Birth name: Catherine Bush
Birthplace: Bexleyheath, Kent, England
July 30, 1958 – present
Years Active: 1975 – present
Over her decades-long career, Kate Bush has left a lasting impact on popular music. Her bold, forward-thinking approach to songwriting and performance has influenced artists as varied as Big Boi, Björk, Joanna Newsom, Adele, Perfume Genius, Rosalía, St. Vincent, Lily Allen, Christine and the Queens, Tegan and Sara, k.d. lang, Bat for Lashes, “Kele” Okereke, Tori Amos, Mitski, Regina Spektor, Charli XCX, The Cure, Solange, John Lydon, Grimes, Coldplay, Florence Welch, and Rufus Wainwright. As a record producer, Bush’s embrace of the early digital Fairlight CMI synthesizer showed the possibilities of digital sampling, and as a performer she is widely considered to be the first artist to use a headset microphone on stage.
Catherine Bush was born to an English father and Irish mother and raised in a farmhouse in a village outside London. Both Kate and her brothers, John and Paddy, were exposed to music at an early age: her father was an amateur pianist and her mother was an Irish folk dancer and Celtic singer. Bush studied violin and piano at school, and as a teenager, began composing songs, many of which were recorded on a reel-to-reel tape machine. Through a family friend, a few of the recordings Bush made of her some 200 songs made their way to David Gilmour of Pink Floyd. Impressed by her work, Gilmour helped facilitate a record contract with EMI for Bush, who was 16 at the time.
In 1978, Bush, who was 19 years old, released her first record, The Kick Inside. Against the wishes of the label, she insisted that the first single from the album be the Emily Brontë-inspired song “Wuthering Heights.” Subsequently, the song rose to #1 throughout the United Kingdom, making Bush the first female artist to have an entirely self-penned number one hit in the U.K. The same year, she produced the album Lionheart, which also drew largely from songs she composed earlier. Lionheart peaked at #6 in U.K. charts.
In 1979, Bush undertook the one tour of her career, a massive theatrical spectacle that ended tragically in the accidental death of her lighting engineer, Bill Duffield. At a benefit for Duffield, Bush met Peter Gabriel, who helped introduce her to early digital musical technology. Bush embraced this technology, which included Roland drum machines and the early digital CMI Fairlight synthesizer, in her 1980 album Never For Ever. Never For Ever was the first number one album in the U.K. charts by a female British artist, and paved the way for Bush’s future work, which replaced the more piano-centric approach of The Kick Inside and Lionheart with lush digital and acoustic layers of sound.
Bush’s digital experimentations continued with 1982’s The Dreaming, which was produced entirely by Bush (she would go on to self-produce all subsequent albums). Three years later, she released The Hounds of Love, which is regarded by many not only as Bush’s best album, but one of the greatest albums of all time. The Hounds of Love was the first album to reach the U.S. charts, and it knocked off Madonna’s Like a Virgin to claim the number one spot in the U.K.
Four years later, Bush released The Sensual World, which charted in both the U.S. and U.K. The album contained the well known and oft-covered song “This Woman’s Work.” In 1993 came The Red Shoes, inspired by the film of the same name by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. The album was Bush’s first to feature a large variety of guest musicians, including Eric Clapton, Prince, and Jeff Beck, and was accompanied by a short film, The Line, the Cross and the Curve.
After a 12 year hiatus, Bush returned with the release of the critically-acclaimed double album Ariel in 2005. This was followed by Director’s Cut in 2011, which contained re-interpretations of songs in The Sensual World and The Red Shoes. The same year, Bush released 50 Words for Snow, her tenth studio album, which featured a collaboration with one of her musical idols, Elton John. Directors Cut and 50 Words for Snow were released by Fish People, a label Bush founded.
In March 2014, Bush announced a musical residency at London’s Hammersmith Apollo Theatre. The show, entitled Before the Dawn, sold out almost immediately. Fish People released remastered versions of Bush’s entire catalogue, as well as a collection of B-sides and covers, in 2019. Bush has cited Pink Floyd, Stevie Wonder, Elton John, Genesis, Steely Dan, Peter Gabriel, Prince, Frank Zappa, Captain Beefheart, Alan Stivell, and composer Laurence Rosenthal, as influences. A relatively private person, Bush has dismissed attempts to analyze her lyrics as autobiographical.
Kate Bush’s music has been variously described as “art-rock” or “art-pop.” In contrast to more traditional piano ballads, Bush frequently creates songs by weaving together layers of electronic sounds, acoustic and electronic instruments, and vocals, which often include shrieks, screams, spoken word recitations. Perhaps drawing from her mother’s interest in traditional Irish music, Bush’s songs regularly feature traditional instruments from a variety of cultures (usually played by her brother Paddy), and many of her albums feature traditional musicians, including Irish groups like the Chieftains and Planxty as well as Trio Bulgarka, a women’s choir from Bulgaria. Her lyrics often draw from literary and historical sources, films (particularly Horror genre), and philosophical or metaphysical ideas.