Happy birthday to one of the great voices of the ’90s, Henry Samuel! You know him better as Seal, and he’s 59 today.
Seal’s upbringing was far from idyllic. He was born to an African mother and South American dad in London, but spent much of his early childhood in foster care. When he returned to his parents, his dad was reputedly very abusive and by 17, Seal was done with them and chose homelessness at times rather than the family life. As well, he suffered from lupus, a painful condition which caused the prominent scars on his face. He did manage to go through school however, earning a diploma in architecture. He might have presumably gone on to a career in that, were it not for his great, “honey-toned” baritone voice. His friends loved his singing – he wasn’t so sure himself – and at 23, a girlfriend bought him a bass, a four-track recorder and “sort of bullied me into” singing, he told The Guardian years later. All the adversity he’d faced probably helped too. “There has to be some initial adversity,” he’s said, “that is what makes art.”
He began writing songs and got a short-term gig singing with a band called Push, which toured Japan. When they returned to Britain, he stayed overseas, joining a blues band in Thailand and spending a year or so in south Asia. That might have been the end of it were he not friends with a popular club DJ called Adamski when he returned to London. Adamski had Seal sing his song “Killer”, and it became a #1 hit at home.
That in turn got him signed to ZTT Records, the label started by ex-Buggles, ex-Frankie Goes to Hollywood mastermind Trevor Horn. Horn became a sort of “surrogate father” to the still-young Seal and produced his first two albums…which were both simply entitled Seal (taking a page out of Peter Gabriel’s playbook) and both went to #1 in the UK. That largely thanks to the first song he wrote when he’d become a serious musician, “Crazy” and a song he’d written years earlier but didn’t like : “Kiss From a Rose.” “Crazy”, his first single hit #1 in the Netherlands and Sweden and was a top 10 hit almost worldwide. “A Kiss From A Rose,” despite his own misgivings appealed to Horn. And not just the producer liked it, so too did Hollywood. Although the song didn’t initially explode off his second album, it was chosen for use in the Batman Forever movie and became a worldwide smash. “I owe my career to (film-maker) Joel Schumacher,” he’s modestly said.
Those singles off the first two albums, as well as ones like a re-recording of “Killer” and “Prayer for the Dying” helped his first two albums combine to sell well over ten million copies globally and make Seal one of the biggest names in ’90s music. He performed at the Freddie Mercury tribute concert and won the Brit Award for best male artist in 1992 and 1995. “Kiss from a Rose” brought him Grammys for both Song of the Year and Record of the Year.
Professionally, he’s had trouble keeping that momentum going. He’s recorded eight more studio albums since, most recently concentrating on older cover songs like “Let’s Stay Together” and “Luck Be A Lady”. With music, “the two things I care about – the voice and the song. But the song is literally untouchable.” And although he’s racked up eight gold or platinum albums at home, he’s not had the major international hits this century like he had in the ’90s. However, he’s seemed happy enough.
He was famously married to supermodel Heidi Klum (who took his name and became Heidi Samuel for awhile) for nine years and had three children with her, plus adopted a young one she’d had previously. They split up in 2014, but apparently remain close. Of late, he’s taken to reality TV, being a judge on America’s Got Talent and in Australia on The Voice.
His website doesn’t seem to have been updated of late, but with as many fans as he has and the voice he’s gifted with, it remains likely we haven’t heard the last splash from Seal.