Sinéad Marie Bernadette O'Connor (/ʃɪˈneɪd oʊˈkɒnər/; born 8 December 1966) is an Irish singer-songwriter who rose to fame in the late 1980s with her debut album The Lion and the Cobra. O'Connor achieved worldwide success in 1990 with a cover of Prince's song "Nothing Compares 2 U".
Since then, while maintaining her singing career, she has occasionally encountered controversy, partly due to her statements and gestures--such as her ordination as a priest despite being a woman with a Roman Catholic background--and her strongly expressed views on organised religion, women's rights, war, and child abuse.
In addition to her nine solo albums her work includes many singles, songs for films, collaborations with many other artists and appearances at charity fundraising concerts.
1 Early life,
2 Musical career
3.1 Saturday Night Live performance
3.1.1 Madonna's reaction,
3.2 Bob Dylan tribute performance,
3.3 After Dark appearance,
3.4 Open letter to Miley Cyrus,
4 Personal life
4.1 Personal image,
4.6 Political beliefs,
8 Further reading,
9 External links,
O'Connor was born in Glenageary in County Dublin and was named after Sinéad de Valera, wife of Irish President Éamon de Valera and mother of the doctor presiding over the delivery, and Saint Bernadette of Lourdes. She is the third of five children, sister to Joseph, Eimear, John, and Eoin. Joseph O'Connor is a novelist.
Her parents are Sean O'Connor, a structural engineer later turned barrister and chairperson of the Divorce Action Group, and Marie O'Connor. The couple married young and had a troubled relationship, separating when Sinéad was eight. The three eldest children went to live with their mother, where O'Connor claims they were subjected to frequent physical abuse. Her song "Fire on Babylon" is about the effects of her own child abuse, and she has consistently advocated on behalf of abused children. Sean O'Connor's efforts to secure custody of his children in a country which routinely denied custody to fathers and prohibited divorce, motivated him to become chairman of the Divorce Action Group and a prominent public spokesman. At one point, he even debated his wife on the subject on a radio show.
In 1979, O'Connor left her mother and went to live with her father and his new wife. However, at the age of 15, her shoplifting and truancy led to her being placed in a Magdalene Asylum, the Grianán Training Centre run by the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity. In some ways, she thrived there, especially in the development of her writing and music, but she also chafed under the imposed conformity. Unruly students there were sometimes sent to sleep in the adjoining nursing home, an experience of which she later commented, "I have never--and probably will never--experience such panic and terror and agony over anything."
One of the volunteers at Grianán was the sister of Paul Byrne, drummer for the band In Tua Nua, who heard O'Connor singing "Evergreen" by Barbra Streisand. She recorded a song with them called "Take My Hand" but they felt that at 15, she was too young to join the band.
In 1983, her father sent her to Newtown School, an exclusive Quaker boarding school in Waterford, an institution with a much more permissive atmosphere than Grianan. With the help and encouragement of her Irish language teacher, Joseph Falvey, she recorded a four-song demo, with two covers and two of her own songs which later appeared on her first album.
Through an ad she placed in Hot Press in mid-1984, she met Colm Farrelly. Together they recruited a few other members and formed a band called Ton Ton Macoute. The band moved to Waterford briefly while O'Connor attended Newtown, but she soon dropped out of school and followed them to Dublin, where their performances received positive reviews. Their sound was inspired by Farrelly's interest in world music, though most observers thought O'Connor's singing and stage presence were the band's strongest features.
On 10 February 1985, O'Connor's mother was killed in a car accident which, despite their strained relationship, devastated her. Soon afterward she left the band, which stayed together despite O'Connor's statements to the contrary in later interviews, and she moved to London.
O'Connor's time as singer for Ton Ton Macoute brought her to the attention of the music industry, and she was eventually signed by Ensign Records. She also acquired an experienced manager, Fachtna O'Ceallaigh, former head of U2's Mother Records. Soon after she was signed, she embarked on her first major assignment, providing the vocals for the song "Heroine", which she co-wrote with U2's guitarist The Edge for the soundtrack to the film Captive. O'Ceallaigh, who had been fired by U2 for complaining about them in an interview, was outspoken with his views on music and politics, and O'Connor adopted the same habits; she defended the actions of the Provisional IRA and said U2's music was "bombastic". She later retracted her IRA comments saying they were based on nonsense, and that she was "too young to understand the tense situation in Northern Ireland properly".
