On December 1, 1983, my friend Bruce and I went to The Metro in Boston to see Cyndi Lauper perform. We had heard her debut solo single, “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” (which would debut on the Hot 100 a couple of weeks later) and were smitten. We were more smitten after the show.
The album that produced “Girls…,” She’s So Unusual, was one of those great pop records that we got so many of in that ’83-’84 period (Thriller, Purple Rain, Born in the USA, Private Dancer and Madonna, among them – all on my all-time favorite albums list). It was the first album by a female artist to produce four top five singles – “Girls…,” “Time After Time,” “She Bop” and “All Through the Night.” Like the aforementioned albums by Prince, Bruce Springsteen and Tina Turner, it was nominated for the Album of the Year Grammy. All four albums lost to Lionel Richie’s Can’t Slow Down. No comment.
“Girls…” was nominated for Record of the Year and “Time After Time,” which Cyndi co-wrote, for Song of the Year; both lost to Turner’s “What’s Love Got to Do with It,” which also won Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female over the nominated “Girls….” Cyndi did win the Best New Artist Grammy, beating out Sheila E., Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Corey Hart and The Judds.
Though not from the She’s So Unusual album, let’s talk about “True Colors” for a moment. The song was written by Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly, the songwriting duo who also wrote Madonna’s “Like a Virgin.” Steinberg’s original lyrics were about his mother, but Kelly convinced him to make them more universal. Once they did that, they offered the song to Anne Murray, but she turned it down. Cyndi Lauper picked it up, changed the arrangement the duo presented, and a classic was born. The record went to #1 and won Lauper another Grammy nomination for Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female.
The song’s chorus, about not being afraid to let one’s true colors show, resonated with the gay population, and the song became an LGBT standard.
As June is Gay Pride month, I want to shine a spotlight on some of the work Cyndi has done on behalf of the LGBT populations:
– She’s written several songs about or inspired by LGBT lives, including “Boy Blue,” “Brimstone and Fire,” “Ballad of Cleo & Joe” and “Above the Clouds.”
– She was a member of the Matthew Shepard Foundation board. The foundation’s namesake, a 21-year-old college student, was beaten and tied to a fence, left to die, because he was gay.
– In 2007 she launched the True Colors Tour, which raised money for the gay rights organization Human Rights Campaign, who advocate for equal rights for LGBT people. Other artists on the tour included Erasure, Deborah Harry, Gossip and Dresden Dolls.
– She advocated for the Hate Crimes Prevention Act and was present at the White House when President Obama signed the Act into law in 2009. The Act expanded the 1969 US hate crimes law to include crimes motivated by a victim’s actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation or gender identity. It is the first federal law to extend legal protections to transgender people.
– She designed a t-shirt for 2009’s Fashion Against AIDS campaign.
– She is the cofounder of the True Colors Fund, created “to raise awareness about and bring an end to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender youth homelessness, and to inspire everyone, especially straight people, to become active participants in the advancement of equality for all.” In 2010 the Fund launched the Give a Damn Campaign to combat bullying and harassment of LGBT students as well as discrimination against LGBT people in the workplace.
– Upon learning that 40% of homeless youth are LGBT and that three times as many LGBT youth commit suicide as compared to their heterosexual counterparts, in 2012 Lauper started to Forty to None Project to raise awareness of the problems faced by LGBT youth and set up the True Colors Residence in New York City to offer shelter and aid for these kids.
– She was Grand Marshall of New York City’s Gay Pride Parade in 2012.
– She wrote the music and lyrics for the Broadway musical Kinky Boots, based on the film about a straitlaced shoe factory owner and a drag queen who team up to save the business. The 2013 musical won the Tony Award for Best Score, making Lauper one of only four women to have won a Tony, a Grammy and an Emmy.
Today one of the LGBT populations’ greatest allies, Cyndi Lauper, turns 61. Our playlist includes some of the tracks for my #21 album of all-time, She’s So Unusual, alongside some other Lauper favorites.