Long before Bette Midler became social media’s beloved socio-political rabble-rouser, before “Wind Beneath My Wings” and your annual viewing of “Hocus Pocus,” she was singing the soundtrack for a throng of naked, lustful gay men. That was 1969, when the now-iconic actress/singer/shade-thrower first unleashed her billowy croon at Continental Baths in the basement of The Ansonia Hotel in New York City. A few years later, in 1972, her bathhouse stage name, “The Divine Miss M,” served as the title of her debut album. The release was partly recorded with a crowd in the studio where they “served Chinese food,” noted in the reflective letter from Miss M, who gives a loving nod to the gay community that she says made her feel like “I had opened the door to the closet.” Her flamboyant musical presence still radiates four decades later, as does her big-hearted renderings of career staples such as “Chapel of Love” and “Friends.” Like her latest celebration of all-female groups from the mid-20th century, “For the Girls!,” Midler has always relished a vintage sound. “The Divine Miss M” was when the wheels of her old-soul started turning. She was in her mid-20s then, but the sound emanating from songs such as the matriarchal waywardness of “Hello in There” and the sultry “Do You Want to Dance,” featuring her bathhouse accompanist Barry Manilow on piano and Cissy Houston‘s backup vocals, defied her youthfulness. Deeper within the “Deluxe Edition” are seven rare mixes and two stunning demos, including her striking lullaby-like take on the Eagle’s 1973 song “Saturday Night.” Even though she wishes “I could remember more of it,” Midler looks back fondly on the launch of her career, as she should. “The Divine Miss M” is as legendary as her own divinity.
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