By Steven M. Housman – Contributing Writer

Shaken, sassy or stirred, Pink Martini charms the world with an intoxicating mix of cocktail lounge

MARTINI MAESTRO: Thomas Lauderdale, Pink Martini’s queer mastermind.

In 1994, gay Harvard alumni Thomas Lauderdale planned on running for mayor of Portland, Ore. But a funny thing happened on the way to the political forum. He was accidentally sideswiped by show business.

That was the year the classically trained Lauderdale formed a quartet of musicians for a one-night only gig. Fourteen years, three albums and countless world tours later, the quartet has grown to a group of a dozen musicians and a following that’s made them a global success.

It all began when Lauderdale needed an opening act for a fundraiser — a campaign working against an initiative to outlaw homosexuality. Dissatisfied with the lack of commitment from the entertainment industry to open the benefit, he discusses how he "threw on a cocktail dress" and stepped into the spotlight with three other musicians to open the show themselves. In the decade and a half since, he now can’t imagine doing anything else but having fun and entertaining audiences all over the world. Last year, before their newest album, "Hey Eugene!" (Heinz Records), they teamed up with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra for a four-day run at Bass Hall. On Wednesday, they’re headed back to North Texas to play at House of Blues — one night only.

Pink Martini perform at House of Blues’ Music Hall,
2200 N Lamar St.
May 21. Doors at 7 p.m.,
show at 8 p.m.

Was there one defining moment in the career of Pink Martini when you realized it was a success? When we first played at the Hollywood Bowl. That was great. It was just a huge thing. Last year we debuted at Carnegie Hall, plus we played a bunch of times in Europe. I guess the latest tours are just a reminder of how lucky we are because things have gone so well.

If you had to give your music a label, what genre would it fall under? I would say Hollywood musical crossed with global pop. It’s like old-fashioned pop the way it was in the ’40s with the beautiful melodies.

Have you figured out why gay listeners find your music so appealing? I’m a lot like many gay guys who love that whole aesthetic of the past and the romantic glamour of the Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, Rita Hayworth years. I just think there’s a general gay aesthetic, even though there are only a few fruitcakes in the band. Our music definitely has a "light in the loafers" sort of feel.

Since you’re such a political queer who once dreamed of being the mayor of Portland, how do you feel about the primary season? If everything goes as planned, then Barack Obama is going to be the Democratic nominee. That’s incredible, considering the choices last time were John Kerry and Bush. So it’s really just very encouraging. Half the country that was largely invisible is slowly coming into vision.

Many people have said if their choice isn’t nominated, they aren’t going to vote for the other candidate. If Obama doesn’t make it and Hillary does, would you still support the Democratic Party? Of course. I think they’re both great candidates and they’re both very smart. Either one of them would be better than the Republican Party.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 16, 2008.

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