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1986–2004: Early life

Stefani Germanotta (born Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta), who performs under the stage name Lady Gaga, was born on March 28, 1986 at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, New York, the eldest child of Joseph and Cynthia (née Bissett) Germanotta. She is mostly of Italian heritage with some French ancestry on her mother's side. She has a younger sister of six years, Natali. Around the age of four, Stefani started to learn piano by ear and after a while, wrote her first song called "Dollar Bills".

"I still remember the first song I heard. My dad was listening to what I now know was Pink Floyd’s “Money,” and understanding only the sounds of the cash register in the intro, I wrote a song called “Dollar Bills” on my Mickey Mouse staff paper."

She received a classical training later to complete her knowledge of the piano. By the time she was eleven she was set to join Julliard School in Manhattan, though she decided it wasn't for her. Instead she went to the Convent of the Sacred Heart, a private Roman Catholic school. She was, she says, "focused, determined. I was always in a band, or in a musical. I didn't really fit in but I had friends because I'm a nice girl and fun to party with." Gaga described herself in high school as "very dedicated, very studious, very disciplined" but also "a bit insecure" as she told in an interview, "I used to get made fun of for being either too provocative or too eccentric, so I started to tone it down. I didn’t fit in, and I felt like a freak."

Because she was aware of her parents' sacrifices for her education, Stefani took school seriously from a young age. One of her favorite childhood memories is playing a piano concert at Sacred Heart at 8. “There was a line of twenty girls sitting in a row in our pretty dresses, and we each got up to play,” she says happily. “I did a really good job. I was quite good.” At 11, she began attending a full day of acting classes on Saturdays. “I remember the first time that I drank out of an imaginary coffee cup,” she says” she says, closing her eyes. “That’s the very first thing they teach you. I can feel the rain, too, when it’s not raining.” (From New York Mag)

She sang in a classic-rock cover band (Mackin Pulsifer?) during her freshman year of high school. The band did covers of Led Zeppelin's songs along with Pink Floyd and Jefferson Airplane. At thirteen, she wrote her first piano ballad "To Love Again". At fourteen, Stefani started to work with voice teacher Don Lawrence. She recalls the person who suggested her to meet him :

"I was singing [I Want It That Way] to myself in a shop down the street from my house, when the store owner, who happened to also be a musician, pulled me aside and slipped a phone number in my hand. He told me his uncle was a highly respected voice teacher who he thought would like to work with me. I called him up and remember his words, “I work with Grammy Award Winner Christina Aguilera, Bono of U2, Mick Jagger and as the list got larger I got more excited. " —Lady Gaga

Around the same time, Stefani began performing in open mic nights. She was too young that her mother had to go with her -- knowing that Stefani would sneak out anyway. "These were jazz bars, not sex clubs," she explains. "They would have open mic nights so my mother would take me along and say, 'My daughter's very young but she's very talented. I'll sit with her as she plays.' "

“She’d say to the manager, ‘Listen, I know she’s too young to be in here, and I’m too old to be in here, but she’s incredibly talented and she’s a singer-songwriter and can she sign up on your open-mic list?’ And we just sat and waited round for them to call my name.” —Lady Gaga

Her parents were both very supportive of her passion for music. Stefani learned for some years with Lawrence and started writing music as an outlet and less of a hobby.

2004-2005: Collaborative Arts Project 21

At the age of seventeen, Gaga was one of twenty people in the world to have gained early admission to the New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, where she studied music and theater at the Undergraduate Department of Drama. She moved to an NYU dorm on 11th Street. Each fall, the New York University's hall councils host an UltraViolet Live Preliminary, a contest hold to benefit cancer. Stefani competed and won for her hall. At the same time, she honed her writing skills by composing essays and analytical papers focusing on topics such as art, religion and socio-policital order.

2005-2006: Career beginnings

On February 3, Stefani won the third place at the final with a medley of her two original compositions: Captivated and Electric Kiss on a piano. After her eighteen years old birthday, Stefani decided to quit university and move out of her parent's house to pursue a career in music. They gave her one year to be signed to a record label or she would have to return to the university. She went to live in the Lower East Side of New York without any financial support from her parents.

I left my entire family, got the cheapest apartment I could find, and ate shit until somebody would listen.”

