Thelma Houston's Heart is Full of Love - and She Loves to Entertain

Gil Kaan

Gil Kaan

Writer, Registered Critic

Some artists and their signature songs keep coming back, revised, renewed, remixed.

Ms. Thelma Houston and her 1976 hit “Don't Leave Me This Way” never get old; both artist and song always seeming fresh and brand-new. On the eve of her upcoming Los Angeles appearance in MY MOTOWN MEMORIES & MORE! at the Nate Holden Theatre October 15, 2017; we had the wonderful opportunity to relive some of Ms. Houston's memories of her half-a-century's worth of performing.

Thank you for taking the time for this interview!

You began singing in church, so you must have been fairly comfortable performing in front of an audience. How big an audience did it have to grow to, to make you not feel as comfortable? Did you ever get stage fright?

I wouldn't categorize it as "stage fright," but stage or performance "excitement" always.

Did you have any formalized training? Or would you credit your gospel singing experience as your musical education? 

I played flute in my junior high school band. Until last year, I was still studying with my vocal coach.

What vocal exercises or preparation do you still religiously maintain?

Unfortunately, my vocal coach passed away last year. But exercise is just as important for me. It gives me energy, and the aerobics exercise, in particular, helps with my breathing. 

Who were your singing idols growing up?

Mahalia Jackson, Dinah Washington, Nancy Wilson, Gloria Lynne, Sarah Vaughan.

What do you remember of the Grammy Awards ceremony when they announced your name for "Best R&B Vocal Performance"?

That I wasn't there when my name was called. I was home. I got a phone call telling me.

You had success with Capitol Records, then ABC/Dunhill Records before switching to Motown. Did you pursue a contract with Motown? Or did Motown go after you?

I was asked to join their MoWest label when they moved from Detroit.

“Don't Leave Me This Way” by Kenneth Gamble, Leon Huff and Cary Gilbert was first recorded in 1975 by Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes (w/Teddy Pendergrass). Did you ever meet Gamble, Huff or Gilbert?

Yes, I met Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff.

Aside from your wonderful vocal contributions, what else would you attribute the longevity of “Don't Leave Me This Way” to: The disco era? Being included in the soundtrack of Looking for Mr. Goodbar? Being the unofficial theme song in the fight against HIV/AIDS?

I think it was a good song, with a great production by Hal Davis, and I think it was the timing.

You have performed at numerous Pride festivals throughout the years. In 2015, you were honored as the Grand Marshall of the Long Beach Gay Pride Parade. Tell us what you were feeling riding and waving in that parade?

I grew up in Long Beach from the age of 10, so I was waving to old friends and making new ones.

 What advice would the 2016 Thelma Houston give to the young starting-out Thelma Houston 50 years ago?

It's going to be "groovy." Don't worry!!!

What are some of the best advice given to you that you still adhere to and share with others?

Enjoy what you're doing.

Where else do you plan to sing the roof off of with MY MOTOWN MEMORIES & MORE!?

Wherever I can. As big as it can accommodate and still intimate enough to tell the story.

Any singer you'd love to duet with?

Haven't really given it any thought.

Other than, obviously, “Don't Leave Me This Way;" what would your favorite song be?

I know this is "cheesy," but “Don't Leave Me This Way" is that song for me. I love seeing the joy on the faces of the audience while they're singing along. I never get enough!!!

Thank you again for this interview! I look forward to hearing you sing and speak your MOTOWN MEMORIES & MORE!

For ticket availability for Ms. Houston's one-night-only performance in Los Angeles, log onto or

Gil Kaan
Gil Kaan, a former Managing Editor of the now-defunct Genre magazine, has had the privilege of photographing and interviewing some major divas in his career, including Ann-Margret, Diana Ross, Faye Dunaway, Carol Channing, Shirley MacLaine, Catherine Deneuve, Liza Minnelli, Sandra Bernhard, Anna Nicole Smith, Margaret Cho, and three Catwomen—Eartha Kitt, Lee Meriwether and Julie Newmar. He had the fortuitous opportunity to conduct Lily Tomlin’s coming out interview. Gil has since reviewed movies and theatre for a number of local and national outlets.
A photo montage of Gil’s Halloween Carnavale photos through the last decade was recently included in the WeHo@ 25 juried exhibition.