Seeing Red: Thelma Houston performing at AIDS benefit

By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski

AIDS research and prevention are close to singer Thelma Houston’s heart.

“I’ve had fans and dear friends affected by AIDS, like my hairdresser, makeup artist and my clothing designers,” Houston says.

“It was almost like we were in a warzone, but you didn’t have the artillery. You didn’t have ammunition to fight because you didn’t know what you were fighting.”

Houston is the highlight of Red is the Night at 6 p.m. Saturday, September 25, at the Phoenix Art Museum, 1625 N. Central Avenue, Phoenix.

The evening begins with cocktails at the hosted bar and appetizers in the garden. Dinner in the main hall precedes Houston’s performance. Individual tickets range from $175 to $250 for VIP front-row seating, and tables are $1,500 to $2,500 for VIP seating for eight. To register, visit

“I bought my red earrings when I was downtown yesterday,” she says, calling from Los Angeles. “I just need a red outfit to go with my earrings. I’m looking forward to it.”

Houston will perform her track “Don’t Leave Me This Way,” as well as songs from her Motown catalog.

“I try to just have a party at my shows,” she says. “I want to make people happy to be out again and doing something for such a wonderful organization.

“I was active in the business in the 1970s and onward. Unfortunately, AIDS and HIV was something that came up during that time. It happened during the popularity of dance music. It’s just a horrible sickness.”

She has been keeping busy. Houston is featured on “Bobby, Don’t You Think They Know?” a duet with Morrissey, the former lead singer of the Smiths. The two met when he heard Houston regularly sang his song “Suedehead” in concert on the recommendation of a songwriting friend.

“His music was hitting a new market. I guess he appreciated it,” she says. “Sometime later, I received an email from him saying he’d like me to listen to a song. Working with him was a dream. I didn’t expect him to be at the studio, but he was. There wasn’t any controversial or political conversations. It was just two musicians in the studio making music.”

Houston says Morrissey was open to her doing just what she does best. The two sang “Bobby, Don’t You Think They Know?” during his show at the Hollywood Bowl and at an after party.

“He wanted me to entertain at his party afterward,” she says. “He came over and was sitting, engaged, during my show. I told him I read his book, and he didn’t believe I had actually read it. I just wanted to know a little bit more about him. I enjoy reading biographies of people.”