There may be a current cultural divide going on in America, but in Cyndi Lauper’s world, diversity, acceptance and equality for all is part of her everyday normal. And she goes far beyond paying lip service to her ideals. The Queens native is someone who walks the walk, reflected in the annual Home For the Holidays concert she hosts at Manhattan’s Beacon Theatre, where 100 percent of the net proceeds from the concert support her True Colors Fund’s programs to raise awareness about youth homelessness in the LGBTQ community.
Lauper’s tireless advocacy dates back to 2001, as the reverberations from Matthew Shepard’s 1998 murder found Lauper being asked permission to use one of her songs for a Shepard documentary. The vocalist subsequently became friends with Shepard’s mother Judy, herself a fervent LGBT rights advocate.
“I got involved early on because of friends and family. In 2001, I heard about Matthew Shepard and they came to me to ask if they could use ‘Shine’ for a documentary. So they explained the whole thing to me. I couldn’t believe that it happened like that, but it did,” she explained. “Then I got involved with Judy Shepard, who I saw at a Human Rights Commission [HRC] event. I saw her sitting at an HRC concert and she looked sad. I realized that she was a mother, so I sat down and told her that she looked like she could use a drink and to come on tour with me. It went from T-shirts to getting involved with HRC and getting involved with P-Flag and Judy Shepard.”
Lauper’s dedication to equality found her recording “Above the Clouds,” a song tribute to Matthew Shepard co-written with Jeff Beck for her 2005 album The Body Acoustic. Furthermore, Lauper’s True Colors Tour 2007 for Human Rights provided information to fans, and purple wristbands with the slogan “Erase Hate” from The Matthew Shepard Foundation. A dollar from every ticket sold went to the Human Rights Campaign, which advocates equal rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer people.
The Richmond High School alum has always been someone who went against the grain, dating to her 1983 breakthrough album She’s So Unusual. Embracing a Betty Boop-flavored persona that included her rocking half a shaved head and unironically embracing thrift store chic, Lauper not only became the first female to have four consecutive Billboard Hot 100 top five hits from one album, but she also won the 1985 Grammy Award for Best New Artist.
That iconoclastic approach has led to her winning an Emmy and a Tony (with another 2018 nomination for best original score for the SpongeBob SquarePants musical). It’s that kind of creative wanderlust that informed Lauper’s last studio outing, 2016’s Detour, a country music-informed project that was a follow-up to 2010’s Memphis Blues. Featuring songs originally recorded by artists that include Wanda Jackson, Willie Nelson and Eddy Arnold, the content on Detour isn’t a surprise given that the quirky pop star’s love for Patsy Cline (who is also covered here) dates back to her pre-solo days singing with her old band, Blue Angel.
“I think all these country guys influenced me and I knew about Willie Nelson when I was in Blue Angel because I was very aware of Patsy Cline. I used to have a Patsy Cline button in 1980. I really loved her music, her sound and voice,” she recalled. “I always wanted to sing a country record. I learned a lot about singing from listening to Patsy Cline, Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley, Johnny Burnette and all those rockabilly guys.”
While Lauper’s current tour finds her set limited to opening with Jackson’s 1961 gem “Funnel of Love,” while mixing in her own hits like “She Bop,” “Money Changes Everything” and “Time After Time,” Nashville has always held a special place for Lauper, who recorded albums like Sisters of Avalon and Shine in nearby Hendersonville, TN.
“I actually got to work in Nashville proper [for Detour]. It’s a great place because there’s still a very strong music community and they’re very supportive of each other and they were honestly very supportive of me,” she said. “And who the hell am I? Because down there, people work hard. But I love the fact that they still have honky-tonks and places where people can sing. All our bars are just closing up. There are places to play, but I miss the old days. I never saw Manhattan as a bedroom community but they’re kind of making it like that. Thank God for Broadway. For me, it was a great experience to go down there and have all those people play on my record.”
Cyndi Lauper will be appearing with Rod Stewart on Aug. 7 at Madison Square Garden, 4 Pennsylvania Plaza. NYC. For information, visit www.thegarden-ny.com or call 212-707-3131. Visit www.truecolors.org to learn more about Lauper’s advocacy efforts.