Boy George & Culture Club

Updated: Oct 12, 2021

English musician

Culture Club frontman who became a successful solo artist and top record producer. Boy George was born on June 14, 1961 in Eltham, Kent, England as George Alan O'Dowd. Boy George is universally recognised as one of the music scenes most iconic artists and for the past 30 years has maintained a strong position at the forefront of this ever-changing, multi-faceted industry. boygeorgeuk.com

George Alan O'Dowd (born 14 June 1961), known professionally as Boy George, is an English singer, songwriter, DJ, fashion designer, photographer and record producer. He is the lead singer of the pop band Culture Club. At the height of the band's fame, during the 1980s, they recorded global hit songs such as "Karma Chameleon", "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me" and "Time (Clock of the Heart)". George is known for his soulful voice and his androgynous appearance. He was part of the British New Romantic movement which emerged in the late 1970s to the early 1980s.

His music is often classified as blue-eyed soul, which is influenced by rhythm and blues and reggae. His look and style of fashion was greatly inspired by glam rock pioneers David Bowie and Marc Bolan. He was the lead singer of Jesus Loves You between 1989 and 1992. In 2015, Boy George received an Ivor Novello Award from the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors for Outstanding Services to British Music.[2] In 2002, he was voted 46th in a BBC poll of the 100 Greatest Britons.[3]

Early life, family and career[edit source]

Boy George was born George Alan O'Dowd at Barnehurst Hospital, Kent, England, on 14 June 1961 and raised in Woolwich,[4] the second of five children born to builder[5] Jerry O'Dowd (born Jeremiah; 1932 – 2004) and Dinah O'Dowd (born Christina Glynn; 1939). He was raised in a working-class Irish Catholic family; his father was born in England of Irish descent and his mother is from Dublin. He has one older brother Kevin, as well as two younger brothers Gerald and David and a younger sister Siobhán. George also has an older half-brother Richard, who was born out of wedlock in Dublin in 1957 when his mother was just 18; she moved to London with him to start a new life and escape the stigma of being an unmarried mother.[6][7][8]

George has compared his family history to a "sad Irish song." His maternal grandmother was permanently taken from her family at age 6 after being found outside the family home alone, and placed into an Industrial School. His great uncle Thomas Bryan was executed by the British in 1921 during the Irish War of Independence.[9] According to George's mother, who published a memoir in 2007, Jerry O'Dowd was physically and mentally abusive and beat her even when she was pregnant with George.[7] George said of his father, "He was a terrible father and a terrible husband."[6] In 1995, George's youngest brother Gerald, who suffers from schizophrenia, was convicted of killing his wife in an episode of paranoia.[7][10]

George was a follower of the New Romantic movement, which was popular in the UK in the early 1980s. He lived in various squats around Warren Street in Central London.[11][12] He and his friend Marilyn were regulars at Blitz,[13] a London nightclub run by Steve Strange and Rusty Egan.[14] The pop artists that inspired him were Siouxsie and the Banshees, Roxy Music, Patti Smith,[15] and the two major glam rock pioneers, David Bowie and T. Rex frontman Marc Bolan.[16] On the impact of Bolan and Bowie on him, George states,

"They represented a kind of bohemian existence that I – at that point – could only imagine living. I loved the music. The first time I ever saw Marc Bolan really, properly was singing ‘Metal Guru’ and just loved him. I don’t think you can separate an artist from what they wear or what they sing – it’s kind of the complete package. It’s something which is very organic and individual".[16]

Boy George's androgynous style of dressing caught the attention of music entrepreneur Malcolm McLaren (previously the manager of the Sex Pistols), who arranged for George to perform with the group Bow Wow Wow.[17] Going by the stage name Lieutenant Lush, his tenure with Bow Wow Wow proved problematic with lead singer Annabella Lwin.[18] George eventually left the group and started his own band with bassist Mikey Craig. They were joined by Jon Moss (who had drumming stints with the Damned and Adam and the Ants) and then guitarist Roy Hay. Originally they were named Sex Gang Children,[19] but settled on the name Culture Club, referring to the various ethnic backgrounds of the members.[20]

"Britain, home of the brave new world of pop, has kept lobbing them over. One need only look at the current charts, which are flecked with such dauntless new-music wunderkinds as Eurythmics and Madness, not to mention the unlikeliest pop scion of them all, by george: Boy George O’Dowd of Culture Club." —Anglomania: The Second British Invasion, by Parke Puterbaugh for Rolling Stone, November 1983.[21]

The band recorded demos that were paid for by EMI Records, but the label declined to sign them. Virgin Records expressed interest in signing the group in the UK for European releases, while Epic Records handled the US and North American distribution. They recorded their debut album Kissing to Be Clever (UK No. 5, US No. 14,) and it was released in 1982. The single "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?", became an international hit, reaching No. 1 in multiple countries around the world, plus top ten in several more countries (US No. 2). This was followed by the Top 5 hit "Time" in the US and UK, and "I'll Tumble 4 Ya" which reached US No. 9. This gave Culture Club the distinction of being the first group since the Beatles to have three Top 10 hits in the US from a debut album.[22]

Their next album, Colour By Numbers was an enormous success, topping the UK charts and hit No. 2 in the US. The single "Church of the Poison Mind" became a Top 10 hit, and "Karma Chameleon" became an international hit, peaking at No. 1 in 16 countries, and the top ten in additional countries. It hit No. 1 in the US where it stayed for three weeks. It was the best-selling single of the year in the United Kingdom, where it spent six weeks at No. 1. "Victims" and "It's a Miracle" were further Top 5 UK hits, while "Miss Me Blind" reached the Top 5 in the US.

Reflecting his theatrical make-up and androgynous fashion, one of Boy George's outfits on display at the Hard Rock Cafe, Hollywood

The band's third album Waking Up with the House on Fire (UK No. 2, US No. 26) was not as big a hit as its predecessors internationally, but still achieved chart success. The first single, "The War Song", was a No.2 hit in the UK, but further singles performed below expectations. George then provided a lead vocal role on the Band Aid international hit single "Do They Know It's Christmas". The single featured mostly British and Irish musical acts, and proceeds from the song were donated to feed famine victims in Africa during the 1984–1985 famine in Ethiopia. Unlike many of the bands featured on the single, Culture Club did not perform at Live Aid in July 1985.[23]

In 1986, George performed a guest-starring cameo role in an episode of the television series The A-Team titled "Cowboy George". Also in 1986, Culture Club released their fourth album, From Luxury to Heartache (UK No. 10, US No. 32) which featured the hit single, "Move Away". With George's subsequent drug addiction, the underwhelming performance of their last two albums, a soured romance between band members shrouded in secrecy, and a wrongful death lawsuit looming,[24] the group ultimately disbanded.