NEW ORLEANS — Cyndi Lauper sings the blues? Absolutely.
In fact, that’s how the singer known for her pop songs began her career and she said recently that a return to the genre was inevitable.
“I started in a Janis Joplin cover band and the bad thing was nobody was listening,” Lauper said in an interview with The Associated Press.
“To go back to Square One at this time in my life is really important for me. Everything is all based on the blues and to go back was a great gift. To go back with a high rhythm section was an even better, greater gift.”
Lauper fans heard songs from her latest project, Memphis Blues, as well as such pop classics as Girls Just Want to Have Fun, Time After Time, and True Colors on Thursday during a closing, debut performance at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, which runs through Sunday.
“I’ve always wanted to play at the jazz festival,” she said. “I’m so excited.”
She reiterated that on stage to the thousands of people jamming the field to see her.
Her set opened with a nod to New Orleans’ second-line tradition, as she danced on stage waving a black and blue umbrella before moving into her rendition of Shattered Dreams, which drew rousing applause.
Laurel Sprengelmeyer said Lauper was one of the draws for her at this year’s festival.
“I think she’s really spirited and fun,” said Sprengelmeyer, who’s visiting from Montreal.
“I was surprised by the blues but she seems to really be into it. You know it’s good to see her because we can connect to our youth, but the blues really showed her versatility.”
Laura Tennyson, of New Orleans, showed up at the fest just in time for Lauper’s show.
“I love her,” Tennyson said. “She’s soulful and she gives you that ‘I’m a strong woman and I’m happy’ feeling but in a rockin’ way.”
Her venture into the blues is a testament to her timelessness, said Tennyson’s friend, Donna Duplantis, also of New Orleans.
“And she looks (expletive) amazing!”
Lauper, 57, said she loves the city of New Orleans and though she’s never played the festival before she has performed at some of the city’s other well-known music houses, such as Tipitina’s.
“All I know is, is that I love New Orleans,” she said.
“It’s one of the jewel cities of America and music-wise, it’s a place that is revered by many musicians.
“Just to be able to play at the festival is such a big, big deal.
“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do.”
Memphis Blues, released last June, debuted on the Billboard Blues Album Chart at No. 1 and remained there for 14 consecutive weeks. The album has a couple of songs featuring New Orleans’ own Allen Toussaint, the legendary musician, composer and producer.
“When he was doing his album, he contacted me and I was up to my eyebrows in I don’t know what and I couldn’t. So when the opportunity came around for mine, I definitely wanted Allen to be a part of it. I knew mixing him with the Memphis guys would be really adding some spice.
“And when he started playing Shattered Dreams and to hear it all come together. I mean, wow. Everyone fell into that downbeat like a dream and it became otherworldly,” Lauper said.
The project also includes collaborations with B.B. King, Johnny Lang, Ann Peebles, Tracy Nelson and Charlie Musselwhite, who performed Thursday in the festival’s Blues Tent as well as with Lauper during her set.
When she confirmed her Jazz Fest appearance, Lauper immediately thought of bringing Toussaint in as a special guest too but “unfortunately he’s going to be playing on the other side of town at exactly the same time.”
“I had an extraordinary experience playing with those guys,” Lauper said.
“I could actually feel like a dirt road under my feet when we did Crossroads and that’s from where I sang, where I collaborated, on that level.”
Steve Klinzman and his wife Betty, of Overland Park, Kan., are fest veterans, having attended at least a dozen years. Klinzman said he loved her performance.
“She was absolutely fantastic and I hadn’t realized she’d turned back to the blues,” he said.
“I’m definitely going to get her new album.”