Frankie Fredericks, a friend from NYU who became her first 'manager' even if he was not paid for his help, booked Stefani her first paid gig, helped to put together the SGBand and also to get her first real demo with Joe Vulpis later that year. During that summer, Stefani and Frankie began shopping and booking at several music venues in downtown New York City. The live performance were constituted of Stefani playing her piano-heavy solo songs. The Bitter End became one of her frequent place to perform so it became her home base as she called it. By September, she decided to put her focus on making a glammy band, the SGBand (Stefani Germanotta Band) composed of guys who really believed in her talent. Around that time, "I met Stefani at the Bitter End Cafe and was awestruck at her abilities. I immediately invited her to feature on a few songs with Melle Mel on this project that we were developing." said Maura Casey who was working on a children’s book album called "'Scott and The Secret Dimension". They began working in September on the project. Stefani wrote and arranged a song 'The Fountain of Truth' and was featured on 'World Family Tree' with Melle. Before the project was finally released November 13 of 2006 with a new title, "The Portal in the Park" , Stefani called Maura to change her credits to 'Lady GaGa'. October 1 was the first time they performed as a band at The Bitter End. For the 60th Annual Colombus Day Parade, Stefani was asked to play 'No Floods' on the streets. The event was broadcasted live on NBC, one of the hosts, Maria Bartirono said of her performance : "She's only nineteen and... what a voice." A month later, the band began recording a five tracks demo with producer Joe Vulpis.

2006-2007: Artistic development


176 Stanton Street, where she lived for three years.

On January 20, 2006, the SGBand played at The Bitter End and sells out the five songs demo, Words. They continued to do concerts and writing music and by March, sold out her first EP, Red and Blue at her home base, The Bitter End. The underground sensation was chosen by Bob Leone, National Projects Director of the renowned and celebrated Songwriters Hall of Fame, to be one of nine performers in the 2006 New Songwriters Showcase at the Cutting Room. She played Hollywood and caught the attention of Wendy Starland, one of Robert Fusari collaborator. He mentioned to Starland that he was interested in locating a female singer under 25 to front a band like the Strokes—she didn’t have to be good-looking, or even a great singer, but she had to have something about her you couldn’t take your eyes off.
"He couldn't be there that night, but he asked to keep an eye out for somebody who had the ability and the desire, and that's definitely Stefani." Wendy Starland
“Stefani’s confidence filled the room,” says Starland. “Her presence is enormous. And fearless. I listened for the pitch, the tone, and timbre of her voice. Was she able to have a huge dynamic range? Was she able to get soft and then belt? And I felt that she was able to do all that while giving out this very powerful energy.”

Gaga erupted in giggles when Starland ran up to her after the performance and told her, “I’m about to change your life.” They rushed outside the club together, and Starland called Fusari on her cell phone. “Rob said, ‘Why are you waking me up?’ I said I found the girl. ‘What? It’s really one in a million. What’s her name?’ Stefani Germanotta. ‘Um, you gotta be kidding me. What does she look like?’ Don’t worry about that. ‘Does she have any good songs?’ No. ‘How is her band?’ Awful.” Starland laughs. “I wasn’t pitching a product. I was pitching the girl.” Fusari agreed to meet the girl. He was, to put it mildly, underwhelmed. “While I was talking to her, I was near the computer so I went to her page on PureVolume and had the music on real low in the background,” Fusari says. “Quite frankly, it sounded wedding band-ish, but I could tell that this person had more to offer creatively so I invited her to the studio.” She took the bus to Parsippany from the Port Authority and Fusari waited for her at the stop with Tom Kafafian. She hiked a quarter-mile down New Road to reach Rob Fusari’s recording studio, 150 Studios. “We’re in the car and we see a girl through the window of this pizzeria,” Fusari says. “My buddy goes, ‘I think that’s her.’ I was hoping that wasn’t her. I had a clear vision of what she should look like and that wasn’t it. I was hoping to find someone who looked a little grungy, like they just rolled out of bed. She was more like a guidette, for lack of a better term.” He continues, “Still, there was something quirky about her. She was mixing the decades in terms of fashion. There was something very ’60s about her but also something sort of ’90s. My friend comes out with her and it’s a short ride back to the studio and I was thinking, ‘This ain’t gonna work.’ ” Although he was skeptical, Fusari asked her to sample one of her songs on the piano, she played Hollywood. He says, “Within 15 seconds, I’m like, ‘This is it. My life is about to change.’ While she’s playing, I’m on my phone e-mailing my attorney like, ‘I need a contract tomorrow.’ I totally saw superstar potential. I just didn’t know in what form or what genre it was going to be." Almost overnight, Stefani was ready to sign a production deal but her dad decided to create a company, Team Love Child LLC instead. Stefani became friend with Thomas Kafafian and wrote songs with him along with Fusari.

