Spektor was born in Moscow, Soviet Union, in 1980 to a musical Russian Jewish family. Her father, Ilya Spektor, is a photographer and amateur violinist. Her mother, Bella Spektor, was a music professor in a Soviet college of music and now teaches at a public elementary school in Mount Vernon, New York.
She has a brother Boruch (Bear), who was featured in track 7, " * ", or "Whisper", of her 2004 album, Soviet Kitsch.
Regina learned how to play the piano by practicing on a Petrof upright that was given to her mother by her grandfather.She grew up listening to classical music and famous Russian bards like Vladimir Vysotsky and Bulat Okudzhava. She was also exposed to rock-and-roll bands such as The Beatles, Queen, and The Moody Blues by her father, who obtained such recordings in Eastern Europe and traded cassettes with friends in the Soviet Union.
The family left the Soviet Union in 1989, when Regina was nine and a half, during the period of Perestroika, when Soviet citizens were permitted to emigrate. Regina had to leave her piano behind.The seriousness of her piano studies led her parents to consider not leaving the USSR, but they finally decided to emigrate, due to the ethnic and political discrimination that Jews faced.[Spektor is fluent in Russian and reads Hebrew, and has since paid tribute to her Russian heritage, quoting the poem "February" by the Russian poet Boris Pasternak in her song "Aprs Moi", and stating, Im very connected to the language and the culture.
Traveling first to Austria and then Italy, the Spektor family was admitted to the United States as refugees with the assistance of HIAS (the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society). They settled in The Bronx, where Spektor graduated from the SAR Academy, a Jewish day middle school in the Riverdale section of the Bronx. She then attended high school for two years at the Frisch School, a yeshiva in Paramus, New Jersey, but transferred to a public school, Fair Lawn High School, in Fair Lawn, New Jersey, where she finished the last two years of her high school education
Spektor married singer-songwriter Jack Dishel in 2011. Formerly a guitarist with the band The Moldy Peaches,Dishel is member of the band "Only Son" and duets with Spektor in the song "Call them Brothers".
In New York, Spektor studied classical piano with Sonia Vargas, a professor at the Manhattan School of Music, until she was 17; Spektor's father had met Vargas through her husband, violinist Samuel Marder.Although the family had been unable to bring their piano from Russia, Spektor found a piano on which to play in the basement of her synagogue, and also practiced on tabletops and other hard surfaces.
Spektor was originally interested in classical music only, but later became interested in hip hop, rock and punk as well.Although she had always made up songs around the house, Spektor first became interested in more formal songwriting during a visit to Israel with the Nesiya Institute in her teenage years when she attracted attention from the other children on the trip for the songs she made up while hiking and realized she had an aptitude for songwriting.
Following this trip, she was exposed to the work of Joni Mitchell, Ani DiFranco, and other singer-songwriters, which encouraged her belief that she could create her own songs.She wrote her first a cappella songs around the age of 16 and her first songs for voice and piano when she was nearly 18.
Spektor completed the four-year studio composition program of the Conservatory of Music at Purchase College within three years, graduating with honors in 2001. Around this time, she also worked briefly at a butterfly farm in Luck, Wisconsin, and studied in Tottenham (a suburb of London), for one semester
She gradually achieved recognition through performances in the anti-folk scene in downtown New York City, often as a duo with drummer Anders Griffen, and most importantly at the East Village's SideWalk Cafe, but also at the Living Room, Tonic, Fez, the Knitting Factory, and CB's Gallery. She also performed at local colleges (such as Sarah Lawrence College) with other musicians, including the Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players. She sold self-published CDs at her performances during this period: 11:11 (2001) and Songs (2002).
In 2004, she signed a contract with Warner Brothers' record label Sire Records to publish and distribute her third album Soviet Kitsch, originally self-released in 2003.
Spektor's first nationwide tour was accompanying The Strokes as the opening act on their 20032004 Room on Fire tour, during which she and the band performed and recorded "Modern Girls & Old Fashion Men". Kings of Leon were the second opening act on that tour, and they invited Regina to open for them on their own European tour right after The Strokes tour. In June 2005, Spektor was the opening act for the English piano rock band Keane on their North American tour, during which she performed at Radio City Music Hall on June 7, 2005.During her 2006 headlining tour in support of the Begin to Hope album, Spektor sold out a performance at Messiah College in Grantham, Pennsylvania, and two shows at Town Hall Theater in New York City on September 27 and September 28, 2006.
Spektor has appeared on The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien (once), Late Night with Conan O'Brien (three times), The Tonight Show with Jay Leno (twice), Jimmy Kimmel Live! (twice), Last Call with Carson Daly (five times), Late Show with David Letterman (twice), Late Night with Jimmy Fallon (twice), CBS News Sunday Morning, Good Morning America (twice), Australia's Rove Live, The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson (twice), and "The Colbert Report" (once). On October 10, 2009, she performed on Saturday Night Live.
Since January 2005, Spektor has performed on a bright red Baldwin baby grand piano. At the present time she uses exclusively Steinway & Sons pianos. She plays a seafoam Epiphone Wildkat archtop hollow-body electric guitar.
Although she generally performs only original material, Spektor occasionally performs covers. Most famous of these covers were her performances of songs by Leonard Cohen and Madonna, for the 2nd Annual Jewish Music & Heritage Festival at the 92nd Street Y in New York City. In 2006 and 2007, Spektor embarked on a headlining tour of the U.S. and Europe, selling out numerous clubs and theaters. She covered John Lennon's "Real Love" at the performance arts center of her alma mater, State University of New York at Purchase, on March 28, 2007, at a benefit concert for the Conservatory of Music.
In 2007, she covered John Lennon's "Real Love" for Instant Karma: The Amnesty International Campaign to Save Darfur. The following year, she participated in Songs for Tibet, an initiative in support of human rights in Tibet and the 14th Dalai Lama. The album was issued on August 5, 2008, via iTunes and on August 19 in music stores around the world.
On January 22, 2009, Spektor performed at the third annual Roe On The Rocks gig at the Bowery Ballroom to raise money for Planned Parenthood New York City. Also, continuing with her support for Tibet, Regina Spektor played for Tibet House's annual concert at Carnegie Hall on February 26, 2010. Less than one month later, on March 23, 2010, Spektor gave a concert at the Fillmore at Irving Plaza in New York City to raise funds for the work of Doctors Without Borders in Haiti. Also, on April 27, she released a cover of Radiohead's song "No Surprises", for which all proceeds went to Doctors Without Borders in order to help earthquake victims in Haiti and Chile.
In February 2012, Regina did a benefit concert at Rose Hall for HIAS, an organization that helped a young Regina Spektor and her family emigrate from the Soviet Union.
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