Things were contentious in the studio as well. She was paired with veteran producer Mick Glossop, whom she later publicly derided. They had differing visions regarding her debut album and four months'-worth of recordings were scrapped. During this time she became pregnant by her session drummer John Reynolds (who went on to drum with the band Transvision Vamp). Due largely to O'Ceallaigh's efforts of persuasion, the record company allowed O'Connor, 20 years old and by then seven months pregnant, to produce her own album.
Her first album The Lion and the Cobra was "a sensation" when it was released in 1987 and it reached gold record status and earned a Best Female Rock Vocal Performance Grammy nomination. The single "Mandinka" was a big college radio hit in the United States, and "I Want Your (Hands on Me)" received both college and urban play in a remixed form that featured rapper MC Lyte. In her first US network television appearance, O'Connor sang "Mandinka" on Late Night with David Letterman in 1988. The single "Troy" was also released as a single in the UK and Ireland. A club mix of "Troy" would become a major US dance hit in 2002.
Artists that influenced her at that time were Bob Dylan, David Bowie, Bob Marley, Siouxsie and the Banshees and The Pretenders.
Her second album 1990s I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got gained considerable attention and mostly positive reviews : it was rated "second best album of the year" by the NME. She was praised for her voice and her original songs. She was also noted for her appearance: her trademark shaved head, often angry expression, and sometimes shapeless or unusual clothing.
In 1989 O'Connor joined The The frontman Matt Johnson as a guest vocalist on the band's album Mind Bomb, which spawned the duet "Kingdom of Rain".
The album I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got featured Marco Pirroni and Kevin Mooney, of Adam and the Ants fame, and contained her international breakthrough hit "Nothing Compares 2 U", a song written by Prince and originally recorded and released by a side project of his, The Family. Aided by a memorable and well received video by John Maybury which consisted almost solely of O'Connor's face as she performed the song, it became a massive international hit, reaching No. 1 in several countries. In Ireland it hit the top spot in July 1990 and remained there for 11 weeks; it is the eighth most successful single of the decade there. It had similar success in the UK, charting at No. 1 for 4 weeks, and in Germany (No. 1 for 11 weeks). In Australia, it reached No. 1 on the Top 100. It also claimed the No. 1 spot on the Hot 100 chart in the US. She also received Grammy nominations including Record of the Year and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance. She eventually won the Grammy for Best Alternative Music Performance, but boycotted the award show.
I don't do anything in order to cause trouble. It just so happens that what I do naturally causes trouble. I'm proud to be a troublemaker.
NME, March 1991
Hank Shocklee, producer for Public Enemy, remixed the album's next single, "The Emperor's New Clothes", for a 12-inch that was coupled with the Celtic funk of "I Am Stretched On Your Grave." Pre-dating but included on I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got was also "Jump in the River", which originally appeared on the Married to the Mob soundtrack; the 12-inch version of the single had included a remix featuring performance artist Karen Finley. Also in 1990, O'Connor starred in a small independent Irish movie Hush-a-Bye Baby directed in Derry by Margo Harkin.
In 1990, she joined many other guests for former Pink Floyd member Roger Waters' massive performance of The Wall in Berlin. (In 1996, she would guest on Broken China, a solo album by Richard Wright of Pink Floyd.) In 1991, her take on Elton John's "Sacrifice" was acclaimed as one of the best efforts on the tribute album Two Rooms: Celebrating the Songs of Elton John & Bernie Taupin.
In 1990, she contributed a cover of "You Do Something to Me" to the Cole Porter tribute/AIDS fundraising album Red Hot + Blue produced by the Red Hot Organization. In 1998, she worked again with the Red Hot Organization to co-produce and perform on Red Hot + Rhapsody. Red Hot + Blue was followed by the release of Am I Not Your Girl?, an album of standards and torch songs that she had listened to while growing up. Also in 1992, she contributed backing vocals on the track "Come Talk To Me", and shared vocals on the single "Blood of Eden" from the studio album Us by Peter Gabriel.
Also in 1990, she was criticised after she announced that she would not perform if the United States national anthem was played before one of her concerts. Frank Sinatra threatened to "kick her ass". After receiving 4 Grammy Award nominations she withdrew her name from consideration.
