Disco Diva Thelma Houston Headlines this Year's Pride Street Party at the Cuff on Sunday, June 30

June 28, 2019

by MK Scott

Each year, I get to chat and meet an icon from my youth who comes to town to headline the annual Pride party at the Cuff Complex. This year, they totally outdid themselves with the fabulous Thelma ("Don't Leave Me This Way") Houston! Houston has a history of performing in Seattle, what with her multimonth gig as the star of Teatro ZinZanni in 2008. I had a phone chat with the disco diva, who at 73, isn't slowing down anytime soon.

MK Scott: Welcome back to Seattle! We are excited to learn that you will be the headliner at the Cuff's Pride party this year. What can we expect from your performance?

Thelma Houston: Well, if the audience is there and giving it back to me, you can expect some high energy. That's what I try to put in my show: energy. Of course, I have a lot of enthusiasm because I'm excited, and always excited to be performing, and most especially in Seattle, because it's been some time since I was there. When I was there before, I was performing at Teatro ZinZanni as Madame ZinZanni. So that was a totally different venue... I'm looking forward to being at this club coming up Sunday night.

MK: Actually that was my next question. What was that experience like working for Teatro ZinZanni in 2008?

TH: Oh my god, it was so much fun! It was so much fun doing that show. And, of course, out of that I established some really good friendships with the people that I worked with. Because the least amount of time you get to do the shows is six weeks... I never did less than a couple of months, and sometimes as much as four or five months. And so when you get to work like that, then you get to establish a really good friendship with the people you work for.

And then [there was] playing that character and being able to do like it was your place and running it... and the great musicians, and a live audience every night... And then once a night I would get to do "Don't Leave Me This Way" on the little stage that comes up out of the floor and people [would] dance. It was just great big fun. It was a party...like a really good New Year's Eve party. It was like that all the time.

MK: If they asked you back would you go back?

TH: Oh, in a heart—of course, yes. Oh yeah. It's a lot of fun. It's a lot of fun to do that show.

MK: Now, your song "Don't Leave Me This Way" was released 42 years ago.

TH: Whooo!

MK: That is unbelievable.

TH: I was just fifteen. [laughs]

Yeah, it doesn't seem like that long. Time flies, eh?

MK: Well, of course, it's absolutely iconic in the gay community, right up with Gloria's "I Will Survive." Because when you hear that song, you remember the days of Studio 54.

TH: Yeah, and it was the time of what was going on. I just did a show for the HRC Foundation in New Orleans. They had to put together this video... they were asking me questions about "Don't Leave Me This Way." And it's true. I mean, it's the song, and you're absolutely right: that song reminds people of another time.

I think that's why I've been able to have this longevity, because people can go back to another time, you know, where it was really sad at some point because we didn't know what was going on with our young men and women dying, and you know, we didn't know what that was about. But the other side of that was it was just such a — I don't know... we seemed to be more understanding of each other. It was just another time, you know? Just a whole other time: fashion, you know, all of that.

MK: I actually just saw the Halston documentary.

TH: Oh, you did? You know, I had some stuff I had in storage for years. And I went and got it out and lots of it I gave [away], but what I kept... I had this most beautiful red Halston chiffon gown. And that gown is still gorgeous, and the color, it has not faded. It's a bright red. And it's on one of my album covers, but I can't think of the name of the album that it's on...

MK: Yeah. Actually the documentary was part of the Seattle International Film Festival just recently.

TH: So it's going to be going nationwide probably, eh?

MK: It will probably be available in limited release. But Liza Minelli, she's been interviewed in it, and...

TH: Oh, yeah, she was a Halston girl.

MK: But of course, they talk about how Halston is so associated with the whole fashion look of Studio 54.

TH: Oh, yeah... Was Halston the first one to come out with, what was that fabric? It wasn't suede, but it looked like suede? And I think he made those short wave dresses? I bet that's in the thing, but I can't remember.

MK: Oh, I'm sure, yes. That rings a bell, but I'm not remembering what it was called, but yeah, that's one thing he did do is revolutionize certain types of fabric. I also heard that you have a new song that's out and you'll be performing that at the Cuff party.

TH: I do! It was released on my birthday — May 7th — and it's part of an EP that I'm doing. I'm going to do five songs. And the title of the EP itself is Love. It was conceived from the first women's march, which was the day after the inauguration.

Well, I was in Los Angeles when I performed that day... I wanted to go from [a place of] love, and I was like, OK, what can I do? [Not] to get deep, but what can you I do that's just simple and just go from there? And so I decided to do "Love Train," by the O'Jays .And so we did it, and we did it like more modern, you know, a little more... I'm not taking away from the original, but [we] added a little bit of modern, put a little bit of this little rap thing in the middle of it. So that was so cool... everybody liked it.

And then I said we can do another song. So I started writing then. And we wrote a song about romance, eros, that part of love, which is a relationship. And then we did another one about humanity and then self-love. So this one is the first single that's released from [among those]. And it's called "I Still Love You." It's about how the power of love can be enduring and [how one can] have a lasting relationship, you know, with a partner, with a husband and wife, or a friendship, whatever. But letting love itself be the navigator of it, you know? So when you love someone, then you might be a little bit willing to back off a little bit and listen to the other point of view. You know, it's a little give and take.

This song was inspired by the relationship between my son and my daughter-in-law. When [my son and his wife] started off, it was not an easy thing for them... you know, he's black, she comes from Mexican [heritage]. So it wasn't so easy for both, you know, sides. Not everyone, but certain members, you know what I mean? It was a fighting kind of thing. And they had to fight that and fight the people in the street. You know what I mean? It was a lot of... but they've been together 29 years. They have beautiful children, and of course, everybody around them has come together... But that's what the song was inspired by. And so my joke to my son is that I've had three marriages, and in my three [chuckles] marriages, I was not able to achieve what he's achieved in one.

MK: You're performing at the Pride party on Sunday. What does "pride" mean for you?

TH: Well, pride, for me, is, oh, you mean generally and how it pertains... because I think everyone should be prideful of who you are. Have pride in who you are. And you can do that when your thoughts and motives and movements and all of your being are toward good toward everyone. So, to me, that's prideful. And one can be proud of oneself in what one is contributing.

As far as the gay community is concerned, you know, I've seen it grow. And I've seen it grow from, you know, the secrecy of...not being able to come out and say who you are. I've seen the effects of this up close from good friends of mine, and I've seen how [it makes] such a change when you let people know, when you're proud of who you are — all of the parts of you — because, you know, we're all the same, you know what I mean? ...We're human beings. And when human beings start to realize that, OK...then I think that's great. And it goes out and it's very contagious. When people see that, then I think it all comes to the point of good. So that's what it means to me.

MK: I have one last question. A few months back I had a chance to see you on the Motown 60 special. Now, if you had a chance to perform with any Motown artist, alive or dead, who would that be?

TH: Well... let me put it like this, I have performed with — meaning that I've toured with — members on the Motown label already, like Smokey. We toured and did a performance at Carnegie Hall. I've toured the Far East with the Temptations, in Japan, and Hong Kong. And so [that was] fun... But I started a project years ago with Mr. Stevie Wonder. I would like to complete that project [laughs] with Stevie.

MK: Awesome! Now that would be very, very iconic and incredible.

TH: That would be wonderful.

MK: All right, well, thank you. Lots of love to you.

TH: Thank you. I'm looking forward to seeing you on Sunday night.

Come and see Thelma Houston at Cuff Seattle's 2019 Pride Block Party this Sunday evening.