Tribute to Velvet Underground singer, Nico

On October 16, 1938, Velvet Underground singer, model, actor and member of the Warhol Superstars, Nico was born in Germany. Nico’s trademark deep voice, exquisite style and somewhat troubling attitude made her one of the most interesting figures in rock and roll. On what would have been her 75th birthday, we have Ben Harrison, Curator of Performing Arts at The Andy Warhol Museum, and also Matt Wrbican, Chief Archivist at The Warhol in to talk about the life and legacy of Nico.

Nico was born in Germany in 1938, and by the time she was 17 had moved to Paris to continue her modeling career. She worked briefly for Coco Chanel, but abandoned the job to move to New York City.

Modeling wasn’t Nico’s only successful job though. By 1965 she had recorded a cover of Bob Dylan’s “I’ll Keep It With Mine” as well as her first single “I’m Not Sayin’”. Soon after, she met Andy Warhol, who was putting together the Velvet Underground. Warhol suggested that the band take on Nico as a “chanteuse”, and albeit reluctantly, they accepted her. The band became a centerpiece of Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable.

Lou Reed and Nico had a short physical relationship, which Nico ended. This did not help her relationship with the band, which considered her an “interloper”. After her tenure in the Velvet Underground was up, she had mentioned to Warhol in several letters a desire to make another record.

Nico released her first solo album, Chelsea Girl, in 1967. Her 1969 album, The Marble Index, contained more original songwriting as a result of Jim Morrison’s coaching in California. She would continue writing her own music for her later albums as well.

Nico died on the island Ibeza in 1988. She was riding her bicycle and suffered a heart attack, and then a concussion from falling. A local taxi driver found her, but could not get her admitted to a hospital because she had no insurance. Eventually, she was incorrectly diagnosed with having heat exposure, but x-rays later revealed her actual cause of death to be cerebral hemorrhaging.

Nico and the Velvet Underground have had a huge influence on the world of music. Brian Eno even said that despite their lack of success for their first albums, “everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band.”