this new york, usa-based chamber cabaret outfit is led by the striking, androgynous figure of singularly named performance artist antony (b. antony hegarty, chichester, west sussex, england). his unusual background saw him relocating from his native england at the age of 10 to be raised in california, usa. he moved to new york in 1990 to attend the experimental theatre wing at nyu, and before long had become heavily involved in the city's punk drag scene. paying homage to fabled performance artists leigh bowery and klaus nomi, antony began performing late night cabaret sets with the blacklips collective at the city's pyramid club. in 1995 he assembled a backing group, the self-styled antony and the johnsons, and began to focus on the musical side of his performances. the group built up a cult following at hip new york clubs such as the kitchen and knitting factory, but their debut blue angel remained unreleased until current 93 leader david tibet signed antony and the johnsons to his durtro label. the cast list of musicians on the album, released under the title antony and the johnsons in 1998, included transsexual artist baby dee (harp), francois gehin (bass), todd cohen (drums), charles neilson (guitar), and a number of string and woodwind players.
this collection of modern torch songs highlighted antony's soulful, multi-octave vocals and the johnsons' graceful chamber pop arrangements, reaching a peak on "cripple and the starfish" and "divine", the latter a tribute to the late transvestite movie star.further recordings by antony and the johnsons emerged in the early years of the new millennium, including "i fell in love with a dead boy" and a shared ep with current 93, recorded live at saint olave's church in london, england. by now the line-up of the johnsons featured todd cohen, jeff langston (bass), jason hart (piano), julia kent (cello), joan wasser (violin), and maxim moston (violin). in 2003, antony made a guest appearance on lou reed's the raven and subsequently toured with the maverick rock legend, performing a riveting version of "candy says" in the middle of reed's set (later documented on animal serenade). the following year antony and the johnsons signed a new recording contract with the indiana-based label secretly canadian, completing work on their second album i am a bird now by the end of 2004. anthony has also filmed cameo roles in the movies animal factory and wilde side.