Cristina Monet Zilkha, the new wave singer who recorded simply as Cristina, has died, reportedly of COVID-19 complications. ZE Records co-founder Michael Esteban confirmed Cristina’s death on Facebook last night. Cristina was 61.
Cristina grew up between the US and Europe and studied at Harvard before dropping out. She was writing for the Village Voice in New York when she met Michael Zilkha, co-founder of the enormously important mutant-disco label ZE Records. The label’s first release was Cristina’s debut single, 1978’s “Disco Clone.” The former Velvet Underground member John Cale produced it.
Cristina released two albums on ZE in the ’80s. On her 1980 debut, she worked with producer August Darnell, frontman of Kid Creole & The Coconuts. Her second, 1984’s Sleep It Off, was a collaboration with producer Don Was. She also released offbeat, satirical covers of “Peggy Lee’s “Is That All There Is?” and the Beatles’ “Drive My Car.” Her music drew from the dizzy stew of influences that powered the early-’80s New York downtown scene: Punk, disco, synthpop, Latin music, early hip-hop, various experimental collisions. Hers was a sardonic, intentionally weird take on pop music.
Cristina’s records were cult favorites, but they didn’t sell. She married Michael Zilkha in 1983 and retired from music in 1985, moving to Texas. Later, after her 1990 divorce, Cristina returned to New York and wrote for publications like the Times Literary Supplement. In 2004, both of her albums were reissued in expanded forms, reigniting interest in her work.
Below, check out some of Cristina’s music: