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 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. Growing up in Moscow, Regina learned how to play the piano by practicing on a Petrof upright that her grandfather gave her mother. She grew up listening to classical music and famous Russian bards like Vladimir Vysotsky and Bulat Okudzhava. Her father, who obtained recordings in Eastern Europe and traded cassettes with friends in the Soviet Union, also exposed her to rock-and-roll bands such as the Beatles, Queen, and the Moody Blues.
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 "Après Moi", and stating, "I'm 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.
In New York City, 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, she 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, who 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.
2001-2006: Career beginnings
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.
2006-2009: Begin to Hope
Spektor went on to release the album Begin to Hope on June 13, 2006. The album debuted at number 70 on the Billboard 200, but due to the popularity of the single "Fidelity", it went on to peak at number 20, and was certified Gold by the RIAA. Spektor received increased attention when her video for "Fidelity" was viewed over 200,000 times in two days on YouTube.
Listeners of Sirius Radio's Left of Center channel voted her single "Fidelity" as the No. 1 song of 2006. Towards the end of 2006, VH1 showcased her as part of their "You Oughta Know: Artists on the Rise" featurettes, playing clips from the "Fidelity" music video and showing parts of an interview with Spektor during commercial breaks on the channel. Spektor's video for "Fidelity" reached No. 3 on VH1's Top 20 Countdown. Spektor reached No. 33 on Blender magazine's top 100 of 2006 and was also listed as one of the "Hottest Women of...Rock!". On January 21, 2007, she was featured on CBS News Sunday Morning.
On October 1, 2007, Spektor's video for "Better" was released on VH1 and YouTube, where it was viewed more than 100,000 times within the first 24 hours.
Spektor wrote the song "The Call" for the 2008 film The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, which appeared prominently in the film's finale sequence.
Spektor's fifth album Far was released June 22, 2009. It sold 50,000 copies in its first week, entering the US Billboard 200 at number three. The album spent nineteen weeks on the Billboard 200. It also debuted at number 30 and 16 in the UK and Canada respectively.
On September 16, 2009, it was announced that Spektor would write the music for the musical Beauty, a modern adaptation of the fairy tale Sleeping Beauty, which was initially set to open during the 2011–12 Broadway season.
In May 2010, Spektor performed for President Obama and his wife Michelle along with hundreds of other guests at the White House reception in honor of Jewish Heritage Month. She sang "Us" and "The Sword & the Pen", receiving a standing ovation begun by Michelle Obama.
2012-present: What We Saw from the Cheap Seats
Spektor's sixth studio album What We Saw from the Cheap Seats was released May 29, 2012.
In promotion of the album, Spektor appeared on the June 7, 2012 episode of The Colbert Report on which she performed "Small Town Moon".
Spektor recorded the main title theme song "You've Got Time" for the new Netflix Original Series Orange Is the New Black, which premiered July 11, 2013. It was nominated in the Best Song Written for Visual Media category at the 56th Annual Grammy Awards.
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