Brenda K. Starr (born Brenda Kaplan; October 15, 1966) is an American singer and songwriter. She is well known originally in R&B, dance and pop but now mostly in salsa-based music. She is also well known for her 1980s work with freestyle music. Starr was born as Brenda Joy Kaplan to a Jewish American father, organist Harvey Kaplan (also known as Harvey Kaye of the 1960s band the Spiral Starecase) and a Puerto Rican Roman Catholic mother.
In the early 1980s, through a chance meeting with Harry Belafonte, Starr landed a role in his 1984 hip hop film, Beat Street; she appeared in it, as herself, as a singer at an open-microphone audition. Starr’s appearance in the movie garnered attention, leading to a recording contract on Mirage Records, through Arthur Baker, who enlisted the help of two production teams (Lotti Golden and Richard Scher, and Carl Sturken and Evan Rogers) to complete Starr’s debut album, I Want Your Love. The lead single, “Pickin’ Up Pieces”, written by Arthur Baker and Lotti Golden, was a local club sensation and national hit, peaking at No. 9 on the Billboard Hot Dance Club Play Charts and on the Maxi Singles Chart. “Pickin’ Up Pieces” also cracked the R&B Hip Hop Billboard Charts.
Starr’s eponymous sophomore LP, which she released in 1987 on the MCA Records label before it became part of the present-day Universal Music Group, included what is considered her signature song, the power ballad “I Still Believe,” which peaked at No. 13 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100, becoming Starr’s first and only top 20 single on the Hot 100. In 1998, Mariah Carey covered the song as a tribute to her “mentrix;” Carey’s version peaked at No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was certified platinum by the RIAA. Starr’s album also contained the club/dance smash “What You See is What You Get.” The album peaked at No. 58 on the Billboard 200 albums chart. Starr has had two top 40 hits on the Billboard Hot 100: “I Still Believe” (which peaked at #13) and “What You See is What You Get” (which peaked at No. 24 and at No. 6 on the Hot Dance Music/Club Play.
Two of Starr’s songs have been included on motion-picture soundtracks; “Sweet Surrender” was included in the soundtrack for the 1988 teen film License to Drive, starring Corey Haim, and “Sata” was on the soundtrack for the 1990 film Lambada. During the late 1980s, Mariah Carey sang background vocals for Starr, and Starr helped Carey secure a recording contract by giving a demo tape of hers to Columbia Records executive Tommy Mottola at a party. After being dropped from Sony/Columbia Records for lackluster sales of her third album, By Heart, Starr worked odd jobs to support herself and her family.
Starr learned Spanish to help rejuvenate her career, successfully reinventing herself as a salsa/tropical and Latin pop artist. After the release of her cover of “Herida” (from the Chilean singer Myriam Hernández), which peaked at No. 16 on the Latin Pop Airplay and at No. 1 on the Latin Tropical/Salsa Airplay chart, she continued her success with a string of popular albums and chart hits.