How did the collaboration with Tony Bennett come about?
We were both singing at the Robin Hood Foundation charity event in New York to help raise money for impoverished people in the city. I had decided to sing some jazz standards that night, with my buddy, trumpet player Brian Newman. I thought the crowd would like the jazz, and I missed singing that way. Turns out Tony was in the audience and wanted to meet me straight away. He asked me that night to make the record. I didn’t even have to think: he barely finished his sentence and I was cheering, “Yes, Mr Bennett!”
Why did you choose It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing) in particular for the H&M campaign?
This is a fantastic song, written by the great Duke Ellington, who was one of Tony’s best friends. Swing is a signature of jazz music and musicians – the “swing” feeling is the heartbeat of jazz. It’s a feeling that always makes people happy, it’s full of joy and wild ambition, and we thought this song was a perfect way to spread that to people all over the world during the holidays.
What do you admire most about Tony?
His passion and focus. These are two things I take very seriously on a daily basis myself, and to see them carried out so effortlessly at 88 years old is incredibly inspirational to be around. I feel as though I’m being given an insightful gift at a young age. I feel privileged to be around him and watch his process. It’s beautiful.
Tell us about the hair! It’s very Cher?
Thank you! Since I was really and truly a jazz singer before a pop singer, I wanted to take everything back to my roots. I was born with dark Italian curls, so I decided to bring that back for the album. It felt natural to sing this way, with no fashion or hair getting in the way of the music. Cher is a tremendous talent and icon who made this hair famous in the 1970s and 1980s, when the “do” was very popular. It has meant a lot to me that she loves my take on it. When artists support each other, this is the beauty of our gypsy lives. She called us “twin girls, different decades”. I’ve always felt connected to the past, and it means a lot when the past feels connected to me.
What’s the Born This Way Foundation about?
The Born This Way Foundation aims for a kinder and braver world. We work with people through the Born Brave Bus and website to spread a message of compassion and create a platform for anyone to share their life story. We are currently working on some incredible online and social networking tools to build awareness. We are very excited about this. The internet is used in all sorts of ways, but I believe the best way to use it is to spread love.
Was there a “light bulb” moment when you realised you wanted to set up the foundation?
When I heard that teen suicide rates had increased for young gay people in the United States. It was right before I released [the single] Born This Way. I knew this was my calling. There was never a question, it was just when and how. You can raise a billion dollars for any cause, but what young people in America needed was a voice. Now we want to spread that voice around the world.
Why is it important to you to speak out against injustice?
Because anything that is fuelled by hatred should be stopped. Injustice is an ungrateful violence against the gift of life.
What kind of message do you have for those who want to be involved in charity, but don’t know where to start?
You do not need to be affiliated with an organisation to spread love and compassion every day. Start with small actions, and kindness to those around you, strangers in passing, then allow it to grow like a flower. It’s our job to hold one another up as the human race, we are really one body. It doesn’t matter where you start. Anyone who is living in pain, help them and, slowly, if we all do our part, the whole world will feel better. Spread that message with every invention.
Has anybody in particular inspired you to help others, and how?
My family. My sister and I were raised to appreciate food on the table, and hard work, to be grateful for what we have, and help those who have not.
When do you feel most generous?
When I spend time with children who are living with pain, particularly in hospitals. I choose kids to help personally every year who have an incurable illness and trouble with insurance. These are acts of kindness that are important to me in my life. They also form my work with the Born This Way Foundation, and keep the blessing of my life in perspective. It’s the most important work I do.
If you could have three wishes granted, what would they be?
I would want to cure all sickness, eliminate war/violence, and have a feeling of peace wash over the universe.
What’s the best gift you’ve ever received?