Steven Van Zandt is an American musician born on November 22, 1950 in Boston, Massachusetts. A founding member of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, he played guitar and provided backup vocals from 1975-1984. He later worked as a human rights activist and was honored twice by the United Nations. Van Zandt forayed into acting in the HBO TV seriesThe Sopranos in 1999. At the same time, he rejoined and toured with Bruce Springsteen’s band until 2000. In 2007, Van Zandt founded the non-profit Rock and Roll Forever Foundation.
Musician, producer, songwriter, actor and activist Steven Van Zandt was born on November 22, 1950, in Massachusetts. Growing up in New Jersey, Van Zandt learned to play the guitar and started playing in a band in the mid-1960s. Around 1975, he helped form Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes and joined Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band. With both groups, he helped out behind the scenes acting as a producer for three Southside Johnny albums and co-produced Springsteen’s The River (1980) and Born in the U.S.A. (1984). Van Zandt also formed his own group Little Steven and the Disciplines of Soul in the early 1980s.
Around 1984, Steven Van Zandt left the E Street Band to pursue other musical interests. He used his clout as a musician to help fight apartheid, the government policy of racial segregation, in South Africa. Van Zandt got performers, such as Bob Dylan, Bonnie Raitt, Bono, and Bruce Springsteen, to join together to establish an organization called Artists United Against Apartheid, which recorded an album Sun City (1985). The single bearing the album’s title called for musicians to boycott the South African resort, Sun City. This organization was only the beginning of Van Zandt’s activism. He later worked to raise awareness about U.S. military interference in the governments of Central America and other issues.
Over the years, Steven Van Zandt has released several solo albums, which explored a wealth of musical styles and social and political themes. On his latest album, Born Again Savage (1999), many of his tracks had religious overtones, such as “Saint Francis” and “Face of God.” On previous recordings he ruminated on such topics as economics, the Solidarity movement in Poland, and South American politics. Along with his own work, he has helped others, acting as a producer for numerous recording artists, including Lone Justice and Lords of the New Church. Van Zandt has also written songs that have been recorded by reggae great Jimmy Cliff and Brian Seltzer among others.
In 1999, Steven Van Zandt took his career into a new direction: acting. With no previous experience, he was a natural in the role of Silvio Dante on the award-winning HBO series The Sopranos. He was barely recognizable, having traded in his headscarf and colorful rocker clothing for slick, styled hair and suits. His character serves as a consigliere, or trusted advisor, to the often troubled mob boss Tony Soprano. The show has become a family affair of sorts. His real-life wife, Maureen, has appeared on the show as Silvio’s wife Gabriella.
While on The Sopranos, Van Zandt continued to pursue his love of music. He rejoined the E Street Band and went on tour with his old friend Bruce Springsteen in 1999 and 2000. Van Zandt helped put together a series of concerts of garage rock bands in 2001 and began hosting a syndicated radio program called Little Steven’s Underground Garage the following year. He is also the founder and chairman of Renegade Nation, a diverse media company involved in radio, television, film, and music.
Van Zandt gained acclaim for his performance as Silvio, but has contended that he has no interest in acting beyond The Sopranos. However, in 2011, he starred in, co-wrote and acted as executive producer on an English and Norwegian language series entitled Lilyhammer, a Netflix original program.
On the show, Van Zandt portrays a Soprano-like role of an ex-mafioso who flees to Norway to escape a colleague against whom he testified. The show premiered on 25 January 2012 with a record audience of 998,000 viewers (one fifth of Norway’s population), and has continued to a third season.
Steven Van Zandt continues to explore new business opportunities. During the summer of 2006, he and his wife announced that they had formed a theatrical production company with some experienced producers. The group will stage classic American plays for limited runs.