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Cyndi Lauper's True Colors Shine Through In New Documentary

Photos courtesy of Paramount+

Cyndi Lauper’s True Colors Shine Through In New Documentary

Let The Canary Sing, a new documentary exploring the remarkable life and career of the ’80s pop superstar Cyndi Lauper, highlights her early activism for LGBTQ+ people…

By Michele Yeo

“I didn’t want anyone to tell me what I could and couldn’t do,” says Cyndi Lauper in her new biographical documentary, Let The Canary Sing. “To pigeonhole people…is silly.”

With an illustrious career spanning more than four decades, pigeonholing Cyndi Lauper is no easy feat. She’s a singer, a songwriter, an innovator, a Grammy winner, a Tony winner, an outspoken feminist and, as Let the Canary Sing reminds us, a proud long-time ally. 

In addition to chronicling her humble New York beginnings, her scrappy entrance into the music industry, her phenomenal success in the ’80s and her foray into special projects like Broadway, the documentary highlights Lauper’s unwavering support of the LGBTQ2+ community. It’s a devotion that started early in her life after her sister, Elen, came out. 

Cyndi Lauper's True Colors Shine Through In New Documentary

“When my sister came out, I was like how I always was with my sister,” Lauper recalls. “I was like, ‘I was born to be your friend so I don’t care who you bring around or what you do, you just can’t ditch me.”

The Lauper sisters endured a chaotic home life with an abusive stepfather, so when Elen left the home, Cyndi soon followed and moved in with her sister. Cyndi became fast friends with Carl Eagleston and Gregory Natal, a gay couple who also lived in the building. “They were like family,” says Elen in the doc, “especially Gregory. Cyndi and Gregory were bonded.” Carl and Gregory, along with many of Cyndi’s other friends, are featured in the music video for her song “She Bop,” and Gregory would later provide inspiration for one of Lauper’s trademark songs. As her success, profile and fame grew, so did Lauper’s inclination for allyship. During a 2014 speech, Lauper declared, “I’m known as an entertainer or a small gal with a big voice or a big mouth, and I decided a while back to use my big voice to be the voice for the voiceless.”

Fans will know of Lauper’s dedication to the issue of homelessness among LGBTQ2+ youth, which led her to establish the True Colors Foundation in 2008, which, according to its website, has a mission of finding “innovative solutions to youth homelessness by focusing on the experiences of those impacted – LGBTQ+ and BIPOC youth.” In Let The Canary Sing, Lauper’s sister Elen explains how that came about. “Her fans would write her and talk about being thrown out of the house because their families rejected them.” 

Cyndi Lauper's True Colors Shine Through In New Documentary

“What I saw was so bad and so unjust.… Letter after letter was someone who was gay, lesbian, a bisexual person, a transgendered person, anywhere where you don’t fall into line,” adds Lauper.

Lauper has spoken passionately about the topic in subsequent years, including testifying in 2015 in Washington, DC, at a Senate appropriations subcommittee meeting about youth homelessness. “No young person should be left without a home because of their sexual orientation or their gender identity,” she implored. Additionally, for 10 years, Lauper staged her annual Home for The Holidays concert – an evening of live performances from her and musical friends with proceeds going to her True Colours Foundation.

Since its initial release in 1986, “True Colors,” the title track from her second studio album, has become somewhat of an anthem for Lauper’s LGBTQ+ fanbase. “‘True Colors’ had a resonance with queer people because so much of how we communicated was in code, because queer people really weren’t allowed to be queer and out,” explains Billy Porter in the documentary. “So it was our straight allies who were having the conversations that the actual queer people in the industry could not have for fear of exposure and then rejection.” 

In fact, it was Lauper’s long-time friend, former neighbour Gregory Natal, who provided some initial inspiration for the song. “When ‘True Colors’ came to me [was] when Gregory was dying of AIDS,” she explains in the film. “I wanted to speak to a human being in the most tender spot.”

Gregory’s AIDS diagnosis impacted the singer immensely. “It totally freaked me out because in those days, it was a death sentence,” she explains. “I went to the hospital to visit him. My friends, they didn’t want me near him because nobody knew about AIDS.” Like Madonna, Princess Diana and Elizabeth Taylor, other female allies and AIDS advocates of that time, Lauper didn’t let fear or misinformation about the disease keep her away. “When he passed from AIDS,” explains Elen, “that almost killed her. It struck her deeply in her soul. She tried everything to help him.” 

Cyndi Lauper's True Colors Shine Through In New Documentary

Over the years, Lauper has continued to push for LGBTQ+ equality. In December 2022, she spoke at a White House press briefing ahead of US President Joe Biden signing The Respect For Marriage Act, which codified same-sex and interracial marriages. She said: “Our families, mine, and a lot of my friends, and people you know, sometimes your neighbours, we can rest easy tonight because our families are validated and because we’re allowed to love who we love.”

This year, at West Hollywood’s Pride celebration, Lauper’s long-time allyship will be recognized as she’ll be named the Lifetime Ally Icon at the city’s Pride Parade, becoming the first person to receive the special designation. “Cyndi Lauper embodies the spirit of inclusivity, unity and vibrancy that has defined West Hollywood throughout its history,” said City of West Hollywood Mayor John M. Erickson in a press release. “Her unwavering dedication to advocacy throughout the years, coupled with her unparalleled musical legacy, makes her a perfect fit for this moment in time as Lifetime Ally Icon as we celebrate WeHo Pride 2024.” 

And in true Cyndi Lauper fashion, she just wants to have fun with her fans, saying, “I love Pride, I love West Hollywood! I love a parade.”

Let the Canary Sing, the new documentary about Cyndi Lauper, premiered at the Tribeca Festival and is now streaming on Paramount+ in Canada and the US.

MICHELE YEO is a pop culture-obsessed Toronto-based long-time writer who has written and produced for outlets such as Entertainment Tonight Canada, CBC and MuchMusic. She is not, unfortunately, Michelle Yeoh from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Crazy Rich Asians fame, although she did write and produce Yeoh’s episode of A&E Biography.

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