Carole Pope’s provocative blend of hard-edged new wave rock with explicit homoerotic and BDSM-themed lyrics made her one of the first openly lesbian entertainers in the world to achieve mainstream fame. She is the sister of Emmy Award-winning television producer and screenwriter Elaine Pope.
Carole Pope was raised in Scarborough, Ontario, where she met her longtime musical partner, Kevan Staples at an audition for another band. In 1968, they began performing together as a duo in Yorkville, which was Toronto’s live music and arts district at the time. In 1970, they adopted the name O, changing it to The Bullwhip Brothers the following year.
In 1975, they added several other musicians to the lineup and changed the band’s name to Rough Trade. Pope often performed in black leather pants and bondage attire.
She won the Juno Award for Most Promising Female Vocalist in 1981, and subsequently won the Juno Award for Best Female Vocalist in 1982 and 1983. She and Staples co-wrote the 1983 single “Transformation,” recorded by Nona Hendryx. Pope also appeared as a guest vocalist on the Payola$ single “Never Said I Loved You,” which was a top ten hit in 1983. She teamed up in 2000 with the Payola$ founder, Paul Hyde, to sing the duet “My Brilliant Career” on his album Living Off the Radar.
During the 1980s Rough Trade won a Genie Award, and earned four gold and two platinum records.
Although the band did not record or perform extensively after its final Deep Six in ’86 tour, they did not officially break up until 1988. Three years later Pope moved to Los Angeles to pursue film and television soundtrack work. Although she has recorded and toured to promote several solo albums, and has played reunion shows with Rough Trade, her solo career has been lower-profile than her time with the band.
In 1997, Pope provided the voice for the schoolteacher in the animated version of Pippi Longstocking.
In 2000, Random House published Pope’s autobiography, Anti-Diva. The book included Pope’s first public acknowledgement that she had been in a relationship with British singer Dusty Springfield in the early 1980s. Pope also claimed to have had a brief romance with Andrea Martin of SCTV fame. As of April 2013 a film version of her biography was under development.
Soon afterward, Pope re-recorded the Rough Trade single “High School Confidential” for the Queer as Folk (Season 1) soundtrack. She also appeared in the Toronto production of The Vagina Monologues in 2001, then moved to New York City to continue writing and recording.
In 2005, after returning to Los Angeles, Pope released a full-length solo album, Transcend. Six years later, in 2011, she released her second full-length album, Landfall, featuring a duet with Rufus Wainwright.
Pope is an ambassador for the Harvey Milk School in New York City and the Board Director for the Songwriters Association of Canada.
In 1999, playwright Bryden MacDonald staged Shaking the Foundations, a musical revue based on Pope’s music with Rough Trade, at Toronto’s Buddies in Bad Times theatre.