NEW ORLEANS – Cyndi Lauper sings the blues? Absolutely.
In fact, that's how the pop icon 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 will get to hear songs from her latest project, "Memphis Blues," as well as such pop classics as "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" and "True Colors" on Thursday when she gives a closing, debut performance at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, which runs through Sunday at the Fair Grounds Race Course.
"I've always wanted to play at the jazz festival," she said. "I'm so excited."
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 (hash)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 recalled.
The project also includes collaborations with B.B. King, Johnny Lang, Ann Peebles, Tracy Nelson and Charlie Musselwhite, who is scheduled to perform 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."
Lauper said she was born to sing.
"I think there is a wonderful, magical quality to music which has the ability to change the mood and minds of many," she said.
"The fact that you get a chance to be brought into the swirl of (music) and lifted to places bigger and better than self is a great gift. I decided a long time ago that I would sing the kinds of songs that would bring comfort and inspire. I'm glad that I was stubborn enough to stick with that because it's not all about the money or fame. It's about the moments that feel elastic fantastic.
"It's that addicting quality that makes you want to keep going," she said, "I think that's why Ella Fitzgerald, using a walker or a cane, still went on stage to do what she did. That's why I'm still doing what I do."