Houston Daily Cougar
March 27, 1973
You may know Bette Midler as the buxom, young songstress with fiery red hair and an engaging smile from the Johnny Carson show.
You may know her as an entertainer who takes material from various musical eras and blends it into a dynamite nightclub-type routine.
You may know that she first became a sensation in New York and has a tremendous following among gay people.
Her fans, and the Music Hall was packed with them Thursday night, know her simply as “The Divine Miss M.”
And divine she was, as she belted out songs first made popular by such varied talents as Besse Smith, the Andrews Sisters, the Shangri-La’s and Delaney and Bonnie.
Evidently her reputation had preceded her, but there is little doubt that she was even a greater sensation than most expected.
Her jokes were wonderfully offcolor and the nice thing about them was that they were funny.
Her easy rapport with the subculture that many people refer to as the sleazy side of life come from genuine understanding. Her songs and her dialogue reflect this understanding and endear her in the hearts of those for whom the bars, porno houses, and baths are part of life, whether they be straight (sexually) or not.
Midler sings “torch” songs, such as “Am I Blue,” with the conviction that tells you they aren’t just a bunch of words for her. Her songs from the 50s bring back fond memories for those who remember saddle oxfords, the shimmy, starched petticoats, ducktails and nickel cokes.
Most of all, she radiates heartfelt empathy for people who are lonely, broken-hearted, forgotten or shunned by society.
And today there aren’t many of us who don’t qualify for one of those descriptions at one time or another in our lives. Her renditions of “Friends” and John Prine’s beautiful “Hello In There” conveyed as much compassion as any song can.
The audience was as together, appreciative and responsive as any I’ve seen. The gays turned out dressed to teeth in drag, mixing in comfortably with what looked like a typical upper class, conservative theater audience.
Maybe this is no big thing in New York or L.A., but the gathering was rather unique for Houston.
And, all things considered, everybody got along pretty well together ?(don’t tell me Houston has arrived).
Midler worked with a rhythm section including a guitarist, bassist and drummer who were directed by pianist Barry Manilow. She also had a chorus of three young ladies who, she said (in jest), she picked up on Congress Street. Again the motif of “The shady side of life” was carried out beautifully as the Harlets harmonized vocally and bodily with Midler’s routine.
Without a doubt, Bette Midle’s show was a landmark evening of entertainment for Houston. More importantly, it was a night when a lot of nice people found a new friend, “The Divine Miss M.”