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Arts News Interviews

Diva Deborah Cox: Proud. Motivated. Strong. Fearless.

Written by Tony Hobday

Grammy nominee, multi-platinum R&B recording artist, film/TV actress Deborah Cox made her Broadway debut in the lead role in Elton John an Tim Rice’s musical, “Aida,” Now, Cox has the lead role (perfectly cast) in the national tour of “The Bodyguard,” based on the Whitney Houston-led film of the same name.

Cox has also been recognized for her longstanding commitment to the LGBT community. In 2015, she received the Out Music Pillar Award. In 2014, she received the California State Senate Award and in 2007, she received The Civil Rights Award from the New York Senate for her efforts in the fight for human rights and equality. She was honored by The Harvey Milk Foundation at the 2015 Diversity Honors for her efforts in the fight against HIV/AIDS in the LGBT community. And  on June 12, 2016, she was given the Liberty Bell and Proclamation in Philadelphia by Mayor James Kenney to proclaim June 12 as LGBTQ Philadelphia Pride Parade and Festival Day.

Cox spoke with QSaltLake about the new musical coming to the Utah stage Dec. 5-10, her steamy bodyguard, being a gay icon and an HIV/AIDS activist, working with Celine Dion and more.

Coming to the United States in the 1990s as a young, upcoming artist, what were your initial impressions and feelings with working with Celine Dion and Clive Davis, I mean it seems to me it would be incredibly nerve-wracking?
At the time, I was so in the moment, taking it all in. I was so aware of the fact I was being taught and groomed by the best of the best. With Celine, she made sure everyone was treated good — the per diem checks, accommodations, things like that. And she was just getting started. She had such a respect for us as background supporters that it made you feel very proud and want to work even harder. Clive was incredibly detailed. From the mixes of songs to the amount of tracks that had to be sung. It was a great time in music those years at Arista.

Your incredible career is extensive, from a hugely talented crossing of musical genres to many movie and stage roles, how do you do it all?
Yes, I take pride in being versatile. I take chances and I don’t limit myself. I’ve never been that way. All the hard work has paid off.

You performed in 2014 at the opening ceremony of World Pride in Toronto, what was the most memorable part of that experience for you?
The most memorable moment was singing on water. The illusion that was created for that performance.

What inspired your “gay anthem” of sorts “Let the World be Ours Tonight” and your decision to release it during Pride month this year?
The decision was not really a decision at all. The timing for it was right. It wasn’t calculated to be released during Pride month. A lot of things happen for me like that. Where timing works out and everything aligns.

You were honored in 2015 by The Harvey Milk Foundation at Diversity Honors for your efforts in the fight against HIV/AIDS in the LGBTQ community – what are your thoughts on the progress of the fight to end the stigma and the disease today?
I was truly moved to tears receiving that award. It really is humbling when you hear of other people and their constant struggle and fight. I’m so happy when I hear about the progress that’s been made.

How does it feel to be considered a gay icon and super diva?
Proud. Motivated. Strong. Fearless.

How have you “channeled,” if you will, Whitney Houston to prepare for your role in “The Bodyguard” musical?
I simply just reflect on the lyrics in the songs and find the truth in what each song is trying to say.

Your steamy bodyguard is played by Judson Mills, in his first stage gig. Give us some of the juicy details of how your stage romance builds in the show?
Well that part is a secret!! Judson is a charismatic, disciplined actor with so many nuances that help me to find new moments in the show. It’s a joy. It’s such a different platform being in a musical, especially for him who’s used to film and TV. Truth is, we have no ego going into this. We support each other and root for each other.

The Bodyguard — The Musical runs Dec. 5-10, times vary, at the Delta Hall, Eccles Theater, 131 S. Main St. Tickets $60-100, artsaltlake.org. PLEASE NOTE: Deborah Cox is not scheduled to perform at the Saturday matinee and Sunday evening performances.

PHOTO CREDIT: Joan Marcus

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Tony Hobday

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