Stefani to Lady Gaga

After a while, Stefani agreed that her name was not going to help her to break in the industry. One day, Stefani was singing Again Again on the piano for Rob and he said to her "You are just so freakin' Freddie Mercury, you are so dramatic." He explained to her that the 'girl inside' , the theatrical aspect of her, was the most interesting part. Radio Ga Ga is one of Fusari’s favorites from Queen. “Every day, when Stef came to the studio, instead of saying hello, I would start singing ‘Radio Ga Ga,’ ” Fusari explains. “That was her entrance song.” Stefani was in the midst of brainstorming a stage moniker, when she received a text from Fusari that read “Lady Gaga.” “It was actually a glitch,” says Fusari. “I typed ‘Radio Ga Ga’ in a text and it did an autocorrect so somehow ‘Radio’ got changed to ‘Lady.’ She texted me back, ‘That’s it.’ After that day, she was Lady Gaga. She’s like. ‘Don’t ever call me Stefani again.’ ” She thought her new nickname was cool and even her friends started to call her Gaga. She kept 'Lady', to feminize her nickname.

Over the course of four months, Gaga commuted from New York to Jersey seven days a week, radically reshaping her approach. They put their focus on writing rock songs as this was her favorite genre. She stopped doing live show and restarted only to perform as either Lady Ga Ga or Lady Gaga in late spring/early summer that year. A new PureVolume account was created in order to promote her music and her MySpace name changed to Lady Gaga. The songs posted on her personal pages were in the same continuity of her previous work. The new material were more polished but still between bittersweet rock ballads to power-pop rock with songs like Brown Eyes and Wonderful. The reaction among their colleagues was negative about the sound they picked. They tried to use her as songwriter but that didn't work so well. “With those kinds of records, people are looking at the source of that music, who it’s coming from,” says Starland. As a writers Gaga wrote with two artists produced by Fusari, Lina Morgana and Leila Broussard. In July, Wonderful gained web radio airplay on iWebRadio and peaked at number two. During that time, she did one live performance by month until August.

Pop music beginnings

“One morning, I was reading an article about how difficult it is for women to succeed in the rock genre. I loved what we were doing, but it wasn’t going to be an easy sell. I said, ‘Stef, what if we sit down today, abandon what we were going to work on and I’ll sit at the drum machine, do a beat and we’ll start with a more dance thing.’ She’s like, ‘No way. I’m not doing it.’ ” 'Rob Fusari

They took a break at Chili’s, their regular lunch spot, and Fusari convinced Gaga to test his idea. By day’s end, the two completed the tune, “Beautiful, Dirty, Rich” and “We never went back to the rock stuff." Later in interview, Gaga said "I was like, 'If it wasn't me, I wouldn't listen to this. I would be bored at this show". Finding herself surrounded by singers who all wrote the same style of music, Rob's idea was something fresh and provocative in the rock 'n roll underground: pop music. Gaga found her musical niche when she began to incorporate pop melodies and the vintage glam-rock of David Bowie and Queen into the mix. "Queen and David Bowie were the key for me...I didn't know what to do until I discovered Bowie and Queen", Gaga says. They also began an affair, which made their artistic collaboration tumultuous. When Fusari didn’t like her hooks, she would get teary-eyed and rant about feeling worthless. But he was rough on her, too. Gaga wasn’t into fashion at this point: She liked leggings and sweatshirts, maybe with a shoulder out. “A couple times, she came to the studio in sweatpants, and I said, ‘Really, Stef?’ ” says Fusari. “ ‘What if I had Clive Davis in here today? I should call the session right now. Prince doesn’t pick up ice cream at the 7-Eleven looking like Chris Rock. You’re an artist now. You can’t turn this on and off.’ ”

Fusari was focused on the sound while Gaga began an interest in making a fashion statement. “She kept this scrapbook of all these different things she would see in magazines,” Fusari says. “It wasn’t always clothes. It might just be like a neon sign. It might be somebody’s hand with a ring on it. She would show it to me and I’d be like, ‘Yeah, that’s great, Stef.’ I wasn’t interested.”

Island Def Jam

The new sound increased her popularity with early song like 'Beautiful, Dirty, Rich' and 'Shake Your Kitty'. Gaga began to do her live performance with her keyboard and her MacBook playing her synthetic beats. Even with a new kind of music, getting recognition by the music industry was not easy for her. "When I was playing the New York rock clubs, a lot of record labels thought I was too theatrical. Then, when I auditioned for stage musicals, the producers said I was too pop". Until one day, Fusari recalled : "I played it for Joshua Sarubin, who was [Vice-President of A&R] at Island Def Jam and he’s like, ‘I gotta get this girl in here next week.'" “There was something unusual about her,” says Sarubin. “She sat down at the piano in a showcase room and the way she played and the lyrics and the way she acted and sang was just so different and in your face, and you couldn’t turn away. She was wearing these crazy white thigh-high boots and a black minidress and she had this presence like, ‘I’m sexy and I don’t care what anybody has to say about it.’ During that meeting, charmain Antonio "L.A." Reid stopped in and said to her "I can hear you from my office, you're very loud!". He saw a born star inside that young women and signed her on the spot. On September 6 of 2006, Lady Gaga said 'I Do' to an artist development deal with and a first album scheduled for May 2007. "But after he signed me, he never met with me. I used to wait outside his office for hours, hoping he'd take meetings with me about my songs, but it never happened. He eventually dropped me after three months." "I was pretty devastated. I know what it's like being on a label when they don't quite get it," says Gaga of her original major label deal.That confidence was shaken when she got dropped from Island Def Jam after just a few months. The reason the company booted her remains a mystery, but word came down from Reid’s office that they were severing the contract.

