The Gospel According To Marcia

Marcia Hines Travis de Jonk
Marcia Hines has spoken to The Sentinel about her life, career and her new show, The Gospel According to Marcia. Image: Marcia Hines/Facebook/Travis de Jonk.

Marcia Hines is a national treasure, so well-known that Australia simply knows her as ‘Marcia’. The Sentinel speaks with the superstar ahead of the release of two new albums and the world premiere of her new show at Vivid Sydney, The Gospel According to Marcia. Interview by Travis de Jonk.

Marcia Hines is a juggernaut of music, theatre and television. In her half-century career, she has carved out an extraordinary place for herself.

She has featured in some of Australia’s biggest theatrical productions and has constantly toured as a solo artist, performing tracks from her extensive back catalogue of recorded music.

Dozens of hit albums and singles have made her a household name, and her most popular songs still get regular play today on radio and music streaming services.

Her many achievements include being voted Countdown’s Queen of Pop not just once but three times, an induction into the ARIA Hall of Fame and being appointed a Member of the Order of Australia (AM). She was also a judge on Australian Idol for seven consecutive years.

But the Marcia Hines story began well before any of this; in fact, it started in another country on the other side of the world …

Marcia Hines performing her huge hit ‘You’ on Countdown. Video: Roy Gardnerra/YouTube.

In the beginning there, was Marcia

As a child growing up in Boston, Massachusetts, Hines was a self confessed “pain” singing, dancing, acting the fool and driving her mother nuts, as only kids can. She always loved music. She explains how, as a little kid listening to the radio, she used to think people were inside the radio and wondered how she could get in there too.

When she was just 15, she was awarded a scholarship at the New England Conservatory of Music to train in opera. While she learned a lot there, she quickly realised opera wasn’t for her and left after five months.

But fate had big plans for the burgeoning young talent. At the age of 16, Hines was discovered by Australian showbiz entrepreneur Harry M. Miller and director Jim Sharman, who were visiting the US in search of African-American singers to star in a new Australian production of Hair.

Her impressive talent outshone her tender age at the audition so much so that special provisions were made so she could be part of the show. Because she was underage, Miller became her legal guardian.

Coming from the USA, Australia in the 1970s seemed like a parallel universe to Hines: different yet familiar. The Vietnam War was raging and American soldiers were everywhere in Sydney on their R’n’R.

“They would head down to the Cross to share their harrowing stories and let off steam. There were some really fine brothers and they knew how to dance the clubs were pumping. It was a wild and interesting time,” Hines recalls.

“At 16, what do you have to be scared of? I had youth on my side and incredibly talented people around me.”

Marcia Hines
Marcia Hines as a young woman in the 1970s. Photo: marciahines.com.

It might be expected that, as a young girl so far from home, Hines would have felt some trepidation or even fear but the star says there was nothing of the sort.

“Not at all. I was ready. I mean at 16, what do you have to be scared of? I had youth on my side and incredibly talented people around me, like John Waters and Reg Livermore. I had all these amazing people in my life,” she tells The Sentinel.

“We learn as we watch others lead by example and that’s certainly how it was for me. To this day, I hold them all in very high esteem.”

When she made her theatrical debut in April 1970 at the Metro-Minerva Theatre in Kings Cross, Hines became the youngest person in the world to play a featured role in any production of Hair.

During the show’s run, Hines learned she was pregnant (her daughter, Deni Hines, was born on 4 September, 1970). Just days after giving birth, she returned to the stage to continue her role.

Hair was the toast of the country, putting Hines into the Australian public consciousness – where she’s remained ever since. By 1973, she was treading the boards again; in a genius move, Miller cast her as Mary Magdalene in Jesus Christ Superstar.

She was the first black Mary Magdalene in any production of Jesus Christ Superstar anywhere in the world.

Marcia Hines and Jon English perform a Jesus Christ Superstar medley in 1983. Video: Stretchasaurus/YouTube.

Home is where the heart is

About as far from home as she could get, one might think that, after the success of these roles, Hines would have been eager to head back to America. But, as we now know, she didn’t just stay in Australia  she became an Australian icon.

Why did she stay? What was it about this country that kept her here?

“The truth of the matter is that you stay where the work is. I had my daughter here and not long after that, I brought my mum over to live here. Three generations of women were all together – my family was here and I had made my life here in Australia,” she explains.

“I adopted Australia and Australia adopted me.”

Marcia Hines

“I got my start here and I never forget that. I adopted Australia and Australia adopted me … it’s a love thing. You can’t make or fake that kind of love.

