From Jumpsuit to Jazz, Lea DeLaria’s Other Career

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Lea DeLaria is best known too many as one of the stars of Orange is the New Black, playing the prison inmate Big Boo.

However, what you may not know is that not only is DeLaria a fabulous actress, veteran of Broadway musicals and stand-up comedy, but she is also a jazz singer – and she has a new album out – House of David.

Talking to The Frame, DeLaria says Jazz singing is something she says has been with her since childhood, and that she cultivated a career in jazz by marrying it with activism and stand-up comedy while performing.

I figured out I could sing. I knew I could sing. I’d been doing it as a child with my father for years. So I would bring a little trio on stage with me and I’d be raging at them and then I would kind of sing a standard. I’d just sing a standard and it would lull the audience into sort of a false sense of security. Then I would start screaming ‘dyke’ at them again.”

DeLaria’s interest in singing was something that she says was encouraged by her father, who himself was a jazz pianist. At the age of 5, DeLaria would sing for her father, who proceeded to teach her about jazz music.

Lea DeLaria 99

By 8, DeLaria had learned more of the intricacies of of jazz and began performing at nightclubs with her father.

Let’s face it, I was like the bearded lady. It was a circus act thing. It was a way for the cats to get a break and go off the bandstand. Then I would sing a duet with [my dad]. Eventually the trio would join sometimes. It worked so well — people loved it— that he kept doing it with me.”

Also read: Its official, Orange is the New Black’s Lea DeLaria Is Getting Married

After performing and training, DeLaria discovered that singing was her passion and that she wanted to pursue it as a career. After telling her father, DeLaria says he had guidelines for how DeLaria should pursue jazz.

He said, Look, that is OK with me, but you can’t be just be a pretty girl with a pleasant voice. You need to understand music and learn the language of jazz. He really taught me to sing from my balls. He encouraged me to really sing like a horn player. Like any good horn player, I know when to be soft and I know when to be loud. It’s like making love to a woman — sometimes you want a nice light touch and sometimes you got to bang.”

And the David Bowie link? DeLaria pins the origins of her love for Bowie on the moment she first heard the guitar riff on “Fame.”

One thing that I learned from him I think more than any other performer is his insistence to be exactly who he is. That is fascinating to me. As a little girl, I have to say as a little bull dyke, growing up in the Midwest thinking that I was the only one — didn’t know that there were other gay people even out there — having this man be who he was a terrific lesson for me.”

Lea DeLaria Emmys 01

After a long period of cultivating skills in various performance fields, DeLaria still feels as though all her talents make up a part of her true self.

It’s really hard for me to determine where my true self lies in all the things that I can do. I can do a lot of things. It’s that simple. I’m really happy when I’m filming ‘Orange is the New Black.’ I love being down stage center at a Broadway show and belting out a D sharp and hearing that audience applaud. When I’m in a little smokey jazz club at 1 o’clock in the morning, and I am blowing over changes with the cats, and we are digging it, and we are creating this art all together at the same time, I love that too.”

DeLaria’s new jazz David Bowie cover album, “House of David,” is set for release July 24 and is already available digitally. It’s her fifth album.

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