Tori Amos

Tori Amos  (born Myra Ellen Amos; August 22, 1963) is an American singer-songwriter, pianist and composer.  Having already begun composing instrumental pieces on piano, Amos won a full scholarship to the Peabody Institute at Johns Hopkins University, the youngest person ever to have been admitted, at age five.  She was expelled at age eleven for, in her own words, insisting on playing by ear and because of her interest in popular rock music.  She has since become one of the world’s most prominent female singer-songwriters whose songs have discussed a broad range of topics from sexuality, feminism, politics and religion.  She was also noteworthy early in her solo career as one of the few alternative rock performers to use a piano as her primary instrument.  (More from Wikipedia)



When I first encountered the music of Tori Amos, it sounded so different from everything else on the music scene that I wasn’t even sure it would be filed in the Rock category at the record stores.  Tori was born in North Carolina as the daughter of a Methodist minister, though she was raised in Maryland.  She was a musical prodigy who knew her way around a piano as a young girl.  Tori Amos received a scholarship at Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, though she lost it at age 11, possibly because of her growing interest in popular music, particularly Led Zeppelin


Her first foray into music was to front a rock band called Y Kant Tori Read; their sole album release was also called Y Kant Tori Read (1987) and sold very few copies.  (Remarkably, Tori Amos still didn’t lose her recording contract with Atlantic Records).  Many years later, I saw an original copy of the album at a record collectors show in San Francisco; it was priced at $115.  After holding it awhile, I remembered coming across a copy at a used record store (also in San Francisco I think but before I moved there).  It was priced rather high ($8 or $10), and I wondered why I had never heard of it.  I passed on the purchase and thought of it (and others that got away) often over the years, but I don’t dwell on it anymore:  Y Kant Tori Read would have gone through Hurricane Katrina like all the rest. 


Tori Amos then began developing the highly personal and often confessional style that would mark the rest of her career.  Initially she mainly sang in her idiosyncratic and versatile vocal style while accompanying herself on the piano.  Her posture during concerts is also unusual – she sits side-saddle on the piano bench facing the audience, often writhing at the time. 


What brought Tori Amos early attention was an even sparer performance of a true story:  an a capella rendition of her being raped by an acquaintance, and what was going through her head during the ordeal.  The song, “Me and a Gun” was the title song on an EP called Me and a Gun; it is also included on her first solo album, Little Earthquakes (1992).  Her slow-tempoed cover of the Nirvana hit song “Smells Like Teen Spirit” later became a tribute to Kurt Cobain following his death. 


But Tori Amos’ higher profile went beyond only record sales and television appearances and such:  Women across the country and around the world identified strongly with what she was saying and were also listening closely to the intensity of her feminist voice in the struggles with religion, relationships and abuse that were outlined in her songs.  She became the first spokesperson for the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), the largest such organization in the country. 


In later albums like Under the Pink and Boys for PeleTori Amos brought rock embellishments back to her music that had not worked out successfully on her initial album.  In all, she has released 15 albums.   

(February 2014)
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Last edited: April 3, 2021