Annie Lennox's Life And Career Through The Years

Some illustrious musicians are born into musical royalty: Liza Minnelli was the daughter of Judy Garland, Norah Jones' father was Ravi Shankar, and, as per Ballinger Publishing, Frank Zappa's son Dweezil Zappa released his first single aged 12, and it was produced by non other than Eddie Van Halen. The same can't be said about Annie Lennox. As "Annie Lennox: The Biography," by Bryony Sutherland and Lucy Ellis, Lennox was born into a working class Scottish family on Christmas Day 1954. But she slowly paved her own way to royalty, as she held on to music as her greatest passion.

Throughout her career (which now spans across almost half a century), Lennox has written classical music, reinterpreted jazz masters' songs, and produced hits known around the globe, from "Walking on Broken Glass" to Eurythmics' "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)." She was much more than Dave Stewart's partner in Eurythmics, and she continues to delight her audiences with new musical projects. Lately, she's also been involved in several activist organizations, from UNAIDS and Greenpeace to her own feminist project, the Circle (via her official website). Without further ado, let's explore Annie Lennox's life and career through the years.

She had humble beginnings

As per "Annie Lennox: The Biography," by Bryony Sutherland and Lucy Ellis', Annie Lennox was born in Aberdeen, Scotland, to Tom Lennox, a shipyard boilermaker, and Dorothy Lennox, a homemaker and occasional school cook. She remembers on Al Jazeera's "One on One":" "My family didn't have a lot of money to go around. We weren't absolutely poor, but every penny had to be accounted for, saved, and ... rigorously economized." She remembers fondly visiting her neighbor to watch their color TV and watching her dad practice the bagpipe. 

As Lennox's family friend June Smith recalls, Lennox was an only child, and this meant two things. One, her parents were a little stricter with her than most families at the time. Two, in comparison to other working class families, the Lennoxes could afford a little more as they didn't have the usual several mouths to feed.

Tom Lennox and his whole side of the family were stern communists (which was the norm for working class men at the time). This would reflect in his behavior toward Annie: She remembers him as authoritarian, something that damaged their relationship at times. Dorothy Lennox, on the other hand, was a softer presence, as per Lennox's friend Barry Maguire: "[She] moves like an angel, gentle, with ivory pink skin ... She's a very caring mother, wanting Ann to do the right thing." But, despite financial hardship (and diverging parenting styles), both parents supported Lennox in her pursuit of music.

She loves all kinds of music

Annie Lennox was 3 years old when she touched the first piano, albeit a toy one. According to "Annie Lennox: The Biography," the Lennox parents decided to encourage her musical talent and buy her a real piano after they noticed she would effortlessly replicate TV tunes on the toy piano. So, aged 7, Lennox began her musical career on an actual piano. From then on, Lennox knew she wanted to make music. She commented on Al Jazeera's "One on One," "I love music from as far back as I can remember ... Just listening to music ... I know I always have to respond to that."

This is why Lennox did not limit herself to the piano — she went on to get a classical flute training at the Royal Academy of Music in London, then pursue a pop career, then experiment with various other genres. These reflect in the music she enjoys, too, as she told MSNBC's Ari Melber, "My taste is hugely eclectic. I come from a background of folk music and classical music." Today, Lennox names Gregory Porter and Bob Marley among her favorite musicians. She also believes music transcends genres, times, and cultures: "We take from this, we give to that [and] this is where the mashups come."

She abandoned the Royal Academy of Arts days before the finals

Indeed, Annie Lennox wasn't always a pop star. She started out with a classical route, in both senses of the word. As per Lennox's biography, she was just 17 years old when she passed a flute exam and an interview at the Royal Academy of Music in London. Over the summer, Lennox worked at a smelly fish factory in order to put some cash aside for the very expensive London: "I used to wrap my work clothes in a plastic bag each night and fall flat on my face when I opened it the next morning." It's safe to say Lennox was very enthusiastic about going to study at the Academy.

But it wasn't the same when she actually got there, as she remembers on Al Jazeera: "I swiftly realized that, when it came down to my personality [and] motivation, the classical scene wasn't really going for me." Lennox also found living in London tough, as a young student with zero connections and little to no cash. Her motivation seemed to decrease over the three undergrad years up to a boiling point: "I actually hadn't been to a history of music lecture in the whole time that I was at the Academy." The final exams were three days away when Lennox decided to skip them and pursue a career in the pop music industry, without a classical music diploma.

Fame was scary for Annie Lennox

Who doesn't dream of being rich and famous every once in a while? Annie Lennox certainly dreamed of it as a young child, as per "Annie Lennox: The Biography:" "When I was a child, I had a lot of fantasies ... the wigs, the videos with flash cars, even seeing myself on magazine covers." When she paired up with her lover-turned-bandmate Dave Stewart and created Eurythmics, Lennox achieved her dreams. Their 1983 global hit "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)" became a No. 1 hit in the United States, as per Billboard, and the song would be heard on the radio across the globe.

But, as she told MSNBC's Ari Melber, fame came with a cohort of negative after effects: "Anonymity had gone ... So I had this incredible feeling of vulnerability and then, any moment now, some terrible disaster was awaiting me." Lennox continued to find fame emotionally distressing throughout her career, long after the Eurythmics hit. She commented, "If you want to be in a pop group, you either become completely debauched and die of a drug overdose ... or else you renounce everything and live like a nun. I think I've straddled them both." Today, Lennox tries to stay out of the spotlight and notoriously shuns tabloids and personal life questions, as she told Al Jazeera.

She composed music for Lord of the Rings (and got an Oscar for it)

Perhaps one lesser-known fact about Annie Lennox's complex musical career is her film score venture from the early 2000s. As Songfacts explains, Lennox teamed up with Fran Walsh and Howard Shore to create a song for "Lord of the Rings: Return of the King" (the third and last movie of the saga). Titled "Into the West," their song became an immediate sensation and went on to receive the ultimate prize the following year, at the 2004 Oscars.

When Lennox received the prize, she thanked the Academy and said (via Oscars), "I'd like to thank Peter Jackson so much for inviting me to be a part of this extraordinary project." Then, she addressed her fellow Oscar winners, Walsh and Shore: "You were extraordinary, you were very inspiring, and I hope you enjoyed the song when I sang it tonight." Indeed, just hours prior, Lennox performed "Into the West" for the Oscars audience.

"Into the West" was actually inspired by the untimely death of New Zealand filmmaker Cameron Duncan. His funeral was the first time the song was performed in public.

She didn't aim to be a gender-bender

During the 1980s, Annie Lennox became quite a famous figure for cross-dressing and sporting an androgynous look, as "Annie Lennox: The Biography" confirms. But interestingly enough, she never aimed to be a gender-bender, as she told MSNBC's Ari Melber: "I wanted to be a powerful performer ... [Eurythmics] was in partnership with Dave, who's a man, and the sense of being equals, almost like twins on the stage." Lennox also explained that she didn't always wear men's suits. At that time, Lennox was experimenting with a variety of costumes, all of which were designed to convey a powerful image that made songs more memorable to the audience. As the messages in her songs were pretty strong, so were the outfits.

Lennox told Melber about her most famous appearance in the "Sweet Dreams" video: "'Sweet Dreams' is a statement about the existential nature of the human condition if you like." Her masculine energy and fashion apparel weren't meant to paint her as a gay icon, let alone a gender bender. Lennox actually told Pride Source she never liked that label: "I really felt it was diminishing in a way ... I wasn't bending gender ... I was saying, 'Look, as a woman I can be equal to a man.'" Lennox wanted to state that the female part of a musical duo is not the looks, nor is the male part the brains.

She led an HIV/AIDS campaign inspired by Nelson Mandela

As she explained on TED Global in 2010, Annie Lennox became seriously involved in the HIV/AIDS campaign back in 2003, when Nelson Mandela invited her to South Africa. Lennox participated in a concert for Foundation 46664 (which was the prisoner number assigned to Mandela at the Robben Island Prison), but it wasn't the concert that had the biggest impact on her. During a press conference, Mandela commented that AIDS was taking a thousand lives every day, and that women and children were the most vulnerable. Lennox remembers, "This was a huge impact on my mind, because I am a woman and I am a mother, and I hadn't realized that the HIV/AIDS pandemic was directly affecting women in such a way ... When I left Capetown, I told myself, 'This is going to be something that I have to talk about. I have to serve.'"

As Lennox's official website states, she is now involved with the UNAIDS campaign, which seeks to end AIDS as a public threat by 2030. Lennox has also been famously wearing her "HIV positive" shirt (as shown in the picture above) so as to show her solidarity with HIV positive people and to reduce the stigma associated with HIV. She confirmed she is not actually HIV positive (via MTV): "It will raise questions, I know, as to whether I am HIV positive. And I can tell you, actually, the good news is I am not. However, many people are."

She's skeptical of organized religion

When she spoke to Al Jazeera, Annie Lennox explained that she has always been pretty skeptical of organized religion, and various moments in her life contributed to her views. Her first experience was a religiously divided family: While her mother had some ties to the Church of Scotland, her father and the rest of his family were atheists. Then, as per the Irish Examiner, Lennox's first husband, Radha Raman, was a Hare Krishna devotee. They got married in 1984, and the next year, they got divorced. She commented that, apart from the marriage being a mistake, she also became disillusioned with the Hare Krishna movement: "I saw things in that movement at the time ... that I thought were horrific. And I thought they were really quite fundamentalist."

Lennox remains disappointed in organized religion and explains why to Al Jazeera: "I think that religion should be the highest ... moral [and] ethical example of the best of humanity. And sadly ... I see that, for me, organized religion most often creates division."

Music and activism go hand-in-hand for Annie Lennox

Considering the powerful statements of her songs (and outfits), you could say Annie Lennox has always been an activist. But during the last few decades, she has taken activism to new levels, as her official website shows. She is involved with Amnesty International, Greenpeace, UNAIDS, and has even started her own organization, the Circle. As per the Circle's website, Lennox founded the organization in 2008 with one goal –to bring together women and their allies to fight for  rights and equal opportunities.

But for Lennox, activism is not at all separate from her musical career. Both her pursuits seek to bring people from around the world together and unite, rather than divide, as she made clear on MSNBC: "The human race has two propensities — one for beauty, for love ... creativity, unity ... And we also have a shadow side ... Music [is] such a healing thing, that it brings people together."

She's had a fair share of tragedy in her life

It's a well-known trope that art comes from struggle. In Annie Lennox's case, this is quite true — as she told The Times, she has suffered from depression as a child, predominantly because of the weather. As the Daily Record reports, seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is pretty common in Scotland, where sunlight disappears for months on end during winter. But Lennox's bouts of depression didn't go away after leaving Scotland. As per Press and Journal, Lennox commented on writing the famous Eurythmics song "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This):" "It's basically me saying 'Look at the state of us. How can it get any worse?' The song was an expression of how I felt: hopeless and nihilistic."

But tragedy did not end there with Lennox. As Al Jazeera confirms, Lennox lost both her parents to cancer. The Herald reports that Lennox's father died in 1986, while her 73-year-old mother died in 2003. Lennox had another devastating moment in 1988, when her son Daniel was stillborn (via The Telegraph). She commented, "You have to be in pain before you write something of any value. But it's almost like you're a potter and that's the clay you use."

If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

Dave Stewart changed her career path

If it wasn't for Dave Stewart, Annie Lennox would not have become the world-renowned Eurythmics star — it was their friendship, connection, and common goals that created the famous musical duo. As per AllMusic, the two met in the late 1970s, and they became romantically involved. According to "Annie Lennox: The Biography," Lennox and Stewart were a couple for four years, breaking up before creating Eurythmics and achieving worldwide fame. As Stewart confessed to The Guardian, "I can't think of any other couple that did what we did – to break up and then start a band. Sonny and Cher did it the other way around ... What we went through was insane."

Lennox and Stewart meant a lot to each other, both on a personal and professional level, as Lennox confessed on Al Jazeera: "Both of us had a tremendous belief in each other as human beings and we had a shared dream." They were also going through different kinds of hardship — Lennox was battling depression, while Stewart had recently been in a serious car accident and had drug abuse problems. So, after temporarily forming a band called the Tourists, the pair soon evolved into their famous musical duo, and the rest is history.

Eurythmics reunited for the 2022 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction

As Press and Journal reports, Eurythmics broke up in 1990, after a decade of hits and revolutionary sounds. The following year, their Greatest Hits collection spent a staggering 10 weeks on the United Kingdom charts at No. 1. Following their breakup, Annie Lennox topped Eurythmics sales with her debut solo album, "Diva," which sold four million copies. Dave Stewart didn't leave the spotlight, either – he went on to become an illustrious songwriter and producer. In 1999, Lennox and Stewart reunited for another Eurythmics album called "Peace" — it would be their last. In fact, their friendship seemed to cool down to an all-time low when Lennox didn't invite Stewart to her wedding. He spoke to the Independent about it: "It's weird, isn't it? People always still think of us as a couple and yet we barely ever talk now ... I don't even know where the wedding was ... I certainly would have gone if she'd asked me."

But in November 2022, Eurythmics fans had a great surprise — Lennox and Stewart finally reunited as they were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, alongside Eminem, Dolly Parton, and Duran Duran (via NME). They even gave a short but powerful performance, which can be seen as the culmination of an intense, inspiring project that captivated millions of people around the world.