RIP Sinéad O'Connor: Artist, activist, icon, gone at 56 - WXPN | Vinyl At Heart

Acclaimed Irish singer-songwriter Sinéad O’Connor has passed away. A bold, outspoken artist with gift for turning deep and sometimes dark feelings into unforgettable pop melodies died at age 56, her family confirmed today with the BBC.

It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of our beloved Sinéad,” their statement read. “Her family and friends are devastated and have requested privacy at this very difficult time.”

Born and raised in the Dublin suburb of Glenageary, O’Connor first turned to songwriting in her turbulent teenage years, and released her first album, The Lion And TheCobra, at age 21 in 1987. Mixing driving 80s drum machine pop with folk singer-songwriter vulnerability, the album’s singles “Mandinka” and “Troy” created buzz at home and abroad; she appeared on Late Night With David Letterman in 1988 to support the record, and collaborated with Brooklyn rapper MC Lyte on a blazing remix of “I Want Your (Hands On Me).”

Her next release, I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got, was even bigger, scoring O’Connor a global number one with the riveting single “Nothing Compares 2 U,” a song written by Prince and made famous in a music video where she walks in the misty Parc de Saint-Cloud in Paris, singing to the camera with a close-cropped buzz cut and a tear-streaked yet self-assured expression on her face. The emotion in the song and the visual ran deep, and O’Connor made you feel every ounce of it.

Sinéad O'Connor - Nothing Compares 2 U

Over the course of a ten-album catalog, O’Connor worked in an eclectic array of genres; Am I Not Your Girl offered up her take on smokey jazz standards with an occasional big band flare; 2002’s  Sean-Nós Nua turned her lens on traditional Irish folk, while 2005’s Throw Down Your Arms found her exploring her favorite reggae deep cuts. Meanwhile, outings like 1994’s Universal Mother, 2000’s Faith and Courage, and 2007’s Theology found her circling back to the pop-oriented singer-songwriter work that made her a star. More than just a musician, O’Connor was deeply a fan of music, and it showed in her work.

Sinead O'Connor - Thank You For Hearing Me

O’Connor was often unafraid and outspoken when it came to publicly addressing the lyrical themes of her music, from racism and police brutality to mental health to sexual abuse in the Catholic church. She’s advocated for LGBT rights and for a unified Ireland, and particularly in the 90s, was not shy about using her platform to do so, famously ripping up a photograph of Pope John Paul II on a Saturday Night Live broadcast during a stirring a cappella cover of “War” by Bob Marley, saying “fight the real enemy.”

This made her journey through the music industry rocky to say the least — Kathryn Ferguson’s brilliant 2022 documentary Nothing Compares depicts a post-SNL blowback from the music press, fans, and fellow artists. It looks at how the word “controversial” is often applied to her, but also reframes her as an honest and compassionate artist who was talking about important issues that the public didn’t always want to hear about.

She was also open an honest about her spiritual journey, differentiating between her criticism of the Catholic church as an organization and the teachings of Christ as a philosophy and theology, as well as her conversion to Islam in 2018, when she changed her name to Shuhada Sadaqat.

Sinéad O'Connor - Nothing Compares Trailer

O’Connor’s music touched on the full range of human emotion — love, rage, fear, gratitude — and went on to inspire singer-songwriters in subsequent generations. Notably, Sharon Van Etten covered her 1990 song “Black Boys On Mopeds” on tour in the wake of Trayvon Martin’s murder, and her version of “Nothing Compares 2 U” was sung by Chris Cornell, P!nk, and more.

O’Connor is survived by three children — Jake Reynolds, Brigidine Roisin Waters, and Yeshua Francis Neil Bonadio; her son Shane Lunny passed away at age 17 in January of 2022 two days after being reported missing.

O’Connor was featured on World Cafe three times; she performed on the show in 1994, and joined David Dye for interviews and performances in 2000 and 2007; listen to her most recent interview with Dye, where she discusses Theology, an album Dye called “a touching and powerful examination of an undeniably passionate artist.”

Sinead O'Connor on World Cafe 2007
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