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The NYPL Podcast

Podcast #101: Debbie Harry with Chris Stein on Beatniks, the Stillettoes, and Style

Debbie Harry is best known as the iconic singer of Blondie, which recorded hit albums such as Parallel Lines and Eat to the Beat. She has recorded albums as a solo artist and appeared in many films and television shows, including The Muppet Show and Forever, Lulu.  This week for the New York Public Library Podcast, we're proud to present Debbie Harry discussing beatniks, the Stillettoes, and style.

Debbie Harry and Chris Stein
Debbie Harry and Chris Stein

Harry moved to New York City during the late 1960s. She calls her motivations as somewhat romantic:

"That's why I wanted to come to New York: I did, I wanted to be a beatnik forever. I just wanted to be a beatnik and I was so disappointed that they were gone by the time that I got here. I mean there were remnants of course, but I mean where else would a person go besides New York City?"

Prior to Blondie, she started a band called the Stillettoes, which featured all female singers.

"I saw Elda at Max's, Elda Gentile, and I had known her from The Dolls days. I was there to see a band. I don't remember which one. She said that she had a band with Holly Woodlawn. I said, 'Give me your number because I really want to see.' So I called her and she said that the band had broken up, and I said, 'Well let's start another band.' And that's what we did... It grew from Elda's love of cabaret and rock and my interest in rock and R & B. And then we had another singer Roseanne [Ross] who was very much into soul and R & B and gospel, so we just all took turns singing our favorite kind of music, and eventually, we actually got musicians to play with us."

Blondie's music has often been praised for its synthesis of diverse styles and influences. Harry spoke about their music as the result of living in a polyculture:

"We've always said this: we grew up in this metropolitan area where it's always been like a meltdown of cultures and styles of music. And fortunately, we grew up listening to all different stuff. And being turned on by it! I mean, when you're a kid, you're open, you know? You listen to the stuff. You're not socially involved. The music scene is not there. You're just a kid. The singer gets you. It just becomes a part of your nature."

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The Stillettos

Actually, Holly Woodlawn's Pure Garbage did not break up. I convinced Holly she should study with Lewis Friedman to develop a cabaret act and pursued musicians to begin The Stillettos. I sold my Andy Warhol cow which was signed to me to rent a loft i the flower district and exchanged use of a PA system for free rehearsal with Jayne County. I put my heart, soul and everything I had to put the Stillettos on the map. I hope it is appreciated.

where's Mr. Fab.

It truly is such a blessing to have the original composers of the past two decades here in this world with all of us. But it is vital to think that there was another scene in that era. The most important question of all is if Mr. Fabolous Five is still around ??
I am an archivist of Blondie history. The pre-Blondie band name is correctly spelled "Stillettoes" (different from the spelling of the plural of the women's shoe). An archive of Blondie history that I maintain contains a number of gig flyers and advertisements circa 1974, some provided personally by The Stillettoes' late drummer Billy O'Connor, as well as Chris Stein's photograph of the tattoo of the band's name on Eric Emerson's arm (published in the 1982 Blondie autobiography, "Making Tracks: The Rise of Blondie" which spelled the Stillettoes name correctly). Elda, who posted the previous comment, was a founding member of the Stillettoes and came up with the name. Please visit my archive and help get the historical record correct by updating the article: Thanks for the great article and audio recording.


Thank you for pointing that error out, Barry! We've fixed it.

Those Sunglasses on Drag Race

Please please please tell me where to find those fabulous neon green sunglasses you wore on RuPaul's Drag Race. It's life or death. xoxo

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