After spending nine years dividing her time between London and Los Angeles, O'Connor returned to her home town of Dublin in late 1992 to live near her sister and focus on raising her son Jake, then six years old. She spent the following months studying Bel Canto singing with teacher Frank Merriman at the Parnell School of Music. In an interview with The Guardian published 3 May 1993 she reported that her singing lessons with Merriman were the only therapy she was receiving, describing Merriman as "the most amazing teacher in the universe."
The 1993 soundtrack to the film In the Name of the Father featured "You Made Me the Thief of Your Heart", with significant contributions from U2 frontman Bono.
The more conventional Universal Mother (1994) did not succeed in restoring her mass appeal. She toured with Lollapalooza in 1995, but dropped out when she became pregnant. The Gospel Oak EP followed in 1997, and featured songs based in an acoustic setting. It too, did not recapture previous album successes.
In 1994, she appeared in A Celebration: The Music of Pete Townshend and The Who, also known as Daltrey Sings Townshend. This was a two-night concert at Carnegie Hall produced by Roger Daltrey of The Who in celebration of his 50th birthday. A CD and a VHS video of the concert were issued in 1994, followed by a DVD in 1998.
She appeared in Neil Jordan's The Butcher Boy in 1997, playing the Virgin Mary.
Faith and Courage was released in 2000, including the single "No Man's Woman", and featured contributions from Wyclef Jean of the Fugees and Dave Stewart of Eurythmics.
Her 2002 album, Sean-Nós Nua, marked a departure in that O'Connor interpreted or, in her own words, "sexed up" traditional Irish folk songs, including several in the Irish language. In Sean-Nós Nua, she covered a well-known Canadian folk song, Peggy Gordon, interpreted as a song of lesbian, rather than heterosexual, love. In her documentary, Song of Hearts Desire, she stated that her inspiration for the song was her friend, a lesbian who sang the song to lament the loss of her partner.
In 2003, she contributed a track to the Dolly Parton tribute album Just Because I'm a Woman, a cover of Parton's "Dagger Through the Heart". That same year, she also featured on three songs of Massive Attack's album 100th Window before releasing her double album, She Who Dwells in the Secret Place of the Most High Shall Abide Under the Shadow of the Almighty. This compilation contained one disc of demos and previously unreleased tracks and one disc of a live concert recording. Directly after the album's release, O'Connor announced her retirement from music.Collaborations, a compilation album of guest appearances, was released in 2005--featuring tracks recorded with Peter Gabriel, Massive Attack, Jah Wobble, Terry Hall, Moby, Bomb The Bass, The Edge, U2, and The The.
Ultimately, after a brief period of inactivity and a bout with fibromyalgia, her retirement proved to be short-lived--O'Connor stated in an interview with Harp that she only intended to retire from making mainstream pop/rock music, and after dealing with her fibromyalgia, chose to move into other musical styles. The reggae album Throw Down Your Arms appeared in late 2005 and was greeted with positive reviews. It was based on the Rastafarian culture and lifestyle, O'Connor having spent time in Jamaica in 2004. She performed the single "Throw Down Your Arms" on The Late Late Show in November. She also made comments critical of the war in Iraq and the role played in it by Ireland's Shannon Airport.
On 8 November 2006, O'Connor performed seven songs from her upcoming album Theology at The Sugar Club in Dublin. Thirty fans were given the opportunity to win pairs of tickets to attend along with music industry critics. The performance was released in 2008 as Live at the Sugar Club deluxe CD/DVD package sold exclusively on her website.
O'Connor released two songs from her album Theology to download for free from her official website: "If You Had a Vineyard" and "Jeremiah (Something Beautiful)". The album, a collection of covered and original Rastafari spiritual songs, was released in June 2007. The first single from the album, the Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber classic "I Don't Know How to Love Him", was released on 30 April 2007. To promote the album, O'Connor toured extensively in Europe and North America. She also appeared on two tracks of the new Ian Brown album The World Is Yours, including the anti-war single "Illegal Attacks".
