Bette Midler's first album was 1972's moniker-establishing The Divine Miss M, and her latest effort is It's the Girls!, a stylish tribute to girl groups of the past. Speaking of the past, it's been a decade since the charismatic entertainer last toured, which makes it more than time for a little divine intervention. Ms. Midler spoke to The Globe and Mail from Los Angeles.
The last time we chatted was in 2005, when you put out your Peggy Lee songbook album. We talked about Barry Manilow, who said he had inspired that album and the Rosemary Clooney record before it because he had dreams about you singing their songs. Is he taking credit for your new album, as well?
No. He stopped speaking to me. I haven't spoken to him in 10 years. He stopped speaking to me after the Peggy Lee record, actually.
I'm sorry to hear that.
Our friendship waxes and wanes. Listen, he's a nice guy. He's a lovely man. I hope he has a fabulous, fabulous life.
Okay, so let's talk about your record.
The songs are from older girl groups, such as the Ronettes, the Supremes and the Shirelles. But the single Waterfalls is from 1995, by TLC. Can you talk about how it made it on to the album?
That song has bothered me since the day I first heard it. I kept thinking those are really moving lyrics, in the middle of all this beat, and that I really wanted to extract it. Marc Shaiman, who I've worked with on many things over the years, told me he didn't think it was a good idea to do the song. I didn't agree with him.
Clearly you got your way.
When we got it under our belt, he changed his mind. I haven't taken any flak from it. In fact, the girls [the surviving members of TLC] got in touch with me and said they loved it. I'm delighted they like it.
You're 69, and you got some airplay with Waterfalls. What did you think when Madonna earlier this year accused the BBC of ageism, when a programmer said he wouldn't play her single Living for Love because he wanted to lower the demographic of the BBC's audience?
Was it on the BBC that she had the cape issue, when she got pulled off the stage? I think she should have sued. But what do I think about it? I think it's a damn shame. I listened to that record. I thought it was really good. I bought it. That Joan of Arc song, I think it's fantastic. I think it's as good as anything she has ever done.
What about radio and ageism, though?
I'm surprised. I'm stunned – I'm just stunned. I mean, if the BBC won't play Madonna's music, what hope is there for anybody else?
Bette Midler plays Air Canada Centre, June 20, 8 p.m. $59.75 to $332.50. 1-855-985-5000 or ticketmaster.ca