Cyndi Lauper has set out to prove blue is one of her true colours with a new album recorded in Memphis with greats including B.B. King and Charlie Musselwhite.
Memphis Blues is a departure for a pop star who started out with Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.
But just days after passing her 57th birthday, Lauper is arguing the blues comes naturally for a New Yorker who knows her music.
'I wanted to mix it up and do something different.'—Cyndi Lauper
"The blues is the basis of everything I've sung and the basis of pop music today, and it seemed like a natural progression," she told CBC's Q cultural affairs show. She recalled starting out singing Janis Joplin hits, before carving her own path through the pop world.
Despite her new attraction to the blues, Lauper said it was a "big decision" to base her appearance at this weekend's Pride celebration in Toronto with blues songs. Lauper performed 10 blues numbers before launching into any of her popular hits in her Toronto appearance. She also performed a blues set last week in Montreal.
"For the past 10 years, I've done the best of — but I wanted to mix it up and do something different because if it wasn't different, they're going to see same old same old," she said of her Toronto performance.
Memphis Blues enlists the talent of guitarist King, pianist Allen Toussaint, harmonica master Musselwhite, vocalist Ann Peebles and the Hi Records rhythm section.
Lauper said she had to go to Memphis to make the sound "legit."
"I wanted to capture the spirit of those people who left Mississippi, went to Memphis to make a record deal, then got on the 61 to Chicago. It was important to eat, sleep and live it," she said.
The longtime activist said she believes blues songs are right for these tough times.
"It's the right time because [when] you read the news, it sounds like the blues. I felt that I would be speaking to people — everybody's feeling kinda blue," she said.
"People are losing their homes, people don't got dough, but the little things make us joyous. In these songs, there's humour, there's humanity, there's joy. In the saddest moment, it takes a turn. It brings you up," she added.
Tracks like How Blue Can You Get and Down Don't Bother Me embody that spirit, she said.
"Really the wonderful part of the blues is it's uplifting. It's written by people who are oppressed and it's defiant, it's uplifting," she said.
Lauper has recorded Memphis Blues on her own label — freeing her to do something fresh by working with songs that were hits before she was born.
Lauper recorded the album right after her appearance on Celebrity Apprentice, a job she says she took as an opportunity to raise awareness of gay rights. She said she needed vocal therapy after that high-profile appearance, as she lost her voice.
She also has several other projects on the go:
- Writing songs for Broadway musical Kinky Boots for Harvey Fierstein and Jerry Mitchell.
- Writing her autobiography.
- Making a reality TV show about her professional life with Mark Burnett.