Regina Ilyinichna Spektor (Russian: Реги́нa Ильи́нична Спе́ктор, IPA: [rʲɪˈɡʲinə ˈspʲɛktər]; /rᵻˈdʒiːnə ˈspɛktər/; born February 18, 1980) is a Russian-born American singer-songwriter and pianist. She was born in Moscow (former Soviet Union, now Russia), and began classical training on the piano at the age of six. When she was nine years old, her family immigrated to the United States, where she continued her classical training into her teenage years; she began to write original songs shortly thereafter.
After self-releasing her first three records and gaining popularity in New York City’s independent music scenes, particularly the anti-folk scene centered on New York City’s East Village, Spektor signed with Sire Records in 2004 where she began achieving greater mainstream recognition. After giving her third album a major label re-release, Sire released her fourth album, Begin to Hope which would go on to achieve Gold certification. Her following two albums, Far and What We Saw from the Cheap Seats, each debuted at number 3 on the Billboard 200.
Spektor was born in 1980 in Moscow, Soviet Union, to a musical Russian Jewish family. Her father, Ilya Spektor, is a photographer and amateur violinist. Her mother, Bella Spektor, was a music professor in a Soviet college of music and teaches at a public elementary school in Mount Vernon, New York. She has a brother Boruch (also known as Bear), who was featured in track 7, “* * *”, or “Whisper”, of her 2004 album, Soviet Kitsch. Growing up in Moscow, Regina learned how to play the piano by practising on a Petrof upright that her grandfather gave her mother. She grew up listening to classical music and famous Russian bards like Vladimir Vysotsky and Bulat Okudzhava. Her father, who obtained recordings in Eastern Europe and traded cassettes with friends in the Soviet Union, also exposed her to rock and roll bands such as the Beatles, Queen, and the Moody Blues.
The family left the Soviet Union in 1989, when Regina was nine and a half, during the period of Perestroika, when Soviet citizens were permitted to emigrate. Regina had to leave her piano behind. The seriousness of her piano studies led her parents to consider not leaving the Soviet Union, but they finally decided to emigrate, due to the racial, ethnic, and political discrimination that Jews faced. Traveling first to Austria and then Italy, the Spektor family was admitted to the United States as refugees with the assistance of HIAS (the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society). They settled in the Bronx, where Spektor graduated from the SAR Academy, a Jewish day middle school in the Riverdale section of the Bronx. Since the family had been unable to bring their piano from Moscow, Spektor practiced on tabletops and other hard surfaces until she found a piano on which to play in the basement of her synagogue. In New York City, Spektor studied classical piano with Sonia Vargas, a professor at the Manhattan School of Music, until she was 17; Spektor’s father had met Vargas through Vargas’ husband, violinist Samuel Marder. Spektor attended high school for two years at the Frisch School, a yeshiva in Paramus, New Jersey, but transferred to a public school, Fair Lawn High School, in Fair Lawn, New Jersey, where she finished the last two years of her high school education.
Spektor was originally interested in classical music only, but later became interested in hip hop, rock, and punk as well. Although she had always made up songs around the house, she first became interested in more formal songwriting during a visit to Israel with the Nesiya Institute in her teenage years when she attracted attention from the other children on the trip for the songs she made up while hiking.
Following this trip, she was exposed to the works of Joni Mitchell, Ani DiFranco, and other singer-songwriters, which encouraged her belief that she could create her own songs. She wrote her first a cappella songs around the age of 16 and her first songs for voice and piano when she was nearly 18.
Spektor completed the four-year studio composition program of the Conservatory of Music at Purchase College within three years, graduating with honors in 2001. Around this time, she also worked briefly at a butterfly farm in Luck, Wisconsin, and studied in Tottenham (in North London) for one term.
Spektor gradually achieved recognition through performances in the anti-folk scene in downtown New York City, most prominently at the East Village’s SideWalk Cafe. She also performed at local colleges (such as Sarah Lawrence College) with other musicians, including the Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players. She sold self-published CDs at her performances during this period: 11:11 (2001) and Songs (2002). Spektor’s first nationwide tour was accompanying The Strokes as the opening act on their 2003–2004 Room on Fire tour which included performances at The Theater at Madison Square Garden. While on the tour, she and the band performed and recorded “Modern Girls & Old Fashion Men”. After the tour, Kings of Leon who were the second opening act on the tour, invited Spektor to open for them on their own European tour. In 2004, Spektor signed a contract with Warner Brothers’ record label Sire Records to publish and distribute her third album Soviet Kitsch, originally self-released in 2003. In 2005, she began making her first TV appearances including guest spots on various late-night talk shows.
In June 2005, Spektor was the opening act for the English piano rock band Keane on their North American tour, during which she performed at Radio City Music Hall on June 7, 2005.
