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Still Just Having Fun

Cyndi Lauper conquered pop, blues and broadway. Now she has her sights set on classic country music.

Still Just Having Fun

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Image credit: Wolfgang Tillmans

Sometimes, girls just want to have fun. Sometimes, they just want to sing classic country music. When the girl is a performer as multifaceted as Cyndi Lauper, she can do both.

The pop princess, whose 1983 hit “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” became a sassy feminist anthem, later conquered Broadway, writing the music for Kinky Boots and becoming the first woman to win a Tony for Best Original Score. Now Lauper has turned her attention to country music from the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s, which she showcases on a new album of no-frills covers called, appropriately, Detour.

Lauper brings her Detour Tour to the Walt Disney Theater on Thursday, June 9. Showtime is 8 p.m., and tickets start at $39.50. Opening the show is The Peach Kings, a raucous indie rock duo. There are also VIP Fan Packages and VIP Soundcheck Packages that offer such perks as premium seating and signed merchandise, including posters and sheet music for “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.”

The country album was the result of a collaboration between Lauper and Seymour Stein, co-founder of Sire Records and a vice president of Warner Bros. Records. Sire, which has a distribution deal with Warner Bros., is Lauper’s new label. "Seymour's like a walking dictionary of music,” says Lauper. “He knows every song ever recorded. I’m not kidding you. Anyway, we started talking about some of our favorite songs, and we kept coming back to this idea about country music.”

Lauper says Detour represents a natural evolution from her previous album, Memphis Blues, which was released to critical kudos in 2010 on the Downtown Records label. She notes that blues and country share deep Memphis roots, morphing into rocka-billy when the genres met and melded at Sun Records with Elvis Presley and his legendary labelmates. “So [a country album] just was compelling to me,” adds Lauper, who says that she and Stein listened “to probably 1,000 songs.” The experience, Lauper says, “brought me back to my very early childhood, when these songs were played on AM radio.”

Lauper considers Detour to be an appropriate companion album to Memphis Blues, which was the biggest-selling blues album of 2010 and featured a guest appearance by the late B.B. King. Detour was produced by Tony Brown, the Nashville legend known primarily for his work with Reba McEntire, Vince Gill and George Strait. Brown has been a musician on, or a producer of, nearly 100 No. 1 country singles.

Undoubtedly, an artist of Lauper’s stature — she’s sold more than 50 million records worldwide — will bring new fans to country music in general, and these songs in particular. Many of the tracks will likely be new to Lauper’s legions. On Detour, she duets with angel-voiced Emmylou Harris on the title tune, a western swing-style admonition against making poor life choices. The song, written in 1945, was a hit for Spade Cooley and Patti Page, among others. She also pairs with Willie Nelson on the Red Headed Stranger’s evergreen lament, “Night Life.”

Other guest artists include Vince Gill (on Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty’s “You’re the Reason Our Kids are Ugly”) and Alison Krauss (on Dolly Parton’s “Hard Candy Christmas”). Also joining Lauper is Jewel, who showcases her yodeling chops on Patsy Montana’s “I Want to Be a Cowboy’s Sweetheart,” the first country song recorded by a woman to sell 1 million copies.

And what country compilation would be complete without a Patsy Cline song? Or maybe two? Detour showcases Lauper’s soulful takes on both "Walkin' After Midnight” and “I Fall to Pieces.” -- “Who didn’t listen to Patsy Cline when they learned how to sing?” asks Lauper, who lists the ill-fated icon among her musical heroes. “I think everybody did.”

Although Lauper’s live show will include cuts from Detour, she promises that she’ll do her repertoire of pop hits “and maybe throw in a few surprises, too.” Because Lauper still behaves (and looks) like a youthfully exuberant musical spitfire, it can be a bit jarring to remember that she’s been prominent in American pop culture for more than 30 years.

Her inaugural solo album, She’s So Unusual (1983), was the first ever by a female artist to include four Top 5 hits. Reaching the upper tier of the Billboard Hot 100 chart were “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” “She Bop,” “Time After Time” and “All Through the Night.” She won a Grammy for Best New Artist in 1985. The title track from Lauper’s second album, True Colors (1986), reached No. 1 and received a Grammy nomination for Best Female Vocal Performance. A follow-up single, “Change of Heart,” peaked at No. 3.

The iconoclastic Astoria, Queens native is also remembered for her 1985 romp through professional wrestling. She “managed” WWE women’s champion Wendi Richter, and famously feuded with veteran heel Captain Lou Albano. A sometime actress, Lauper played Michael J. Fox’s ditzy secretary in the 1993 film Life with Mikey. She won an Emmy in 1995 for her role as Marianne on the NBC sitcom Mad About You with Paul Reiser and Helen Hunt. She has appeared as a performer on numerous TV shows, and in 2010 competed on Donald Trump’s reality game show Celebrity Apprentice, finishing sixth.

In 1999, Lauper was ranked No. 58 on VH1’s list of the 100 Greatest Women of Rock 'n' Roll. Also that year, “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” notched No. 39 on MTV’s list of the 100 Greatest Videos Ever Made, while She’s So Unusual landed at No. 75 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 100 Best Albums of the ‘80s. Her autobiography, Cyndi Lauper: A Memoir, was released by Atria Books in 2012. “She was mouthy then and she’s mouthy now … when authority wags its stern finger in her face, she still responds with a finger,” wrote the Washington Post.

My mother raised us to always stand up for what you believe in, and stand up for your family and friends

In 2015, Lauper was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, which she considers to be her most significant career achievement. However, she believes that with success comes responsibility. “You know, one of the good things about being famous is that for some crazy reason people want to hear what you have to say,” says Lauper. “So it’s a good thing. I’m glad I get to talk about what’s happening in the LGBT community.”

But Lauper does a lot more than talk. In 2007, she co-founded the True Colors annual music event, a multi-artist tour that helped support the Human Rights Campaign, the Matthew Shepard Foundation and PFLAG (formerly known as Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays). In 2008, Lauper launched the True Colors Fund, which works to raise awareness of, and bring an end to, LGBT youth homelessness. In 2010, the fund initiated the Give a Damn campaign to get straight people more involved in LGBT rights.

“My mother raised us to always stand up for what you believe in, and stand up for your family and friends,” says Lauper. “It was something she taught to me, my sister, Ellen, and my brother, Butch. I happen to have a lot of family and friends in the LGBT community, so when I saw them being disenfranchised, and treated not equally, I had to do something about it.”

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