"She maybe could have stayed with the label a little while longer, but I didn’t want her to be in a situation where people didn’t get it. She was too good. It was painful because I absolutely thought she was going to be my next big thing.” Joshua Sarubin

After Def Jam dropped their contract, instead of dropping her as well, Laurent Besencon from New Heights Entertainment believed in the artist but identified that she needed a different sound for to be signed. Gaga was wondering if she should ditch music entirely but Fusari encouraged her to rest for awhile and spend time with her family. After a dispiriting few months, their mutual management brought Lady Gaga and RedOne together. After RedOne's preliminary hesitation, Besencon strongly urged the collaboration. She then decided to keep making music as she truly believe it's her destiny and decided to work harder.

My manager called me and said, “you have to meet this girl - she is the most incredible artist.” If someone is good, it doesn't matter to me if that person has a deal. The first day we worked together, we came up with a song called ‘Boys Boys Boys’ and we just clicked." —RedOne

Around that time, Lady Gaga dated the owner of the St. Jerome's in New York in 2006. In December, Lady Gaga met for the first date Lady Starlight who was go-go dancing on her birthday in the bar. They instantly clicked, "We were both ladies," Lady Starlight said, "She put a dollar bill in my panties and the rest is history." They started to work together because Gaga loved her whole aesthetic and said to her: "What do you think about what you're doing with what I'm doing?" She had already most of the songs (from The Fame) written and I really liked her personally, even if I'm not really into pop music."

2007–2008: Performance art

"I went back to my apartment. I played a show once a week. I started collaborating with my friend, Lady Starlight, and we would play show after show after. I started getting prepped for a performance." Lady Gaga

Lady Starlight helped Lady GaGa create her on stage fashions while creating burlesque shows at dive bars with drag queens and go-go dancers. During that time, she did also go-go dance to her songs played. When Gaga's father saw her performance art, "He couldn't look at me for a few months," she admits of her early experimentation. "I was in leather thongs, so it was hard for him — he just didn't understand." Eventually, he restarted to support his child and now they are proud of her. The pair collaborated on many projects such as “Lady Gaga and the Starlight Revue”- a low-fi tribute to 1970’s variety acts which featured Lady Gaga on synth, Lady Starlight spinning beats, choreographed go-go moves, shiny disco balls, and hairspray, lit on fire and sprayed into the audience. They did also "New York Street Revival and Trash Dance" together for a month each week doing a show.

Streamline & Interscope Records

Somewhere in 2007, Rob Fusari sent some songs to his friends, Vincent Herbert of Streamline Records. After, Vincent went to one of Lady Gaga with Lady Starlight burlesque show and he said to her: "I got you" and signed her on his label. Gaga also sparked the interest of Interscope's Chairman Jimmy Iovine in 2007. He offered her a label deal via Streamline/Interscope shortly after her performance at Lollapalooza with Lady Starlight in August. At that time, she learned a lot about songwriting and worked with a number of producers and trying to build a name for herself. Jody Gerson signed Gaga’s publishing deal with Sony/ATV. She said to Billboard Magazine, that she had faith Gaga would break out and become an in-demand writer and star. “She blew me away from the moment I met her,” Gerson says. “She was already signed to Interscope, and we are so lucky to all be on the same page and have a great working relationship.” During the fall, RedOne played Boys Boys Boys to Akon with whom he have a production company called RedOneKonvict. Akon was so excited that he wanted her as writer for artists on Universal (Nicole Scherzinger’s solo project, New Kids on the Block). They met in November 2007 and started writing together and she learned a lot about songwriting during that time.

"I was like the weird girl who dressed like a zoo animal, the trash glamour in a roomful of urban hip-hop cats," she smiles. "They'd be, like, 'Gaga, what do you think of this lyric?' and I'd twist it all up and all of a sudden it was edgy." Lady Gaga

Related articles

  1. 1986-2008: Early Years
  2. 2008-2009: The Fame era
  3. 2009-2010: The Fame Monster era
  4. 2011-2013: Born This Way era
  5. 2013-2014: ARTPOP era
  6. 2014-2015: Cheek to Cheek era
  7. 2016-2018: Joanne era


On location photographers

These pictures were taken before/during/after an event where Gaga performed prior to 2008. Technically, they are not "photoshoots".


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