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Roy Orbison Biography


Home > Music > O > Orbison, Roy > Biography


Birth Name: Roy Kelton Orbison
Born: 1936/04/23
Birth Place: Vernon, Texas, U.S.
Died: 1988/12/06
Years Active: 1954–1988
Genres: Rock, Pop


Roy Kelton Orbison (April 23, 1936 – December 6, 1988) was an American singer-songwriter and musician, well known for his distinctive, powerful voice, complex compositions, and dark emotional ballads. Orbison was a natural baritone, but music scholars have suggested that he had a three- or four-octave range. The combination of Orbison's powerful, impassioned voice and complex musical arrangements led many critics to refer to his music as operatic, giving him the sobriquet "the Caruso of Rock". Performers as disparate as Elvis Presley and Bono stated his voice was, respectively, the greatest and most distinctive they had ever heard. While most men in rock and roll in the 1950s and 1960s portrayed a defiant masculinity, many of Orbison's songs instead conveyed a quiet, desperate vulnerability. He was known for performing while standing still and solitary, wearing black clothes and dark sunglasses which lent an air of mystery to his persona.

Orbison grew up in Texas and began singing in a rockabilly/country western band in high school until he was signed by Sun Records in Memphis. His greatest success came with Monument Records in the early to mid-1960s when 22 of his songs placed on the US Billboard Top 40, among them “Blue Bayou," "Only the Lonely," "Crying," "It's Over," "In Dreams," and "Mean Woman Blues," as well as the #1 hits "Running Scared" and "Oh, Pretty Woman.”

His career stagnated through the 1970s, but several covers of his songs and the use of one in a film by David Lynch revived his career in the 1980s.

In 1988, he joined the supergroup The Traveling Wilburys with George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, and Jeff Lynne and also released a new solo album. He died of a heart attack in December that year, at the zenith of his resurgence. In 1989 he returned to the Top 40 for the first time in 24 years with the posthumously released Top 10 single, “You Got It,” from his album “Mystery Girl.”

Orbison was inducted with the second class of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987 by longtime admirer Bruce Springsteen. The same year he was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. In 1998 he received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Grammys.