In January 2010, O'Connor performed a duet with R&B singer Mary J. Blige produced by former A Tribe Called Quest member Ali Shaheed Muhammad of O'Connor's song "This Is To Mother You" (first recorded by O'Connor on her 1997 Gospel Oak EP). The proceeds of the song's sales were donated to the organisation GEMS (Girls Educational and Mentoring Services). In 2012 the song "Lay Your Head Down", written by Brian Byrne and Glenn Close for the soundtrack of the film Albert Nobbs and performed by O'Connor, was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song.
O'Connor announced she was working on recording a new album, entitled Home, to be released in the beginning of 2012. On 10 October 2011 O'Connor announced that the release date for the album, now entitled How About I Be Me (And You Be You)?, had been set for 20 February 2012, with the first single being "The Wolf is Getting Married". Having planned an extensive tour in support of How About I Be Me (And You Be You)?, O'Connor announced on her website in April 2012 that she was "very unwell" and had suffered a serious breakdown between December 2011 and March 2012. This resulted in the cancellation of the tour and all other musical activities for the rest of 2012, at least. O'Connor resumed touring in 2013, announcing The Crazy Baldhead Tour. The second single "4th and Vine" was released on 18 February 2013.
Saturday Night Live performance:
On 3 October 1992, O'Connor appeared on Saturday Night Live as a musical guest. She sang an a cappella version of Bob Marley's "War", intended as a protest against sexual abuse in the Catholic Church--O'Connor referred to child abuse rather than racism. She then presented a photo of Pope John Paul II to the camera while singing the word "evil", after which she tore the photo into pieces, said "Fight the real enemy", and threw the pieces towards the camera.
Saturday Night Live had no foreknowledge of O'Connor's plan; during the dress rehearsal she held up a photo of a refugee child. NBC Vice President of Late Night Rick Ludwin recalled that when he saw O'Connor's action he "literally jumped out of his chair." SNL writer Paula Pell recalled personnel in the control booth discussing the cameras cutting away from the singer. The audience was completely silent, with no booing or applause; executive producer Lorne Michaels recalled that "the air went out the studio". Michaels, who ordered that the applause sign not be used, described the incident as "on a certain level, a betrayal", but also "a serious expression of belief."
A nationwide audience saw O'Connor's live performance, which the New York Daily News's cover called a "Holy Terror". NBC received more than 500 calls on Sunday and 400 more on Monday, with all but seven criticising O'Connor; the network received 4,400 calls in total. Contrary to rumour, NBC was not fined by the Federal Communications Commission for O'Connor's act; the FCC has no regulatory power over such behaviour. NBC did not edit the performance out of the West coast tape-delayed broadcast that night, but reruns of the episode use footage from the dress rehearsal. On 24 April 2010, MSNBC aired the live version during an interview with O'Connor on The Rachel Maddow Show. In a 1993 issue of The Irish Times O'Connor wrote a public letter where she asked people to "stop hurting" her.
As part of SNL's apology to the audience, during his opening monologue the following week, host Joe Pesci held up the photo, explaining that he had taped it back together --to huge applause. Pesci also said that if it had been his show, "I would have gave her such a smack."
In a 2002 interview with Salon, when asked if she would change anything about the SNL appearance, O'Connor replied, "Hell, no!"
On Madonna's next appearance on SNL, after singing "Bad Girl", she held up a photo of Joey Buttafuoco and, saying "fight the real enemy", tore it up. Madonna also roundly attacked O'Connor in the press for the incident, telling the Irish Times: "I think there is a better way to present her ideas rather than ripping up an image that means a lot to other people." She added, "If she is against the Roman Catholic Church and she has a problem with them, I think she should talk about it."The New York Times called it "professional jealousy" and wrote:
After Madonna had herself gowned, harnessed, strapped down and fully stripped to promote her album Erotica and her book Sex, O'Connor stole the spotlight with one photograph of a fully clothed man. But the other vilification that descended on O'Connor showed she had struck a nerve.
Bob Guccione, Jr. in a 1993 SPIN editorial was adamant in his defence of O'Connor, writing:
...Madonna savaged her in the press, obviously to fuel publicity for Sex and sales of her new album, Erotica .... But when the Sinead controversy threatened to siphon some of the attention from the impending release of Sex, Madonna conveniently found religion again...
