SAN DIEGO — Cyndi Lauper, one of the most beloved entertainers in America and a dear friend of the LGBT community, will be performing in San Diego on Sunday at the House of Blues in the Gaslamp Quarter.
She achieved mega-success in the mid-1980s with the release of the “She’s So Unusual” album and became the first female singer to have four Top Five singles released from the same album. During her stellar career, Lauper has released 11 albums and scored more than 40 singles, selling more than 30 million records worldwide.
Lauper, who is crisscrossing the country on her “Memphis Blues” tour, took time out of her busy schedule to talk with San Diego Gay & Lesbian News. In the interview, Lauper reveals why she is singing the blues after making pop hit after pop hit, why she is branching out into television and why she is a leading advocate for LGBT equal rights.
SDGLN: Your 11th studio album, “Memphis Blues,” is such a delightful departure for you. What inspired you to tackle the blues?
Cyndi: This is the CD that I’ve wanted to do for eight years now. To quote the legendary Muddy Waters, “If blues gave birth to a child, that child would be rock and roll …” I have been listening to the blues since I was a kid. All my favorite rock bands from ‘60s and ‘70s were heavily influenced by the blues, so it was through bands like The Rolling Stones and Janis Joplin that I first heard about Robert Johnson, and Muddy, and BB and Big Mama Thornton.
SDGLN: You got to work with some blues legends on this album, including B.B. King and Allen Toussaint. Did you have any challenges getting these greats to sign on, and what did you learn from them?
Cyndi: The legendary B.B. King has been one of my favorite artists since as long as I can remember. I actually met him when I was at college and was a DJ at the radio station there. Thirty years later he is playing on my record; pretty astounding. Jonny Lang is a legend in the making, and I have all his records. Allen Toussaint and I performed together at a concert in Madison Square Garden for a Katrina relief benefit, and it was magic and we both wanted to be able to make a recording together, and Ann Peebles is one of my most favorite R&B singers of all time and Charlie Musselwhite — I mean come on Charlie Musselwhite, probably the best harmonica player that ever played. What did I learn from them? That I love blues and it is in my blood.
SDGLN: Now that you have conquered the blues, what other genres do you want to tackle?
Cyndi: I am not thinking what’s next. I’m living and enjoying this record right now.
SDGLN: What can we expect at your Aug. 22 show at the House of Blues in downtown San Diego?
Cyndi: It’s mainly about “Memphis Blues” with this tour. I have the most amazing band on the road, some of the greatest musicians I’ve ever worked with. They’ve played with everyone from Al Green and Isaac Hayes to Booker T and the MG’s and Willie Mitchel. We have the best time every night. Because at the heart of it, the blues is uplifting and every night this CD comes alive on stage. I do perform some of the hits at the end of the set, but my focus this time is playing the new tracks from the new CD. You will have to come to the show and enjoy for yourself.
SDGLN: After 25-plus years in the limelight, you don’t appear to be slowing down at all. We see you on television in “Bones” and “Celebrity Apprentice.” Rumor has it that you will appear in a reality-television show produced by Mark Burnett. What will that be about?
Cyndi: I had a deal with Mark Burnett Productions for my own reality show before I signed on to “Celebrity Apprentice.” They are the best in the business when it comes to reality programs, and the team that is working with me on my show are all smart, funny and passionate. We are going to have a blast with it. It is mostly me and my day to day, focused on my career. Start shooting early next year. Also, I’m going to reprise my role as Avalon Harmonia on “Bones” this coming season. I am going to do a few episodes. Shoot the first one in late October.
SDGLN: Why did you become such an advocate for gay rights, the fight against HIV/AIDS, and equality issues? Was there one defining moment or any persons who influenced you to become an LGBT activist?
Cyndi: My sister is a lesbian and I have many other family and friends in the community. I was raised by a single mother at a time when that was not very accepted. And, I grew up in the civil rights movement in the ‘60s where I saw a large group of people treated in a way no human beings should ever be treated. But what I also saw was white people standing with black people saying this is not right and it has to end. I learned then that we all have to stand up for those in the minority, we all have to stand up for the underdog. Right now that underdog is the gay community.
