A Pop Hit Has Crystal Waters In A New Role

Posted: August 24, 1991

JONES BEACH, N.Y. — Not only can she sing, but she can also repair and program your computer.

Crystal Waters, composer and singer of the unlikely pop hit "Gypsy Woman (She's Homeless)," hasn't yet quit her real job. Before signing with Mercury Records early this year, Waters was a computer technician with the Washington, D.C., Parole Board.

Officially, she's taking a six-month leave of absence.

"I can still keep my health benefits," she says. "But they know I'm not coming back."

Waters is a warm, fine-boned woman (although many guys would just omit the boned part) who seems to be without guile, as if all of this hasn't hit her yet. She's sitting backstage at this waterfront venue after doing a 20-minute opening set Thursday night for Ziggy Marley and Queen Latifah. Waters and Marley will appear at 8 tonight at the Mann Music Center.

Although Waters has been musical all her life, she may be the closest thing out there to an overnight success. Her first record, "Gypsy Woman," the very catchy tune with the deranged-sounding "La da dee, la da da" chorus, was No. 1 on Billboard's 12-inch dance singles chart for six weeks early this summer. She has been singing professionally for only about four years, and her first album, Surprise (Mercury), which contains "Gypsy Woman," was recorded in two weeks and released in June.

One day, Waters is helping issue arrest warrants. The next, she's flying to Europe, being interviewed for TV, radio and newspapers, and singing in front of larger crowds than she had ever seen.

But it didn't make her nervous. "I actually felt comfortable," Waters says.

It was predominantly the crowds in gay clubs that accepted her the most. ''They're just the most open, and they really like the voguing and the dancing."

Waters, 27, is locally born and bred. When she was growing up in the Jericho section of Deptford, "when they didn't even have the mall," she used to get together with friends and sing on the corners.

"The guys called themselves the JBs, and we were the JB-ettes," Waters says. Some of those old friends came to see her the first time she performed in Philadelphia.

"I did a show in Philly at the Phoenix (in June) and all these people showed up with high school pictures. I couldn't believe it. My cousin said I made them all famous."

After graduating in 1980 from Deptford High, where she was a link on the varsity field-hockey team, Waters moved to Washington, where she majored in computer science at Howard University.

Much of her family stayed in New Jersey and Philadelphia. In fact, Waters enjoys coming back to the area, because she can stay with her mother in Mount Laurel.

Her name might sound contrived, but it's real. "My mother is Betty Waters, my father is Junior Waters, and I am Crystal Waters."

Her great-aunt was Ethel Waters. The Ethel Waters, the late jazz and gospel singer.

Waters began singing semiprofessionally during her senior year at Howard, though she wasn't dying to make a hit record.

"But somebody told me that I wasn't going to be happy unless I tried to do what I wanted to," which was singing for money, she says.

So Waters auditioned for a backup singer's job with a local West African reggae band and made it. "And here I am now, opening for Ziggy Marley," she says, shaking her head in wonderment.

She also began working on demo tapes, and recording her songs. The Baltimore-based production team known as the Basement Boys heard some of her tapes in 1987, and began working with her.

One of the first tunes the Basement Boys produced for Waters was "Gypsy Woman." It is a captivating story, told in Waters' dry, Eartha Kitt-on- steroids alto, of a homeless woman whose pride keeps her from going out in public without her makeup perfectly applied, her hair perfectly styled.

It's a true story, Waters says.

"I had seen her on the streets (in Washington) singing gospel songs, asking for money. I thought she was one of these crazy people, with a nice house in the suburbs and a lot of money, so I wouldn't give her any money.

"Then, one of the local papers did an article, and she was very intelligent. She was making the best of a bad situation. She was in the retail business, and she lost her job and lost her home. But she had this routine, how she only slept in certain places, and how she only wore dark clothes

because she wanted to hide the dirt.

"That changed my attitude."

Now that this woman has been immortalized, what happened to her?

"I think she disappeared for a while. I haven't talked to her, but my sister did. She said she went to California, to get away from all the people asking, 'Are you the one?' But she didn't like it, so she came back."

Touring has been both fun and hard for Waters, the divorced mother of two daughters, ages 5 and 6. They don't think of her as a star. They think of her as the woman who cooks their dinner.

"I still hear, 'Mommy, I'm hungry.' "

At first, she took her children along with her, but now they stay with one of her cousins. "It's almost school time," she explains.

Waters says that she's a quick study, and that she has learned enough about the music business that she thinks she can stick around.

"I'm not a one-hit wonder."

She plans to continue songwriting, if not for herself, then for others. ''I'd really like to write for Nancy Wilson," Waters says.

But even if she has only one hit, she won't go back to the Parole Board.

"I'm in this business to stay. Even if I end up working in a record store somewhere."

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