Fred Schneider is best known as the lead singer of rock band The B-52s. He's known for his style of reciting poetry over music, called sprechgesang.
Fred Schneider was born on July 1, 1951 in Newark, New Jersey. Growing up in close proximity to New York City, he was brought up immersed in Broadway show tunes and the New York arts scene. "I used to go to Broadway stuff," he remembered. "The Museum Of Natural History. I'd go with my friends." However, by the time he hit his teenage years, Schneider began to develop more distinctive musical tastes. "I never really sang around the campfire," he said. "Growing up I liked Halloween songs and nutty Christmas songs. When I started collecting records, I was into Motown. I was the only kid at the dance that didn't care to slow dance but was happy for 'Dancing in the Street' or something equally wild. Everybody else wanted to neck, I wanted to do the jerk." Although he enjoyed singing and writing songs as a teenager, Schneider never imagined making a career out of music—or anything else, for that matter. "I never was a 'when I grow up I want to be' kind of kid," he explained.
Schneider attended the University of Georgia, where he intended to study forestry. He recalled that for one open-ended final project he decided on a whim to write a book of poetry. "I just sat down and wrote everything that was in my head and I got an A," he said. "The teacher wrote, 'I didn't really understand any of this but I can see that you're serious.'" Still, Schneider soon dropped out of college and worked a variety of jobs—as a janitor and a driver for meals-on-wheels, for example—to make ends meet.
At this time, during the mid-1970s, the town of Athens, Georgia had very little in the way of the vibrant music scene it is known for today. "Athens was so boring," Schneider recalled. "At the time, it wasn't the music Mecca it is today. Now, you can see five bands a night. Back then, it was one band on the weekend, and it was usually a fraternity band." To fill this musical and cultural void, Schneider and four of his friends—Kate Pierson, Keith Strickland, Cindy Wilson and Ricky Wilson—decided to form a band. According to the band's website, the five friends declared themselves a band "on an October night in 1976 following drinks at an Athens Chinese restaurant." They named themselves the B-52's, a southern slang term for the wild bouffant hairdos sported by the band's two female members.
Schneider later recalled the early evolution of the band: "Good friends of mine were having a Valentine's party, and I said, 'Oh, I'm in a band.' We didn't have a name or anything. I said 'Do you want us to play for it?' and they said 'Sure.' And I went and told the others, and they said 'We need a name.' Keith came up with B-52s. And we started playing around at people's parties ... and it took off from there." Throughout the late 1970s, the B-52's took regular weekend road trips to play such venues as Max's in Kansas City and CBGB in New York City. Rocking elaborate 1950s-style hairdos and outlandish outfits, The B-52's built up a strong following wherever they toured, thrilling fans with their upbeat punk sound and high-energy dancing.
In 1979, the band signed with Warner Bros. Records and released their self-titled debut album, which sold 500,000 copies behind the party rock hits "Rock Lobster" and "52 Girls." Their 1980 follow-up, Wild Planet, proved to be another commercial success and critical darling, powered by singles such as "Private Idaho," Give Me Back My Man" and "Strobe Light." Two further hit albums, Mesopotamia (1982) and Whammy! (1983), established The B-52's as one of the favorite bands of the early MTV era.
In 1985, at the peak of their success, The B-52's suffered a tragic loss when guitarist Ricky Wilson died of AIDS. Persevering in the aftermath of Wilson's loss, The B-52's released the album they had recorded shortly before his death, Bouncing Off The Satellites, in 1986, scoring big hits with the songs "Summer of Love" and "Wig."
In addition to his long tenure with The B-52's, Schneider has enjoyed a successful solo career as both a musician and an actor. He has released two solo albums, Fred Schneider & The Shake Society (1984) and Just Fred (1996). In 2006, Schneider formed a synthetic pop band called The Superions, releasing both a self-titled EP and an album, Destination... Christmas!, in 2010. Schneider has also worked sporadically as an actor in films such as The Flintstones (1994) and The Rugrats Movie (1998).
After three decades as a rock star, Schneider remains busier than ever while recording and performing with both of his bands. As he willingly admits, part of his continued motivation to make music after all these years is financial. "I'm not wealthy. We only started making money after Cosmic Thing," Schneider said in a recent interview. "I live pretty modestly. I'm not broke, but I can't retire." However, with a slew of timeless rock hits on his resume, Schneider's reputation is secure, and he often confronts his status as living legend in interesting ways. "I've actually gone to hotels and there'll be a wedding band doing 'Love Shack,' he said. "And I look in, and the bride and the groom...everyone's dancing. It's sort of weird."