BootLeg Betty

Former Harlette Paulette McWilliams On Bette Midler

Pop Matters
Her Best Is Yet to Come: An Interview with Paulette McWilliams
By Christian John Wikane 30 April 2014
PopMatters Contributing Editor

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Why didn’t the solo album do as well as it should have?

No PR. My whole career has been about trial and error. I was naive coming out of the gate. I made mistakes everywhere I turned. I wish I’d had someone before me, but I was the forerunner in my family so I had to learn everything on my own. I think one of my biggest mistakes was not believing in myself enough and recognizing where I was, in the moment. When things were happening, I made decisions based on what I thought I should do instead of what my gut told me to. I thought I would have those same opportunities over and over again. For the solo album, I had people that believed in me, but unfortunately I didn’t have the people that had the money. [laughs].

After the solo record, I went and auditioned for Bette Midler because she was putting the Harlettes together. She took me right away. She said, “You gotta stay!” I was with her for about two years and it was first-class all over Europe. Man, pictures were on the front page of different papers! Doing eight weeks on Broadway (Divine Madness) and just being onstage in a wild production was incredible. That was a real highlight for me. The glamor, the outfits … it was just phenomenal.

What did the experience with Bette Midler teach you?

She taught me so much about showmanship. I learned about how she prepared for a show, what she goes through, the ups and the downs. She’s an incredible artist. I don’t know how she felt about me but I know she knew I could sing. I was hired because I could sing. Before me, she had Charlo Crossley and Sharon Redd and Ula Hedwig, great singers and performers. They were very different, unique-looking ladies with wonderful personalities. I looked good and fit in with the two other Harlettes that were there at the time. Linda Hart was/is an actress-singer. Frannie Eisenberg-McCartney was kind of a comedian-singer-actress. And of course Luther was there.

Ah, so you were a Harlette at the same time that Luther Vandross sang background for Bette Midler.

Yes, that’s how he and I met. When I got on the gig, I had no idea that he was part of it until we started rehearsing. There he was. He would be behind the curtain while we were dancing and singing onstage.

For the whole interview: Click Here

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