I Supposed to Live Without You,” “Self Control,” “Spanish Eddie,” “Power of Love,” and “Turn the Beat Around”--and other releases that she performed worldwide.
Branigan met Laurence Ross Kruteck, a New York lawyer, in March 1978. They married in December of that same year. Kruteck was Laura’s manager during their years together. In 1994, Kruteck was diagnosed with cancer and he died in 1996 at the age of 60.
Laura then took a break from music. In 2002, she returned to the stage for Love, Janis, a New York City musical where she performed the role of Janis Joplin. In August 26, 2004, Branigan died in her sleep of a brain aneurysm. She was 52 years old.