Spektor went on to release the album Begin to Hope on June 13, 2006. The album debuted at number 70 on the Billboard 200, but due to the popularity of the single “Fidelity”, it went on to peak at number 20, and was certified Gold by the RIAA. Spektor received increased attention when her video for “Fidelity” was viewed over 200,000 times in two days on YouTube. Spektor’s 2006 headlining tour in support of the Begin to Hope album included two back-to-back hometown shows at Town Hall Theater in New York City on September 27 and September 28, 2006. This tour was Spektor’s first to feature a full backing band.
Listeners of Sirius Radio’s Left of Center channel voted her single “Fidelity” as the No. 1 song of 2006. Towards the end of 2006, VH1 showcased her as part of their “You Oughta Know: Artists on the Rise” featurettes, playing clips from the “Fidelity” music video and showing parts of an interview with Spektor during commercial breaks on the channel. Spektor’s video for “Fidelity” reached No. 3 on VH1’s Top 20 Countdown. Spektor reached No. 33 on Blender magazine’s top 100 of 2006 and was also listed as one of the “Hottest Women of…Rock!”. On January 21, 2007, she was given an extensive feature on CBS News Sunday Morning which showcased her musical beginnings and growing popularity.
In 2007, Spektor began performing at several major music festivals including Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, Bonnaroo Music Festival, Lollapalooza, Virgin Festival and Austin City Limits Music Festival. On October 1, 2007, her video for “Better” was released on VH1 and YouTube, where it was viewed more than 100,000 times within the first 24 hours. Spektor performed acoustic at Neil Young’s Bridge School Benefit at Shoreline Amphitheatre on October 27, 2007.
On November 14, 2007, at her concert at Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Spektor collapsed during the sound check and was taken to a local emergency room. According to the statement given to the audience, Spektor was fine, but doctors said that she could not perform that night. It was later reported that the cause of the collapse was an inner ear infection which caused intense vertigo. The show was initially rescheduled for December 6, 2007, but the date was once again rescheduled, and the concert finally occurred on February 29, 2008. After her initial collapse in Nashville, she was able to perform in concerts at Mountain Stage on November 18, 2007, and at Duke University on November 19, 2007.
Spektor wrote the song “The Call” for the 2008 film The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, which appeared prominently in the film’s finale sequence. She then appeared as a guest vocalist on “You Don’t Know Me”, a single from Ben Folds’ 2008 album, “Way to Normal”. In promotion for the single, the duo performed the song together on several late-night talk shows.
Spektor’s fifth album Far was released June 23, 2009. For the record she worked with four producers: David Kahne (who had previously worked with Spektor on Begin to Hope), Mike Elizondo, Jacknife Lee and Jeff Lynne. The record sold 50,000 copies in its first week, entering the US Billboard 200 at number three; the record remained on the chart for 19 weeks. The album peaked at number 30 and 16 in the UK and Canada, respectively. She then headlined at Serpentine Sessions, a series of concerts at London’s Hyde Park on June 29, 2009. Other European performances in 2009 include Glastonbury Festival, Hultsfred Festival, Oxegen 2009, T in the Park, Paradiso, Latitude Festival, and Rock Werchter. Spektor invited Brooklyn-based rock band Jupiter One to open concerts on her 2009 North American tour. As a part of that tour, on October 14, 2009, Spektor headlined a concert at the Radio City Music Hall in NYC. On September 16, 2009, it was announced that Spektor would write the music for the musical Beauty, a modern adaptation of the fairy tale Sleeping Beauty, which was initially set to open during the 2011–12 Broadway season. Regina made her Saturday Night Live debut on October 10, 2009, performing “Eet” and “The Calculation” off of Far.
In May 2010, Spektor performed for President Obama and his wife Michelle along with hundreds of other guests at the White House reception in honor of Jewish Heritage Month. She performed “Us” and “The Sword & the Pen”.
Spektor’s sixth album, What We Saw from the Cheap Seats was released May 29, 2012. Like her previous album, it debuted at number three on the Billboard 200. Promotional appearances for the record included Spektor appearing on the June 7, 2012 episode of The Colbert Report where she performed “Small Town Moon” as well as “Ballad of a Politician” as online bonus content. Her world tour in support of What We Saw from the Cheap Seats included a performance in Moscow; Spektor had not yet returned since fleeing with her family in 1989.
In 2012, Spektor was christened an official “Steinway Artist”; she plays Steinway & Sons pianos almost exclusively.
Spektor wrote and recorded the main title theme song, “You’ve Got Time”, for the Netflix Original series Orange Is the New Black, which premiered July 11, 2013. It was nominated in the Best Song Written for Visual Media category at the 56th Annual Grammy Awards.
Spektor announced her seventh album, Remember Us to Life on July 21, 2016 through her email newsletter. The album was released on September 30, 2016. The first single, “Bleeding Heart”, was released July 22, 2016. The follow-up single, “Small Bill$”, was released August 11, 2016. Regina Spektor performed George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, released August 5, 2016, for the film Kubo and the Two Strings.
In 2016, it was announced that Spektor would be one of the artists featured on The Hamilton Mixtape. She sings a remix of Dear Theodosia with Ben Folds.
Listen to some of her songs below
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