SDGLN: You are one of the most beloved icons of the LGBT community and have been honored by PFLAG, GLSEN and the Human Rights Campaign. What does this mean to you?
Cyndi: I really do not like being called an icon. I am just someone who has been lucky enough to have some celebrity to help shine a light on the discrimination the gay and transgender people face each and every day in this country. Being honored by gay rights groups means a lot to me because these organizations are doing the really hard and important work. I have had the opportunity to work with many of these groups personally and I continue to be amazed by the level of commitment and passion that their staff, volunteers and members have for the community and for equality.
SDGLN: You founded the True Colors Fund and launched the Give a Damn Campaign. How effective have these been in educating the public about LGBT issues?
Cyndi: We have been overwhelmed by the response so far. The Give a Damn Campaign was created to reach out to straight people and encourage them to get involved in advancing LGBT equality. You know that line from that movie, “If you build it, they will come.” Well, that is what has happened. Just as an example, in a little over four months, our videos have been viewed well over 2 million times. But most important, we have read the stories straight people are submitting on wegiveadamn.org, the e-mails they are sending us and the comments they are posting on our Facebook page and tweeting. People are stepping up and discussing these issues for the first time. Many of them are shocked to learn things like you can be fired in more than half the states in the U.S. if you are gay or transgender. People are getting informed and getting involved. They are starting conversations with people in their lives about why they need to support equality as well. That is what we set out to do and will continue to do until people realize that once one group of people’s civil rights in this country is put up for grabs, it means your group could be next.
SDGLN: The True Colors Residence is so needed in New York City – and elsewhere. Considering that homelessness for LGBT youths are stunning in their numbers, could this project become a model for expansion to other cities?
Cyndi: We hope so. It is the first permanent housing facility of its kind in NYC for LGBT youth. We hope that it will stand as a model not only for other cities but for further expansion in NYC itself. The problem of homelessness for these kids is the most underserved and least paid attention to in the LGBT community. We are not doing enough to take care of our own, to ensure that the next generation of gay and transgender kids can actually enjoy the equality we are working so hard for. The number of them on the streets and getting kicked out their homes is growing fast and we need to all steps to do what we can to help them. We hope we can do our part and make a difference with the True Colors Residence. I encourage everyone reading this in the San Diego area to do what you can, reach out to The San Diego LGBT Community Center and their Youth Services project and see what you can do to help the kids your area.
SDGLN: On to less heavy questions. What is one thing that most people don’t know about Cyndi Lauper?
Cyndi: I read tarot cards, but I think a lot of people know that. I am not that good at it but it’s fun. I also like to watch old movies from the glamour Hollywood years, and I like to hang out and play Scrabble with my son. Pretty normal stuff. OK, so maybe the tarot cards part isn’t so normal.
SDGLN: If you could invite three people – living or deceased – to an intimate supper, who would they be and why?
Cyndi: Alexander McQueen – he was a light that is gone. John Lennon – true legend. No words can describe how I feel about this man. And Janis Joplin – hello Janis Joplin!
SDGLN: Who is on your playlist right now?
Cyndi: Everyone from the Gossip to the Cliks. Love, love, love Lucas! Would love to write with him one day. We talk about it a lot but haven’t had the chance. I also adore the Nationals and the Hives.
SDGLN: If you could wave a magic wand, what would you wish for?
Cyndi: There are so many. Don’t know where to begin … the BP oil disaster in the Gulf, wars in Middle East, the fact that being stoned to death is still a method by which some governments punish its people, that AIDS and HIV infections are on rapid rise with women, the global economy, global warming. The list goes on and on.
Cyndi Lauper’s “Shattered Dreams” from “Memphis Blues”
Cyndi Lauper explains why she recorded “Memphis Blues”