(born August 29, 1955) is an American-born avant-garde performance artist, vocalist, and composer. Her parents are Greek Orthodox. Galas was born and raised in San Diego, California. She was classically trained in jazz piano from an early age, training which reveals itself consistently throughout all her work.
Known for her distinctive, operatic voice, which has a three and a half octave range, Galas has been described as “capable of the most unnerving vocal terror”. Galas often shrieks, howls, and seems to imitate glossolalia in her performances. Her works largely concentrate on the topics of suffering, despair, condemnation, injustice and loss of dignity. Critic Robert Conroy has said that she is ‘unquestionably one of the greatest singers America has ever produced’, and comparisons are frequently made between her and another soprano of Greek origin, Maria Callas.
She has worked with many avant-garde composers including Phillip Glass, Terry Riley, John Zorn, Iannis Xenakis and Vinko Globokar. She made her performance debut at the Festival d’Avignon in France as the lead in Globokar’s opera, Un Jour Comme Une Autre which deals with the death by torture of a Turkish woman. The work was sponsored by Amnesty International. She also contributed her voice to Francis Ford Coppola’s film Dracula (1992) and appeared on the film’s soundtrack.
Her work first garnered widespread attention with the controversial 1991 live recording of the album Plague Mass in the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in New York. With it, Galas attacked the Roman Catholic Church for its indifference to AIDS using biblical texts. In the words of Terrorizer Magazine, “The church was made to burn with sound, not fire.” Plague Mass was a live rendition of excerpts from her same-titled trilogy which began as a response/homage/indictment to the multitudinous effects of AIDS upon the silent class, of which her brother, playwright Philip-Dimitri Galas, was a member.
During the period of these recordings, Galas had we are all and HIV positive tattooed upon her knuckles; an artistic expression of disillusionment and disgust with the ignorance and apathy surrounding the AIDS epidemic. Her brother, who died during the trilogy’s final production, reportedly appreciated her efforts.
Galas herself suffers from hepatitis C. “I have Hepatitis C, so the parallels are quite close with HIV, if somewhat different,” she related in a 2006 interview with Michael Evans. “It’s so huge now. So many people have hepatitis now. You see magazines now describe it as the AIDS of the new millennia. How stupid.”
In 1994, Galas collaborated with Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones. The resultant record, The Sporting Life, while containing much of Galas’s trademark vocal gymnastics, is probably the closest she has ever come to rock music.
Galas also performs as a blues artist interpreting a wide range of songs into her unique piano and vocal styles. This aspect of her work is perhaps best represented by her 1992 album, The Singer, where she covered the likes of Willie Dixon, Roy Acuff, and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins while accompaning herself on piano. For that album, she also recorded several traditional songs as well as the rarely heard Desmond Carter-penned version of Gloomy Sunday. Many of her selections both within and outside of blues repertoire have sometimes been categorized as ‘homicidal love songs’. She also focuses on the death penalty. One program of songs, “Frenzy,” has been dedicated to executed serial killer Aileen Wuornos, and features the work of Phil Ochs’s Iron Lady and Hank Williams’ I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.
Galas has published one book, 1996’s The Shit of God (ISBN 185242432X). Her latest song cycle is an interpretation of songs by Édith Piaf and Marlene Dietrich.
Selected Diamanda Galas records
- * Litanies of Satan (1982) – notable for “Wild Women with Steak Knives”
- * Faust. Eros. Tod (1982 ?) (live)
- * Diamanda Galas (1984) – AKA Panoptikon
- * Saint of the Pit (1986)
- * Divine Punishment (1986)
- * You Must Be Certain of the Devil (1988)
- * Masque of the Red Death (1989)
- * Plague Mass (1984 End of the Epidemic) (1991) (live)
- * The Singer (1992)
- * Vena Cava (1993)
- * The Sporting Life (1994), with John Paul Jones
- * Schrei X (1996) (live)
- * Malediction & Prayer (1998) (live)
- * La serpenta canta (2003) (Live collection of her favourite blues songs and one of her own (Baby’s Insane))
- * Defixiones, Will and Testament (2003)