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Musician of the Week: Lenny Kravitz

 - Thursday 5 September 2013.

Leonard Albert "Lenny" Kravitz (born May 26, 1964) is an American 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. He has been nominated for and won other awards, including American Music Awards, MTV Video Music Awards, Radio Music Awards, BRIT Awards and Blockbuster Entertainment Awards. On December 1, 2011, Kravitz was made an Officer of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. He plays the role of Cinna in The Hunger Games film series.

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 in what now is Ukraine). His mother was of Bahamian and African-American descent, and was from a Christian family. 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.

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 Davis and 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 Led Zeppelin, Kiss, Aerosmith, Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, 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.

Here is Lenny Kravitz, live, on stage: