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A Reason To Smile
At a time when divisiveness is ascendant and our differences are being used as wedges to attack our common humanity, it’s important to find ways to chart a path back to understanding and empathy. Music, especially music with a message, can be a wonderful way to do it.
For today’s A Reason To Smile, we are going back nearly four decades to the mid-1980s. It was another time of great fear and alienation. The world was contending with the AIDS epidemic and the tragic stigma it generated, especially for the gay community, which was decimated by the disease.
Among those who lost people close to them was a young singer from New York who had just reached superstardom: Cyndi Lauper. She recalls watching her friend Gregory Natal die at age 24, many of their other friends afraid to get close to him for fear of contracting a disease that was so poorly understood.
Looking for a way to process her grief, Lauper heard the song “True Colors,” written by acclaimed songwriters Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly. “I knew that the melody was stunning and the words were stunning,” Lauper recalled in “Let the Canary Sing,” a recent documentary film about her life. When she went to record it, she hoped to have it sound like “whispering in someone’s ear.”
In the years since, “True Colors” has become an anthem of appreciation for the differences that make us all unique and special. It has taken on special significance in the LGBTQ+ community, to which Lauper has long been an ally. The singer later founded True Colors United, a mission to combat homelessness among LGBTQ+ youth.
We share some of the lyrics here, because they are so powerful to read. Two performances of the song are linked below.
You with the sad eyes
Don’t be discouraged, oh I realize
It’s hard to take courage
In a world full of people
You can lose sight of it all
The darkness inside you
Can make you feel so small
Show me a smile then
Don’t be unhappy
Can’t remember when
I last saw you laughing
This world makes you crazy
And you’ve taken all you can bear
Just call me up
’Cause I will always be there
And I see your true colors
I see your true colors
And that’s why I love you
So don’t be afraid to let them show
Your true colors
True colors are beautiful
Here is Lauper performing the song:
And here is a duet of Justin Timberlake and Anna Kendrick, who teamed up to record “True Colors” for the animated film “Trolls.”
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