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By Gregg Shapiro
Known for putting her money where her mouth is, versatile Grammy and Tony Award-winning diva Cyndi Lauper is an outspoken supporter of the LGBTQ community. But it was her singing voice and distinctive fashion sense that initially caught our eye.
After forays into pop, dance music, standards, and the blues, Lauper lends her remarkable vocal range to a set of country numbers on Detour (Sire). Joined by country legends Willie Nelson and Emmylou Harris, Lauper leaves her “unusual” mark on mid-20th century country classics, including Wanda Jackson’s “Funnel of Love” and Patsy Cline’s “Walking after Midnight” and “I Fall to Pieces.” She knows when to use country’s trademark catch-in-the-throat on heartbreakers “Misty Blue” and “Begging to You.” Duets with a yodeling Jewel (“I Want to Be a Cowboy’s Sweetheart”) and Alison Krauss (“Hard Candy Christmas”) are also standouts.
I spoke with Lauper in June as she prepared to embark on her concert tour with Rod Stewart. Lauper and Stewart will be at Smart Financial Centre in Sugar Land on August 12.
Gregg Shapiro: You are about to embark on a multi-city concert tour with Rod Stewart. How did this pairing come about?
Cyndi Lauper: Rod and I shared a stage once in the ’80s, then again last year when we did this private event together, and it was great. Sir Rod came to me and said, “We should do that again,” and then my agent, Marsha Vlasic, called me a bit later and told me that the tour was coming together. I’m very much looking forward to it.
In 2016, you released the country-music album Detour, and in 2015 Rod released his country album Another Country. What do you think is the attraction to country music for artists such as you and Rod?
For me, old country music was very popular when I was a young girl growing up in New York. No one called it country music or even put a label to it. It was just good-old “pop music” and “mainstream.” These were the songs that were hits all across the country in rural and urban areas. Country artists played right alongside pop artists, and we knew that it was just good hit music on the radio at the time. So that golden age of country music was the soundtrack of my very early childhood.
If you were to do a follow-up to Detour, would you ever consider doing an album of songs by contemporary female country songwriters such as out lesbians Brandy Clark and Brandi Carlile, as well as straight women including Neko Case, Kacey Musgraves, and Gillian Welch?
Why not? Country music has a lot of amazing new talent. I think it’s a really interesting time in music. The country scene is amazing. My next CD is going to be new songs that I write—a new studio album and not a covers project.
2016 was the 30th anniversary of your True Colors album. Did you ever expect the title song to become an anthem in the way that it did?
Tom Kelly wrote the song, and it’s an important song. Before I recorded “True Colors,” a friend of mine named Gregory was very sick. We didn’t know it at the time, but he would later be diagnosed with HIV/AIDS. He asked me to write a song about him, so he would not be forgotten. So I wrote a song called “Boy Blue.” A little later, I heard Tom’s “True Colors” and I knew that was the healing song. When I recorded it, I was singing to my friend who I had lost—because he grew up completely rejected by his family and struggled with self-acceptance his whole life. He was just a wonderful guy, perfect just the way he was, and he just couldn’t see that. So I sang it for Gregory and all the Gregorys of the world who felt crushed by life. The song lifts you up and makes you feel hopeful, and that’s why it resonated. Tom Kelly should be very proud of how he has helped people through his words.
You are halfway to the coveted “EGOT” [Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony] status with Grammy and Tony Awards to your name, as well as an Emmy nomination. Do you have a special place of honor to display your Grammy and Tony statuettes?
I have them in my office at my apartment. I try to make my home my home, you know. [Laughs] Not that I am not proud of winning those awards, and I really want that EGOT. But I try and keep my home for family, and not anything career-related.
Are there any upcoming projects that could lead to an Emmy or an Oscar? Perhaps a movie version of Kinky Boots?
Yes, we are working on the movie version of our musical now. I have a few other film projects I am working on, so you never know. [Laughs]
Over the years, you have also become respected and known for your generosity when it comes to charity work. Can you say something about the importance of giving back?
Back in the ’70s and ’80s, I witnessed a lot of discrimination and had to speak out. You can’t sit by while your friends and family are being treated like second-class citizens. And then when I became famous, I had a lot of fans that were LGBTQ—and since you guys supported me, of course I have to support you, too. I think that maybe because I was an outsider looking in for most of my life, I could relate. I don’t care about backlash.
On June 11, 2016, I attended your concert in Boca Raton where you talked about the murder of singer Christina Grimmie in Orlando. Little did we know that just a few hours later, the Pulse nightclub massacre would occur.
Like all of us, I was and still am devastated by what happened at the Pulse nightclub. Now, today, I am hearing about another mindless shooting of five innocent people in Orlando. We must stay vigilant and engaged in the conversation—not only on combating terrorism, but also in changing the gun laws in this country. As a community, we need to continually resist and push back on this current administration to ensure that our LGBTQ rights are not stripped away and that, like all of our citizens, we are protected under the Constitution.
What: Rod Stewart with Cyndi Lauper
When: August 12, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Smart Financial Centre at Sugar Land, 18111 Lexington Boulevard, Sugar Land
This article appears in the August 2017 issue of OutSmart Magazine.