biography | timeline

Richard Barone began his career at age seven as "The Littlest DJ" on local, Tampa, Florida top-40 radio station WALT. At age sixteen, a chance meeting with Tiny Tim led to producing an album for the pop culture icon. A few years later, another fortuitous meeting, with the Monkees, led Barone to New York City, where he gained attention as the frontman of The Bongos, the new wave band that ignited the Hoboken, N.J. music scene of the early 80s.

The 80s: The Bongos’ debut album, Drums Along the Hudson, compiled from a string of singles released on the U.K.-based Fetish label, instantly won favor on both sides of the Atlantic for its unusual combination of tribal rhythms, Beatlesque chord changes, and Sex Pistols overdrive. Stateside, along with comrades R.E.M. and a handful of others, the Bongos helped to create an exploding college radio market and amassed a fierce cult following. After a national tour with The B-52s, RCA Records took notice and signed the group. The ensuing disc Numbers With Wings spawned the hit MTV video of the title song, and the new wave dancefloor smash "Barbarella." The follow-up, Beat Hotel, along with relentless touring, raised the Bongos' profile even further. They quietly split in '87, soon after Barone released his first solo album, “cool blue halo,” recorded live at New York's legendary Bottom Line. A departure from the usual alternative rock format, its distinctive chamber pop backing of acoustic guitar, vibes, and cello highlighted Barone's lush voice, and became an instant college radio favorite that foreshadowed the 'Unplugged' movement.

The 90s: The next few years saw two more solo albums and tours; Primal Dream (MCA) and Clouds Over Eden (Mesa/Bluemoon). Billy Altman, writing in The New York Times, called the latter work, dedicated to his late friend, rock journalist Nicholas Schaffner, "unquestionably the most fully realized effort of Barone's career." It saw the artist strike a balance between the chamber pop feel of Cool Blue Halo and the rock punch of Primal Dream. In 1997, he released Between Heaven and Cello (Line Records, Germany). Recorded live at NYC's intimate Fez nightclub, it gave his more recent tunes an appealingly stark “cool blue halo” treatment. By the end of the 90s, the Barone had shifted his focus to co-writing, arranging, and producing other artists, including the B-52s' Fred Schneider, Jill Sobule, and many others. He ended the decade as musical director and orchestrator for the musical Bright Lights, Big City at the prestigious New York Theatre Workshop, and developed, directed, and performed in The Downtown Messiah, a modern interpretation of Handel's masterpiece performed live and beamed to over 200 public radio stations nationwide for the next six consecutive holiday seasons.

The 2000s: Major concert productions included his all-star tributes to Miss Peggy Lee at Carnegie Hall, the Chicago Ravinia Festival, and the Hollywood Bowl in 2003-4, The (not so) Great American Songbook for New York's SummerStage in Central Park, as well as his own eclectic series of thematic performances at Joe's Pub at the Public Theater. He served as an executive producer of the The Nomi Song (Palm Pictures, 2005), a documentary on the life of the late new wave countertenor Klaus Nomi. His collaborations with Jill Sobule were heard on television programs The West Wing, Dawson's Creek, Felicity, South of Nowhere, and others. In 2004, COLLECTION: an embarrassment of richard was released, combining Richard’s favorite recordings from his catalogue thus far. Studio projects included producing the first two albums pianist Johnny Rodgers, featuring a duet with Liza Minnelli. Also in 2004, Barone joined his childhood inspiration Donovan for a series of nine performances at Joe's Pub, at which he sang and read excerpts from Allen Ginsberg's Howl in character as Ginsberg. Later, in 2008, he was guest performer and Musical Director for a Donovan concert which was recorded and released on DVD. In 2006, he and the original Bongos reunited in the studio with Moby producing, to create a new version of “The Bulrushes” for the special edition re-issue of Drums Along The Hudson (Cooking Vinyl). Several reunion concerts were held, culminating at an outdoor event in Hoboken, at which the band was honored with a Mayoral Proclamation and Key to the City. Soon after, The Bongos’ RCA catalogue was re-issued by SONY/Legacy.

Barone's memoir, FRONTMAN: Surviving the Rock Star Myth, was published in Fall, 2007 by Backbeat/Hal Leonard Books. A book tour followed, with guest readers including actress Joyce DeWitt and radio personality Vin Scelsa. On October 1, 2008, FRONTMAN: A Musical Reading was performed at Carnegie Hall, with an expanded cast of performers including Moby, The Band's Garth Hudson, Lou Reed, Marshall Crenshaw, Mick Rock, Terre and Suzzy Roche, Randy Brecker, guitarist Carlos Alomar, his fellow Bongos, DeWitt, and other legendary friends and collaborators. In July 2009, Barone entered the recording studio to complete production work on the album he began at age 16 for Tiny Tim, I’ve Never Seen A Straight Banana. The album was released in October 2009 on the Collector’s Choice label.

The 2010s: In May 2010, Richard produced Return To The Pleasure Dome, honoring avant-garde filmmaker Kenneth Anger in a benefit concert for New York’s Anthology Film Archives that included performances by Anger, Lou Reed, Sonic Youth, Moby, and others. In July of that year, he produced and hosted Reclaim the Coast, a concert to benefit the clean-up efforts of the Gulf Oil Spill featuring Pete Seeger, The Roches, and many others at New York’s City Winery. In August, Barone and collaborator Matthew Billy recorded Seeger performing his new song inspired by the Spill, “God’s Counting On Me, God’s Counting On You,” aboard the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater. The single and video, Seeger’s last, were released on Election Day 2012.

