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Feature: Rita Coolidge, cabaret singer

By PAT NASON, UPI Hollywood Reporter   |   Feb. 19, 2003 at 7:48 PM   |   Comments

LOS ANGELES, Feb. 19 (UPI) -- Rita Coolidge, who roared into pop music touring with Joe Cocker in the '70s, is taking on a new challenge -- as a cabaret singer at New York's Café Carlyle.

Coolidge -- whose pop hits include including "We're All Alone," "Fever," "Higher and Higher" and "The Way You Do the Things You Do" -- was scheduled to open Tuesday night, but the Blizzard of '03 got in the way. Her debut was put off until Wednesday.

In a recent interview with United Press International, as she was preparing for the trip to New York from her Southern California home, Coolidge acknowledged that people who know her for her pop hits might be surprised to hear she is doing a cabaret act. But she said they probably shouldn't be.

"It's not such a great departure because I recorded what I consider to be a jazz-style album in the 1970s with Barbara Carroll, who I consider to be a jazz artist," she said. "I guess people are just not used to this from what they perceive my career to be. I'm surprised at how surprised people are."

Coolidge -- a two-time Grammy winner -- said she was particularly looking forward to making her cabaret debut at the Carlyle Hotel's Café Carlyle. The room where performer Bobby Short began his long, elegant run in 1968 is widely regarded as New York's premiere cabaret.

"To me it's the coolest, sweetest gig in the world," she said.

It is certainly quite a departure from the days when Coolidge collaborated with Cocker and Leon Russell on the legendary "Mad Dogs and Englishmen" tour and album. The tour featured her breakout performance of "Superstar," a song that she co-wrote and that eventually became one of "The Carpenters' greatest hits.

The cabaret style is definitely a lot quieter than the gigs she did with rock superstars including Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Jimi Hendrix, Kris Kristofferson and Robbie Robertson. Coolidge said that the cabaret format -- singing with pianist John Thomas and bassist Dan Conway -- results in a different interpretation of the songs but has a power of its own.

"It's as powerful if not more so than the whole band," she said. "There's a power in the subtlety, not singing the vocal gymnastics. I look forward to the intimacy of the room, talk to people -- be candid about who I am."

In addition to her own hits, Coolidge plans to sing classic jazz standards from her CD, "Out of the Blues" -- including "Am I Blue," "Black Coffee," "Hallelujah, I Love Him So," "The Man That I Love" and "Mean to Me."

Although it's been some time since she scored chart hits of the magnitude of her multiplatinum 1978 album "Anytime ... Anywhere," Coolidge has a sizable fan base, and remains in demand.

"All the time," she said. "It's ridiculous how much I work. I'm hard pressed to find an afternoon to pack for New York."

Since the 1990s, Coolidge has been acknowledging her Cherokee heritage through involvement with projects to benefit Native American music, culture and issues. She joined the group Walela -- Cherokee for "Hummingbird" -- with her sister Priscilla Coolidge and niece, Laura Satterfield.

Coolidge was honored in February 2002 with a Lifetime of Musical Achievement Award. She also received a Native American Music Award for Lifetime Achievement.

Walela played for a worldwide audience last year, appearing with another Native American, musician Robbie Robertson, at the 2002 Olympics opening ceremonies in Salt Lake City.

© 2003 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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