Linda Clifford has provided a mix of house, R&B and disco over the years with roots in jazz music. She started as an actress in films like The Boston Strangler and Sweet Charity before beginning her music career. Clifford landed a variety of hits in the '70s, including "Runaway Love" and a cover of "If My Friends Could See Me Now." Her song "Red Light" wound up on the Fame Soundtrack in 1980, and she had several disco-flavored hits afterwards.
She will perform at the event "One Night Stand" to benefit HIV/AIDS agency Chicago House Saturday, Sept. 15. Clifford sat down to talk about her love for the community, Luther Vandross and party tips.
Windy City Times: How are you, Linda?
Linda Clifford: Goodkeeping busy!
WCT: I bet. Let's talk about your career from the beginning. You started off in jazz music?
LC: Yes. I started off doing jazz, a Nancy Wilson-type thing, not recording, just working clubs. Unfortunately, the market for that shriveled up. I continued singing things from Broadway shows and that sort of stuff because I really loved that. I moved slowly into the pop, funk market and added those things to the song list. That was many years agodoing jazz on the road and allowing people to get up and dance. I thought that was really cool!
WCT: How did having your first hit feel?
LC: The first real hit was "If My Friends Could See Me Now." That was in 19...Wait, you are going to make me give my age away. I was 12. [Both laugh.] We recorded it in 1977. Then it hit and became number one. It went all over the world.
WCT: You seemed to really enjoy singing it at San Francisco's Pride in the past.
LC: Oh, I love it. I have been doing it all these years. I cannot do a show and not do that song. People will just not have it! A lot of my friends are sick of me singing it and I go through phases where I don't want to do it again but once I start then I think about how it gave me the life that I have. I am so appreciative. The thing that is so wonderful is that people relate to the lyric in that song. There is always somebody in the past who thought they were something back then but look at them now, okay! "Check me out!"
WCT: I love the fact that you sang "Red Light" on the Fame Soundtrack.
LC: I do, too! That was such an incredible experience. I worked with Michael Gore and Dean Pitchford. They are the writers. They wrote three things for that movie. We met as a result for doing that song for the soundtrack and we became fast friends. They decided to write and produce songs for me for the next album. That is where "All the Man That I Need" came from. Many people have heard Whitney Houston's or Sister Sledge's version, but that song is actually written for my husband and me. How about that?
WCT: That's nice!
LC: Okaaay? I was the first one to record that song. For some reason the record company didn't want to release it right away then after everyone else released it they decided it was a good song. That is typical record-company stuff. It was a great experience with "Red Light," and the fact it was nominated for a Grammy was wonderful.
WCT: Do you have a favorite item from back in the day?
LC: I was given an award and besides all of those Billboard Awards and the ones you get from the professional end of it, there was a young man who came up to me when I was performing at a junior high school. He had saved his money and had an award made that said, "Presented to Linda Clifford, Lady of the Year." He couldn't have been more than 14 years old and I still have it. I keep it in my office. It is great to touch someone like that with my music.
WCT: How did you get involved with the Chicago gay community?
LC: I have lived in Chicago for so many years. People always think that I live on the West Coast or in New York. I grew up in New York but have lived in Chicago longer than there. I have been to so many clubs that aren't even around anymore. When "If My Friends Could See Me Now" came out that was a great deal of the audience that fell in love with that song. The gay community just ate that song up so I started playing a lot of the gay clubs.
I found myself meeting and falling in love with so many people that were in these clubs. I thought, "Why am I trying to kill myself to try to please people that don't want to hear my music when I have this wonderful group of people who love me?" I worked so many clubs. Remember a club called Le Pub?
WCT: No; that was before my time.
LC: It was a fabulous club. It had wonderful food and it was a straight club. It had switched over to a gay club the week before we played there one time. We didn't know until there were no women in there.
One time they asked me to sing when I was very pregnant and ready to pop. I did very dramatic ballads up on stage with my belly for two and half hours. I had never had that kind of response and so much love from any group in my life. When I was in the hospital after having my baby the room was filled with flowers and gifts with a note saying, "This is from your 1,500 fairy godmothers!"
WCT: What a great story.
LC: That was it. I was hooked. They were so incredibly wonderful to me. Aside from that I did have an older brother who was gay. He was my best friend and I lost him to AIDS in the early '80s. Three weeks after his death, my younger brother died of AIDS. My ties to the community are both happy and sad. I do everything I can to make people aware and raise funds to get rid of this disease. I would like to see it gone before I die.
I feel that if we had had something like Chicago House at that time I would still have my two brothers. It is such an incredible organization. They do so many wonderful things so when this opportunity popped up to be a part of it I said," Absolutely count me in."
WCT: How long is your set at "One Night Stand?"
LC: We want to keep some things secret but it will be a full show, I can tell you that. I want people dancing during the show. This is not going to be a sit down, drink yourself into a stupor, this is a party. We want people to walk in and be amazed by everything that they see and hear. This is going to be a feast for the senses and unbelievable.
WCT: I read that Luther Vandross was a backup singer for you a long time ago.
LC: Yes, he did background on "Red Light" and just a ton of stuff. That was before Luther was LUTHER ... At that time he was doing jingles and commercials.
WCT: I wonder if he would have come out of the closet in this day and age if he was, in fact, gay?
LC: Who can say? If someone is involved in the church and family sometimes it is hard. My father didn't want to believe my brother was gay when he was in the hospital. I have been able to see that after struggling with my brothers that people have been deserted by their families and friends. So I understand not wanting to come out. That is a tremendous fear to lose everyone.
WCT: That is why it is great to have a service like Chicago House that is there for people when they are abandoned.
LC: I know. That makes me so happy. I am thrilled to be a part of this event!
Don't miss this "One Night Stand" at the Park West, 322 W. Armitage Ave., on Saturday, Sept. 15, at 8 p.m. Tickets and information can be found at www.chicagohouse.org .