In November 1991, a year prior to the incident, O'Connor had told Spin Magazine:
Madonna is probably the hugest role model for women in America. There's a woman who people look up to as being a woman who campaigns for women's rights. A woman who in an abusive way towards me, said that I look like I had a run in with a lawnmower and that I was about as sexy as a Venetian blind. Now there's the woman that America looks up to as being a campaigner for women, slagging off another woman for not being sexy.
Bob Dylan tribute performance:
Two weeks after the Saturday Night Live appearance, she was set to perform "I Believe in You" at the Bob Dylan 30th Anniversary tribute concert in Madison Square Garden. She was greeted by a thundering mixture of cheers and jeers. During the booing, Kris Kristofferson told her not to "let the bastards get you down", to which she replied, "I'm not down." The noise eventually became so loud that O'Connor saw no point in starting the scheduled song. She called for the keyboard player to stop and the microphone to be turned up, and then screamed over the audience with an improvised, shouted rendition of "War". This time, she sang the song, stopping just after the part in which the lyrics talk about child abuse, emphasising the point of her previous action. She then looked straight to the audience for a second and left the stage. Kristofferson then comforted her, as she cried.
After Dark appearance:
In January 1995 O'Connor "was so interested in a (television) discussion about abuse and the Catholic church that she rang in to ask if she could appear. They sent a taxi to her home". The Evening Standard wrote that After Dark "made a brief reappearance last Saturday night when, true to its unpredictable form, Sinéad O'Connor walked on to the set 10 minutes before closedown". Host Helena Kennedy described the event:
On that occasion, former taoiseach Garret FitzGerald was sharing the sofas with a Dominican monk and a representative of the Catholic church. "While we were on the air, Sinéad O'Connor called in," says Kennedy. "Then I got a message in my earpiece to say she had just turned up at the studio. Sinéad came on and argued that abuse in families was coded in by the church because it refused to accept the accounts of women and children," says Kennedy.
Open letter to Miley Cyrus:
O'Connor published an open letter, on her own website, to pop singer Miley Cyrus on October 2, 2013 in which she warns Cyrus of the treatment of women in the music industry and the role that sexuality plays in this context. O'Connor states:
The message you keep sending is that its somehow cool to be prostituted.. its so not cool Miley.. its dangerous. Women are to be valued for so much more than their sexuality. we aren't merely objects of desire. I would be encouraging you to send healthier messages to your peers.. that they and you are worth more than what is currently going on in your career.
Fellow female musician Amanda Palmer responded with her own open letter that was published on Palmer's blog. After Palmer states that O'Connor continues to be an important influence since her teenage years, Palmer then addresses where O'Connor is "off target" in her correspondence to Cyrus. Palmer explains that she wrote the letter en route to a benefit performance for the Girls Rock Dallas group that seeks to empower young female musicians in Dallas, US, and a subsequent video was published of a tribute cover version that she included in the performance, whereby she blends "Nothing Compares 2 U" with Cyrus's song "Wrecking Ball".
While her shaved head was initially an assertion against traditional views of women, years later, O'Connor said she had begun to grow her hair back, but that after being asked if she was Enya, O'Connor shaved it off again. "I don't feel like me unless I have my hair shaved. So even when I'm an old lady, I'm going to have it."
She has been married four times. Her first marriage was to music producer John Reynolds, who co-produced several of her albums, including Universal Mother. They have one child together. They split up on good terms and Reynolds continues to work as her producer and drummer.
Her second marriage was to journalist Nicholas Sommerlad in 2002. For a period during 2006 and early 2007, she had a relationship with Frank Bonadio, the father of her fourth child. O'Connor acknowledged to the Irish Daily Mirror that the two had separated as of the weekend of 17 February 2007, citing difficulties between Bonadio and his former wife, singer Mary Coughlan.
O'Connor married long-time friend and collaborator Steve Cooney on 22 July 2010 and divorced him in April 2011.
Her fourth marriage was to Irish therapist Barry Herridge, whom she met through the internet. They wed on 9 December 2011 in Las Vegas, but 17 days later she announced on her website that their marriage had ended, noting that they "lived together for 7 days only". The following week, on 3 January 2012, O'Connor issued a further string of internet announcements to the effect that the couple had re-united.
