Headed toward her cozy Hollywood home in her Ford Explorer one recent Sunday, the vibrant 53-year-old singer heard a disc jockey say he was going to play "something old, probably before your time." "And it was me!" reports Thelma Houston with a throaty laugh. She needn't have been so surprised. Disco may seem a quaint sidenote, but it refuses to die. The craze was at a platform-shoe peak when her earthy "Don't Leave Me This Way" topped the charts in 1977. (The Grammy-winning performance was also featured on the Looking for Mr. Goodbar soundtrack.) Houston (no relation to Whitney & Co.), who has made some 15 albums since she was 26, never quite hit it that big again, but she is hardly wasting away. She boxes for exercise and restores furniture for sanity. "I'll do a jillion things," she says. "And then I'm on to something else." The disco revival that has seized Europe and Australia led her to tour there this spring, and she has also found herself performing on U.S. college campuses, where kids dress in Afro wigs and polyester bell-bottoms. "I'm not raking in millions, but I do okay," she says. Last year, Houston cut an album of inspirational songs with four other singers including Phoebe Snow and Albertina Walker. Good News in Hard Times, she says, is real gospel, "not the kind of stuff where you don't know if they're talking about Jesus or a girlfriend." Thrice married and divorced, the grandmother of two is close to her grown children, Kimberlynn, 34, a social worker, and Rodney, 32, a drummer who has followed in his mother's dance steps as her tour manager. "By working with her, I became closer to her," says Rodney. "She became my best friend." Is Mom still hip? "She's the craziest, funniest, wildest person," says her son. "She has a tattoo of a heart on her butt. She had it applied just three or four years ago!"
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