When it comes to unwavering commitment to her LGBTQ fan base, Crystal Waters rises to the occasion.
In addition to gaining a following with dance hits such as “Gypsy Woman (She’s Homeless)” and, of course, “100% Pure Love,” Waters contributed a track (“The Boy from Ipanema”) to the Red Hot + Rio album which benefited the Red Hot Organization’s mission of “fighting AIDS through pop culture.” Waters has also become a familiar face as an in-demand performer on the Pride Festival circuit. Taking that dedication a step further, Waters will be performing on March 9 at Richardson Park in Wilton Manors as part of Tropical Bear Week. Crystal was gracious enough to answer a few questions in advance of the event.
Gregg Shapiro: Crystal, a little more than 30 years ago, your breakout hit “Gypsy Woman (She’s Homeless)” put you on everyone’s radar. For those not in the know, please say something about the inspiration for the song – was it based on one person in particular, or was it more of a composite?
Crystal Waters: “Gypsy Woman” was based on an actual person in Washington, DC. She used to stand in front of the Mayflower Hotel. I used to walk by her like once a week. She was all dressed in black. Full face of make-up. She was singing gospel songs with a hat at her feet, asking for money. I used to look at her and say, “She looks fine. She needs to go get a job.” I had that attitude. “Nothing wrong with her. She's just taking people’s money. And then the local weekly, City Paper, did a story about her. It told how she had just lost her job in retail, which I believe was at a cosmetic counter. She thought that if she was going to ask for money, that she needed to look respectable and respect the people, and that's why she looked the way she did. It just changed my whole idea of homelessness. How it could happen that quickly. She's just like you and me. That's where that came from.
GS: I’m glad you mentioned DC. I lived there from ‘85 to ‘88 when I was in grad school at AU, and one of the things I remember about living there was that the go-go music scene was very popular. DC isn’t known for its dance music scene in the same way that, say, Chicago is with house music, but while you were living in DC at that time, when go-go music was having crossover success, did you ever work with any go-go acts?
CW: No, but I knew all the songs. You have to remember back then that dance music was pretty new, and go-go was the thing here in DC.
GS: Right! E.U. (“Da Butt”) and all those really great bands.
CW: Trouble Funk!
CW: I was at Howard University. I was there!
GS: Because of the show business connections in your family – your father, musician Junior Waters, and your aunt, Oscar-nominated actress and singer Ethel Waters – do you think it was inevitable that, even though you didn’t start out that way, that you’d follow a similar path?
CW: No. No one had any idea. My brother was the one that was a musician. He played every instrument. My sister was a singer. She won all the beauty pageants. I was this shy little child [laughs]. It wasn’t until later. I knew I could write. I started off writing a lot of poetry. That was the one thing I knew, and it got me through high school. I could answer essay questions easily. I think it took everybody by surprise.
GS: If “Gypsy Woman” introduced you to listeners, “100% Pure Love” cemented your status as a dance diva. What was the best part of being embraced by that genre and its fans?
CW: I loved being part of it. It was like a community, especially in New York. They say house music is a feeling. Just being in the club. There were no VIPs, people just came to dance. I love being different. No one else was doing what we were doing. I loved being part of the community. That’s what I always remember and held onto. A lot of people beat us up, asking, “When are you gonna do some real music?” Nobody really knew what was happening at the time. I remember saying, “No one is doing what I'm doing. I'll be the big fish in a little pond [laughs].” I still enjoy the community. I still go to the conferences just to be a part of the community.
GS: A sizable number of dance music fans are members of the LGBTQ community. When did you first become aware of having that kind of following?
CW: When “Gypsy Woman” hit, we went to New York, and the first community that took me in was the (ballroom) houses, including the House of Milan. They were people who accepted me. I hung out with my dancers in the gay community. A drag queen taught me how to do my make-up. I was really immersed in that. That's where dance music kind of started, in the gay community, then it moved to the black community, then it expanded. So, from day one I was in that, and I think I've been supported.
GS: Over the years, you’ve become a popular performer on the Pride festival circuit. Pride Festivals were put on hold during the COVID-19 pandemic, but they had something of a comeback.
CW: Oh, yes! Remember, there were Gay Pride (Festivals) back in the ‘90s. Now I’m going to say my little spiel. In the ‘90s, it was not cool to be gay. We would do these Prides, and they would throw stuff at us. None of the R&B or pop people would do them. They wouldn't even promote it on the radio. I remember doing New York Prides, and by the fifth or sixth year, there was only one guy left standing with the “God Hates You” sign or something like that [laughs]. I do these new Prides now, and I have to remind them. Now it’s a big party, a festival. You’ve got to remember; you're standing on the shoulders of giants. There are people who suffered to have these Prides, for it to be so easy for you to do it now. I always like to put that in there to remind folks that this wasn't a given. This was something that was fought for, and worked hard for, all these years.
GS: As a longtime member of the community, I appreciate that historical perspective. Thank you.
CW: Yes. A lot of people didn't make it, you know.
GS: Yes, there were terrible and countless losses. In closing, are there any upcoming creative projects that you’d like to share with the readers?
CW: Sure! I have a monthly podcast with seven million listeners called “I Am House” which you can find on iTunes and Google, as well as the “I Am House” radio show on SiriusXM, channel 141, Saturday and Sunday night at 8 p.m. Eastern Standard Time [laughs]! I also have my record label, I Am House Records.
You can go on my Instagram at crystalwaters and all the links should be right there.