Pop music icon. Broadway disruptor. Voice of change. Cyndi Lauper remains one of New York’s brightest stars, a humanitarian who has taken her celebrity and songbook to raise awareness and celebrate equality for all. Lauper rounded up a range of talent like she does each year for her 6th Annual Home for the Holidays, hosted at the Beacon Theatre December 3 by Carson Kressley. In past years, Cyndi Lauper has showcased a who’s who of talent including Pink, Sarah McLachlan, Josh Groban, Jason Mraz, 50 Cent, Boy George, Whoopi Goldberg, Susan Surandon, Lou Reed, and more at these sold-out events to benefit LGBT youth homelessness.
A range of emotions will be felt at this one-night-only event, and Cyndi’s “True Colors” will truly take on many meanings. NYC Monthly talked with Lauper about the night’s variety of talent, how growing up in Queens shaped her as a person and an artist, and how she plans to wipe out youth homelessness.
It’s your sixth annual Home for the Holidays benefit at the Beacon Theatre, and this year you are sharing the stage with Aloe Blacc, Billy Corgan (of Smashing Pumpkins), and a number of comedians and personalities. Do you plan on duets with the other talents? Will you play some of your hits and some of your new country-flavored material?
Of course I will do my hits. Some of them will be done as duets with some of the talent on the roster (it’s a secret; you have to come to the show), and I will sing songs with artists on their songs, and I will probably do a song or two off Detour. It’s going to be a great show this year again. Great comedy, great music for a great cause.
On your most recent album, Detour, you ditched pop and blues music for country and sang duets with Vince Gill, Emmylou Harris, Willie Nelson, Jewel, and Alison Krauss — some of the greats. Since you grew up listening to some 50s country tunes in New York, was this process a welcome reminder of your childhood and your early days with family?
Country music was very popular and considered mainstream when I was growing up. AM radio played all different kinds of music, artists like Patsy Cline, Hank Williams, Kitty Wells, Loretta Lynn, and Johnny Cash dominated the airwaves. AM radio was blaring at my Aunt Gracie’s house. She listened to the radio while working in the kitchen, and that’s where I heard these artists for the first time
I always knew I was going to do another covers project. I wasn’t sure what genre I wanted to cover. I had just done a deal with Sire [Records] with Seymour Stein, and when he and I started listening to music, we found that the songs I was moved by were songs from the same era as the blues record — the 40’s, 50’s…and it was basically all country artists. Like the blues, country songs tell great stories. And I’m a sucker for that. Seymour explained that the golden era of country, which all of the songs off Detour are, was happening at the same time as the era of Memphis Blues. I really liked the idea of doing a companion record to Memphis Blues and to look at music from both sides of that street. So when those songs were being written at the same time across the racial street the country odes were being written and I just thought, “Cool.” What a brilliant time for music that era was.
Have you been connected to Broadway for a long time even prior to conceptualizing Kinky Boots (and starring in 2006’s The Threepenny Opera), and do you think songwriters and musicians become more respected when they can write for theater?
I’m not sure. I think the difference is that when you have a hit Broadway show and you come from the music world and not a traditional Broadway music composer, you get a lot of attention that is kind of singular in a way. It’s not an easy transition because it’s a very different way of writing music — writing songs for yourself vs. writing songs for several different people sharing a similar story. That was the challenge, and I guess because I was able to do that, and give each character in the show their own voice, their own jam, maybe it made people think “ah, she actually is a good songwriter.”
What’s the biggest misconception you’ve found over the years about people who come from Queens, and how has your borough shaped you as a person and an artist?
Listen, people that live and raise their families in Queens are the salt of the earth and hardworking, and I think that work ethic and never-say-no attitude that I learned growing up in Queens helped me as an artist. And we are so close to NYC, and that helps as a young artist — whether you are an actor or a songwriter or in a band, you get exposed to so much that it’s thrilling to be just a subway ride away from all that art.
Home for the Holidays is a big celebration; it’s holiday time and it’s a cheerful evening of live music. Six years in, what do you hope for this year?
The past six years have been a whirlwind of progress, and without the concert the True Colors Fund would not have been able to do as much as we have been able to around ending LGBT youth homelessness.
The True Colors Fund just wrapped up a three-year partnership with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and four other federal agencies on an initiative in Houston and Cincinnati to test ways that we can actually prevent LGBT youth from becoming homeless. We will be taking the lessons learned from that effort and help communities around the country put new, proven solutions in place. That is game-changing. We have a lot more work to do, but the momentum is continuing to move at a quicker pace and in a much more strategic way.