In a 2000 interview in Curve, O'Connor commented, "I'm a dyke ... although I haven't been very open about that and throughout most of my life I've gone out with blokes because I haven't necessarily been terribly comfortable about being a big lesbian mule. But I actually am a dyke." However, soon after in an interview in The Independent, she stated, "I believe it was overcompensating of me to declare myself a lesbian. It was not a publicity stunt. I was trying to make someone else feel better. And have subsequently caused pain for myself. I am not in a box of any description." In a magazine article and in a programme on RTÉ (Ryan Confidential, broadcast on RTÉ on 29 May 2003), she stated that while most of her sexual relationships had been with men, she has had three relationships with women. In a May 2005 issue of Entertainment Weekly, she stated, "I'm three-quarters heterosexual, a quarter gay. I lean a bit more towards the hairy blokes".
On a 4 October 2007 broadcast of The Oprah Winfrey Show, O'Connor disclosed that she had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder four years earlier, and had attempted suicide on her 33rd birthday on 8 December 1999.
In the late 1990s, Bishop Michael Cox of the Irish Orthodox Catholic and Apostolic Church (an Independent Catholic group not in communion with the Catholic Church) ordained O'Connor as a priest. The Catholic Church considers ordination of women to be invalid and asserts that a person attempting the sacrament of ordination upon a woman incurs excommunication. The bishop had contacted her to offer ordination following her appearance on the RTÉ's Late Late Show, during which she told the presenter, Gay Byrne, that had she not been a singer, she would have wished to have been a Catholic priest. After her ordination, she indicated that she wished to be called Mother Bernadette Mary.
In a July 2007 interview with Christianity Today, O'Connor stated that she considers herself a Christian and that she believes in core Christian concepts about the Trinity and Jesus Christ. She said, "I think God saves everybody whether they want to be saved or not. So when we die, we're all going home... I don't think God judges anybody. He loves everybody equally." She also expressed a belief in pantheism, viewing the physical universe as a body with divine "energy." In an October 2002 interview, she credited her Christian faith in giving her the strength to live through, and then overcome the effects of, her child abuse.
On 26 March 2010, O'Connor appeared on Anderson Cooper 360° to speak out about the Catholic sexual abuse scandal in Ireland. On 28 March 2010, she had an opinion piece published in the Sunday edition of the Washington Post in which she wrote about the scandal and her time in a Magdalene laundry as a teenager. Writing for the Sunday Independent she labeled the Vatican as "a nest of devils" and called for the establishment of an "alternative church", opining that "Christ is being murdered by liars" in the Vatican. Shortly after the election of Pope Francis she described the office of the Pope as an "anti-Christian office." O'Connor stated:
This article contains too many or too-lengthy quotations for an encyclopedic entry. Please help improve the article by editing it to take facts from excessively quoted material and rewrite them as sourced original prose. Consider transferring direct quotations to Wikiquote. (November 2013)
Well, you know, I guess I wish everyone the best, and I don't know anything about the man, so I'm not going to rush to judge him on one thing or another, but I would say he has a scientifically impossible task, because all religions, but certainly the Catholic Church, is really a house built on sand, and it's drowning in a sea of conditional love, and therefore it can't survive, and actually the office of Pope itself is an anti-Christian office, the idea that Christ needs a representative is laughable and blasphemous at the same time, therefore it is a house built on sand, and we need to rescue God from religion, all religions, they've become s smokescreen that distracts people from the fact that there is a holy spirit, and when you study the Gospels you see the Christ character came to tell us that we only need to talk directly to God, we never needed Religion..."
Asked whether from her point of view, it is therefore irrelevant who is elected to be Pope, O'Connor replied,
Genuinely I don't mean disrespect to Catholic people because I believe in Jesus Christ, I believe in the Holy Spirit, all of those, but I also believe in all of them, I don't think it cares if you call it Fred or Daisy, you know? Religion is a smokescreen, it has everybody talking to the wall. There is a holy spirit who can't intervene on our behalf unless we ask it. Religion has us talking to the wall. The Christ character tells us himself: you must only talk directly to the Father; you don't need intermediaries. We all thought we did, and that's ok, we're not bad people, but let's wake up..God was there before religion; it's there today despite religion; it'll be there when religion is gone.
This section requires expansion. (October 2013)
O'Connor is a pacifist and supports Ireland's tradition of neutrality in foreign wars.