Before everybody was talkin’ about him, Harry Nilsson was born a poor kid in a rough neighborhood in Brooklyn. His childhood home remains standing today at the corner of Jefferson and Patchen Avenues in Bed-Stuy.
From Danny Kaye to Biggie Smalls, Brooklyn, New York has been the birthplace of scores of renowned artists and music-makers. And while we may associate old Brooklyn with a tough attitude and a particular accent, the sons and daughters of the borough tend to defy the cultural and ethnic stereotypes with their diversity and individuality. Happy-go-lucky (and, later, hell-bent) singer and songwriter Harry Nilsson is just such an iconoclast.
The crooner was born to a poor family in the Bed-Stuy section of Brooklyn on June 15th, 1941. He lived on the top floor of 762 Jefferson Avenue, a simple Romanesque Revival-style apartment building constructed in 1901, until the family fled to California a decade later. Nilsson shared the small apartment with his mother and half sister, his grandparents, two uncles, an aunt, and a cousin. The small, three-story building still stands, offering no indication of its most notable resident.
Nilsson famously described the neighborhood as “a crummy place to grow up if you’re blonde and white.” Indeed, the poverty and abandonment—his father left the family shortly after his birth—that he experienced during this period would haunt the artist throughout his career, informing songs such as “1941” and “Daddy’s Song” and “Gotta Get Up.” He returned to the site only once before he died, an emotionally fraught visit chronicled in the 2010 documentary, Who Is Harry Nilsson?
- Drake E Nilsson