Klaus Sperber (January 24, 1944 – August 6, 1983), better known as Klaus Nomi, was a German countertenor noted for his wide vocal range and an unusual, otherworldly stage persona.
Nomi was known for his bizarrely visionary theatrical live performances, heavy make-up, unusual costumes, and a highly stylized signature hairdo which flaunted a receding hairline. His songs were equally unusual, ranging from synthesizer-laden interpretations of classical music opera to covers of 1960s pop standards like Chubby Checker's "The Twist" and Lou Christie's "Lightnin' Strikes". He is remembered in the US as one of David Bowie's backup singers for a 1979 performance on Saturday Night Live.
Nomi died in 1983 at the age of 39 as a result of complications from AIDS before the disease had been named.
Klaus Nomi was born Klaus Sperber in Immenstadt, Bavaria, Germany on January 24, 1944. In the 1960s, he worked as an usher at the Deutsche Oper in West Berlin where he sang for the other ushers and maintenance crew on stage in front of the fire curtain after performances. Around that time he also sang opera arias at the Berlin gay discothèque Kleist Casino.
Nomi moved to New York City in 1972. He began his involvement with the art scene based in the East Village. According to a documentary film made by Andrew Horn, Nomi took singing lessons and supported himself working as a pastry chef.
In 1972 , Nomi appeared in a satirical camp production of Richard Wagner's Das Rheingold at Charles Ludlam's Ridiculous Theater Company as the Rheinmaidens and the Wood Bird.
Nomi came to the attention of New York City's art scene in 1978 with his performance in "New Wave Vaudeville", a four-night event MC'd by artist David McDermott. Dressed in a skin-tight spacesuit with clear plastic cape, Klaus sang the aria Mon cœur s'ouvre à ta voix ("My heart opens to your voice") from Camille Saint-Saëns' 1877 opera Samson et Dalila. The performance ended with a chaotic crash of strobe lights, smoke bombs, and loud electronic sound effects as Nomi backed away into the smoke. Joey Arias recalled: "I still get goose pimples when I think about it... It was like he was from a different planet and his parents were calling him home. When the smoke cleared, he was gone." The reaction was so overwhelmingly positive that he was invited to perform at clubs all over New York City.
At the New Wave Vaudeville show Klaus Nomi met Kristian Hoffman, songwriter for the Mumps. Hoffman was a performer and MC in the second incarnation of New Wave Vaudeville and a close friend of Susan Hannaford and Tom Scully, who produced the show, and Ann Magnuson, who directed it.
Anya Phillips, then manager of James Chance in the Contortions, suggested Klaus and Kristian form a band. Hoffman became Klaus' de facto musical director, assembling a band that included Page Wood from another New Wave vaudeville act, Come On, and Joe Katz, who was concurrently in The Student Teachers, the Accidents, and The Mumps.
Hoffman helped Klaus choose his pop covers, including the Lou Christie song "Lightning Strikes." Hoffman wrote several pop songs with which Klaus is closely identified: "The Nomi Song", "Total Eclipse", "After The Fall", and "Simple Man", the title song of Nomi's second RCA French LP.
This configuration of the Klaus Nomi band performed at Manhattan clubs, including several performances at Max's Kansas City, Danceteria and Hurrah.
Disagreements with the management Klaus engaged led to a dissolution of this band, and Klaus continued without them.
In the late 1970s while performing at Club 57, The Mudd Club, The Pyramid Club, and other venues, Nomi assembled a group of up-and-coming models, singers, artists, and musicians to perform live with him, which at times included Joey Arias, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, John Sex and Kenny Scharf. He also appeared on Manhattan Cable's TV Party.
David Bowie heard about Nomi's performances in New York and soon met him and Joey Arias at the Mudd Club. Bowie hired them as performers and backup singers for his appearance on Saturday Night Live which aired on December 15, 1979. The band performed "TVC 15", "The Man Who Sold the World", and "Boys Keep Swinging". During the performance of "TVC 15", Nomi and Arias dragged around a large prop pink poodle with a television screen in its mouth. Nomi was so impressed with the plastic quasi-tuxedo suit that Bowie wore during "The Man Who Sold the World" that he commissioned one to be made for himself. Nomi can be seen wearing the suit on the cover of his self-titled album, as well as during a number of his music videos. Nomi wore his variant of the outfit, in monochromatic black-and-white with spandex and makeup to match, until the last few months of his life. Then, mostly focusing on operatic pieces and increasingly ill with AIDS-related illnesses, including Kaposi's sarcoma, he wore a Baroque era operatic outfit complete with full collar.
Nomi also collaborated with producer Man Parrish. He appeared on Parrish's album Hip Hop Bee Bop as a backup vocalist on the track "Six Simple Synthesizers."
He played a supporting role as a Nazi official in Anders Grafstrom's 1980 underground film The Long Island Four.
The 1981 rock documentary film, Urgh! A Music War features Nomi's live performance of Total Eclipse.His performance of Mon cœur s'ouvre à ta voix was used as the music for the closing credits.
666 Fifth Avenue was listed as the contact address in the liner notes of Nomi's 1981 self-titled record.