- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 14, 2007

At 61, Deborah Harry, the iconic lead singer of Blondie, is still churning out genre-fusing tunes, rocking a mike and flaunting her to-die-for cheekbones.

Although she didn’t write the lyrics to “The Tide is High” (a Paragons ditty her band borrowed for its 1980 album, “Autoamerican”), she certainly epitomizes the lyrics; she sure isn’t “the kind of girl who gives up just like that.” Oh no — oh, oh.

The flaxen-haired siren wanted to be No. 1 — and she did just that, emerging from the New York City counterculture scene in the late ‘60s to form Blondie with guitarist Chris Stein in 1974. The outfit’s first American chart-topper came in 1978 with the disco-sampling cut “Heart of Glass” (from the album “Parallel Lines”), and others soon followed, including 1980’s “Call Me” and 1981’s hip-hop soused “Rapture.” Overseas, the group and its singles fared even better.

Blondie’s music was marvelously unhindered by the walls dividing pop, punk rock, disco, new wave and rap, and somehow skated freely between them to merge into one distinctive, highly innovative sound. It was uptown and downtown. Dancey yet aggressive. Edgy but accessible.

“That’s the great thing about what is commonly called rock music,” Miss Harry says. “There’s room to cover a lot of territory.”

For her part, the front woman also broke a lot of ground. One of the first music video mamas, she wrapped feistiness, femininity and fashion sense into one eye-catching little package to pioneer “Blond Ambition” well before Madonna claimed it as her own. Like successors Gwen Stefani and even R&B; queen Beyonce, she also leveraged her exposure in the band to branch out into other projects — including solo and jazz ensemble work and film.

Miss Harry had no expectations of becoming a cultural icon and style maven; in fact, she says that in the group’s early days, “We sort of just did what we felt like doing.” All told, Blondie has squeezed out eight studio albums, helping garner attention from listeners around the world as well as the industry elite; last year, the gatekeepers to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame gave the band a key to that illustrious door.

“I didn’t know if it was going to happen,” Miss Harry recalls. “People get nominated every year and don’t make it. … To be nominated [a first for Blondie] and accepted all at the same time, I was completely surprised.”

It’s a nice form of recognition for the crew’s body of work, as well as Miss Harry‘s; during Blondie’s career and its 16-year hiatus, the vocalist found time to release five albums of her own. A sixth, called “Necessary Evil,” is scheduled to drop in August.

Until then, the rock diva will stay busy co-headlining the True Colors Tour along with Cyndi Lauper, Erasure and others, then heading off to Europe for dates with the group that started it all for her.

The tide is high — and the music world teems with imitators — but she’s holding on.

On Sunday, Miss Harry and the True Colors Tour roll through the Merriweather Post Pavilion (www.mppmusic.com) in Columbia for a Human Rights Campaign benefit. Gates open at 4:30 p.m.

Martini serves many

Pink Martini calls itself a 12-piece “little orchestra,” but it’s really a group of mixologists who stir songs from different eras and countries together and make them all taste smooth and sweet and strangely familiar — like concoctions produced according to your grandmother’s recipe, only with a few substitutions thrown in to please modern-day palates.

With a product that draws on jazz and classical formats, movie scores and global sounds, the band is pouring some much-needed glamour back into pop music — and Americans, in turn, seem to be gulping it down. “Hey Eugene!,” the group’s self-released third album, was issued in late May and has risen to No. 30 on the Billboard charts.

“America is so starved for beautiful melody,” says Thomas M. Lauderdale, Pink Martini’s founder. “The band is really part of that resurgence of interest in beauty.” A classically trained pianist, he actually formed the collective in 1994 with the intention of jazzing up political fundraisers around Portland, Ore. The band’s momentum proved irrepressible, however — particularly after he recruited sultry singer China Forbes (a former Harvard University classmate) as a full-time member in 1997.

One doesn’t need to know all the peaks Pink Martini has crested since then. We’ll just leave it at this: They set the tone with their European debut — at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival.

“For a band this size to make music and go all over the world — we’re just really lucky,” Mr. Lauderdale says. “People call up and want to know how to do it. I’m always at a loss.” On Monday at 8 p.m., Pink Martini plays Vienna’s Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts (www.wolftrap.org).

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