Fall of 2010 saw the release of Barone's next album, Glow (Bar/None Records), produced by Tony Visconti (Bowie, T. Rex) with a contributions from Steve Rosenthal (Lou Reed, Monster Magnet) and Steve Addabbo (Suzanne Vega, Shawn Colvin), and help from veteran engineer Leslie Ann Jones at Skywalker Ranch, legendary tunesmith Paul Williams, Jill Sobule, and photographer Mick Rock. U.S. and U.K. tours followed in support of the album.

Commemorating the tenth anniversary of 9/11, Barone co-created with Matthew Billy a special version of the 1894 song “The Sidewalks of New York”. In December 2011, he was appointed professor at the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music at New York University, and to the board of advisors for Anthology Film Archives.

“Hey, Can I Sleep On Your Futon?”, written for the Occupy Wall Street album project, was released in May 2012. Also that month, on May 4th, Richard performed an expanded ‘cool blue halo’ 25th Anniversary Concert with special guests at City Winery NYC, which was filmed and recorded for a deluxe CD/DVD edition released in October. In November, Barone served as music supervisor the Anna Nicole Smith documentary Addicted to Fame, contributing a song to the score. On December 10, 2012, I Belong To Me: The ‘cool blue halo’ Story documentary premiered at Anthology Film Archives in NYC.

In June 2013 Richard joined forces with Beach Boy Al Jardine to record a version of Pete Seeger’s “If I Had A Hammer” for Bono’s ONE Organization’s Protest Song project. On July 31st he reunited with The Bongos to perform the final show at the original Maxwell’s in Hoboken, the club where they began. A single “My Wildest Dreams” was released the next day. The long-lost Bongos studio album Phantom Train was released in fall, 2013 by JEM Records.

In March 2014 Richard, along with collaborator Alejandro Escovedo, produced the first major tribute to his late friend and mentor Lou Reed at the SXSW Music Festival in Austin, Texas. Performing at the three-hour-plus concert at the Paramount Theatre were Lucinda Williams, Spandau Ballet, Sean Lennon, Suzanne Vega,  actor Joe Dallesandro, and many more. Richard’s next single, Reed’s “All Tomorrow’s Parties” produced by Chris Seefried, was released that month along with an accompanying video created by Jonas Mekas of archival footage from Warhol’s Factory.

In 2015 Richard again worked with Tony Visconti to co-produce The TV Show: Tony Visconti & Friends at City Winery NYC, a retrospective of Visconti’s work. He then started work on an ambitious, historical retrospective entitled Sorrows & Promises: Greenwich Village in the 1960s, chronicling the origins of the singer-songwriter movement in New York City. Curated by journalist and Columbia/Verve A&R director Mitchell Cohen and produced by Steve Addabbo, friends and fans were invited to pre-order and participate in the process. A series of musical panel discussions hosted by the New York Public Library preceded the album’s release. Sorrows & Promises was released by The Orchard in fall, 2016, with the vinyl LP edition following in spring, 2017. Besides more concerts with Donovan including Carnegie Hall, a “Sorrows & Promises” tour followed in support of the release. Kicked off by a five-and-a-half-hour showcase at SXSW 2017 in Austin, Texas, Barone then retraced the steps of many of the original Greenwich Village songwriters by performing at some of the surviving coffeehouse venues from the era around the country. In April 2017 he was elected to the NY Chapter Board of Governors of The Recording Academy/GRAMMYs.

In Spring 2018 it was announced that Barone would curate and host “Music + Revolution: Greenwich Village in the 1960s” at SummerStage in Central Park, NYC on August 12th. That same month it was announced that Barone had joined the faculty of The New School University of Jazz & Contemporary Music and would be teaching a historical course with the same title beginning in the fall. Shows with Alejandro Escovedo, Cliff Eberhardt, and an appearance at the legendary Friars Club with Deana Martin followed in May/June, along with hosting his monthly ‘Village Nights’ salon series at the Washington Square Hotel.

In 2019 Barone worked on two album and film projects with Donovan: a tribute to Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones in England, and a tribute to Harry Belafonte in Jamaica. Both are available at

2020 saw some reunion concerts with The Bongos before COVID-19 hit. Barone also sang on the tribute to Marc Bolan and T.Rex, produced by Hal Willner, performed on an album tribute to John Lennon, and to his longtime friend, Willie Nile. 2021 began with David Bowie’s posthumous single release “Mother,” on which Barone and producer Tony Visconti sang backing harmonies. Barone also contributed two tracks to the Brian Wilson tribute album on JEM Records. On July 9th, the Bongos’ Beat Hotel - Expanded Edition was released by SONY/Legacy Recordings. In 2022, Barone contributed tracks to tribute albums to Pete Townshend, Eric Andersen, the year 1970, and appeared in the Marc Bolan documentary Angelheaded Hipster.

Richard lives in Greenwich Village, New York. His second book, Music + Revolution: Greenwich Village in the 1960s, was published in fall, 2022.

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Representation: Richard Barone Music, NYC