A Juno-winning, Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter whose lush, theatrical pop harks back to the traditions of Tin Pan Alley, cabaret, and even opera, Rufus Wainwright emerged with his self-titled debut in 1998. Quickly rising from club residencies to international headliner status, his fifth studio album, 2007's Release the Stars, became his most commercially successful to date, with a reach that included the Top 30 of the Billboard 200 and as high as the Top Five in the U.K. and Norway. Demonstrating his appreciation for the vocal era as well as for her standing as a gay icon, he delivered the Judy Garland tribute Rufus Does Judy at Carnegie Hall — his first live album — that same year. Challenging his composing and arranging skills, he premiered his first opera, Prima Donna, in 2009 (a recording followed in 2015), and 2016's Take All My Loves: 9 Shakespeare Sonnets set select poems to Wainwright's music. It included such esteemed guests as Helena Bonham Carter, Carrie Fisher, and Florence + the Machine's Florence Welch. Wainwright returned with his first pop album in eight years, Unfollow the Rules, in 2020.
Rufus McGarrigle Wainwright was born in New York's Hudson Valley in 1973. The son of folk music luminaries Loudon Wainwright III and Kate McGarrigle, his parents divorced while he was a child, and he was raised by his mother in Montreal. Beginning his piano studies at age six, by 13 he was touring with his mother, aunt Anna, and his sister Martha in a group billed as the McGarrigle Sisters and Family. A year later, Wainwright was nominated for a Juno for Most Promising Young Artist, while his "I'm A-Runnin'" was concurrently nominated for a Genie for Best Song in a Film (1988's Tommy Tricker and the Stamp Traveller).
Coming out as gay while still in his teens, Wainwright sought solace in opera throughout his adolescent years, also becoming an enormous fan of performers including Édith Piaf, Al Jolson, and Judy Garland. After attending the prestigious Millbrook School in upstate New York, he briefly studied music at Montreal's McGill University, eventually turning away from classical performance and toward pop and rock. Becoming a fixture on the Montreal club circuit, Wainwright soon cut a series of demos with producer Pierre Marchand. Loudon Wainwright III then passed a copy of the tape to friend Van Dyke Parks, who in turn handed it on to DreamWorks exec Lenny Waronker. The label signed him not long after, resulting in the release of Rufus Wainwright in May of 1998. Co-produced by Marchand and Jon Brion, the album landed on several critics' "Best of 1998" lists and collected the Juno Award for Best Alternative Album. Wainwright spent the next few years touring and appearing sporadically on soundtracks (Shrek) and compilations (The McGarrigle Hour). His sophomore album, Poses, brought similar acclaim in mid-2001, including earning him a second Juno in the alternative category.