Three weeks before her 20th concert tour, Bette Midler isn’t feeling entirely divine. â€¢ “You don’t even want to know,” Midler sighed by telephone from California. “The story is much too sad to be told â€¦ I’m wearing hats to cheer myself up.” â€¢ Costumes still must be fitted, rehearsals endured. Midler, 69, interrupted herself, complaining how expensive going on the road is these days: â€¢ “Wait a minute,” she said, snapping to Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy attention. “Are you kidding me? I’ve been on 20 tours? You know what? You’re probably right. Oh, my God.” â€¢ How does that make Midler feel? â€¢ “Like retiring,” she said, laughing like that’s the last thing on her mind.
Midler’s Divine Intervention tour, which comes to Tampa‘s Amalie Arena on Monday, reflects her latest musical reclamation, It’s the Girls. She covers songs from all-female singing groups, from the Boswell Sisters in the 1930s to TLC’s 1995 hit Waterfalls. Most spring from the idea’s sweetest spot, the heydays of Supremes and Shirelles, of Chordettes and Crystals.
“The singing suffragettes, I call them,” Midler said. “Sister acts, ’60s girl groups, ’50s girl groups, a long line of tradition.
“It’s all about the idea of female voices in harmony. Whether they come from the same era or not was of no consequence to me. I just like the sound of those blends. To me it’s all the sound of angels singing.”
Could Midler see herself fitting in with any of these groups in particular?
“All of them,” she declared. “I think I would’ve been a fabulous Shangri-La because they were very tough, and I can pretend to be tough.
“I would’ve been a good Ronette, but I probably was the wrong color. They were very hot, skinny little … girls who were so hot. I would’ve loved to have been one of them.”
It’s the Girls continues Midler’s self-appointed mission of musical remembrance, after recording entire albums of Peggy Lee and Rosemary Clooney standards, and making her career on artful covers like Bobby Freeman‘s Do You Want to Dance? and John Prine‘s Hello in There. Midler is a devoted caretaker of vocal and songwriting legacies.
“I’m kind of a rescue worker,” she says. “It pains me to see so much stuff fall by the wayside.
“One thing that’s interesting about our country is that it constantly generates so much good music. But they shouldn’t forget about the old stuff upon which the new stuff was built. It seems to be my mission in life, at least for this tour.”
Does Midler think anyone might return the favor some day, with a tribute to her career?
“No, I don’t,” she said, sounding resigned but not bitter. “I think I have a little something but I’m not really sure what it was.”
She’s reminded that the Songwriters Hall of Fame gave her a lifetime achievement award even though she never wrote a hit.
“That’s right, I did do a service for songwriters,” she said. “Thank you for reminding me.
“But new music didn’t come to me, the way it comes to certain singers. In the old days, the studio A&R (artists and repertoire) people sent songs and coached you through, hooked you up with an arranger. There’s no such animal anymore. You’re basically on your own. And if you’re a shy person as I was, it’s hard to go out and rustle that stuff up â€¦
“I’ve been feeling that lack of an A&R person for a long time now, and I guess it has been bothering me this week.”
Nothing that a change of hats won’t cure.
Contact Steve Persall at email@example.com or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.
If you go
8 p.m. Monday at the Amalie Arena, 401 Channelside Drive in Tampa. $42-$207. amaliearena.com.