“I had great experiences in America. I worked in Vegas and I had some huge hits in Europe. But I made my home here. I look back at the decisions I made and I think, ‘Damn girl, you chose well!’”

Marcia Hines (right) with her mother Esmerelda (centre) and daughter Deni (left); Marcia and Deni Hines. Photos: supplied; Marcia Hines/Facebook.

Family and friends

Hines says her family and the people she has met since moving to Australia – friends, colleagues, management and of course, her loving and loyal fans – form the foundations of her life.

“The people you choose to have around you are important. Sycophants, no! But people who love you, who support you, who cool you down when your feet leave the ground – I’ve been really blessed in that regard,” she affirms.

“You’ve gotta have real friends; people who, when the shit hits the fan, you can pick up the phone and call. You’ve gotta have people around you that believe in you but make you keep it real and hold you accountable.

“My mother – God rest her soul – when she was alive, heaven forbid if I got into trouble and it somehow got in the paper. She’d be waiting for me on the doorstep with hands on hips when I got home, with that look on her face. That’s what I’m talking about.”

In terms of fans, while she’s not heavily into social media – in this day and age, a key way for artists to connect with their fans – she does have hands-on interaction online.

“Haters? Well, what have they done for me lately?”

Marcia Hines

“I do have someone who watches and helps me [moderate] on social media. It’s quite a lot of work at times. But I do go on there myself and I do post things myself frequently.”

She adds: “I don’t get into public scraps – because, really, who cares what I think?”

As for the bane of social media – ‘haters’ – her mantra is simple.

“Haters? Well, what have they done for me lately?”

Hines’s seven consecutive years as a judge on Australian Idol in the 2000s earned the singer, who moved to Australia in 1970, a whole new legion of fans. Photos: Marcia Hines/Facebook.

Her daughter, Deni

When it comes to family and friends, it is her daughter, Deni Hines, who looms largest.

“I have to say the great love of my life has been my daughter Deni. And of course my mother … I’ve really had two great loves in my life.”

Deni Hines has had an impressive career of her own in the entertainment industry, releasing hit songs in Australia and Europe, and most recently winning the latest Australian series of Dancing with the Stars.

Hines says Deni and her husband currently reside in Thailand where they are both “living their best lives”.

“Daughters are an interesting thing in a mother’s life. She’s a beautiful girl and I’m so proud of all she’s done and all she’s achieved, especially recently with Dancing with the Stars.

“You raise your child and you hope that they become a good individual – they don’t have to be Einstein – as long as they’ve got a good heart.”

Many entertainment industry parents express deep reservations about their kids following in their footsteps. However, this wasn’t the case for Marcia Hines.

“If she [Deni] wasn’t good, I would have been [nervous about her going into entertainment] – but she’s incredibly good and very talented.”

Marcia Hines performs with her talented daughter Deni Hines. Video: denihines/YouTube.

Marcia on her gay fans

Nowhere is Marcia Hines loved more than amongst the LGBTQI community. And that love is definitely mutual.

“The [LGBTQI] community really supports us when nobody else does. In this business, your career goes through peaks and troughs – you can’t always be number one … When I wasn’t doing much, I’d still be invited to amazing events. I was asked to perform at Mardi Gras twice and asked to perform in gay clubs all around Australia,” Hines says.

The way the gay community sheltered her and took her under their wings in those early days left an enduring impression on her heart.

“All my gay friends took care of me … That’s love. You never forget love. You never forget when someone cares about you. If you do, you’re a fool.”

– Marcia Hines
Marcia Hines and gay music impresario Ian ‘Molly’ Meldrum are firm friends. Photo: Marcia Hines/Facebook.

“I’m going to be really honest – everybody is interested in a halfway decent 16-year-old. [But] a 16-year-old that is pregnant? All my gay friends took care of me. They banded around me and made sure I was going to my medical appointments, that I always ate well. They drove me crazy!” she says.

“That’s love. You never forget love. You never forget when someone cares about you. If you do, you’re a fool. They are my family still.”

She pauses for a moment of quiet reflection before talking about the loss of so many members of the community due to the AIDS crisis; an event she refers to as the last pandemic.

“I lost a lot of people in the [AIDS] pandemic … I lost 70 per cent of my boyfriends … That was heavy. But I’ll never forget them, never till the day I die.”

Marcia Hines performing live at 1999 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. Video: Gay Sydney Eternal/YouTube.

Joy to the world

Being a gay icon is just one strand to Hines’ multifaceted life – and true to her tenacious form, at the age of 68, she’s about to add new chapters to the story of her compelling career, readying new music and concerts.

Hines has returned to the recording studio and added three new songs to an upcoming greatest hits package called Still Shining – The 50th Anniversary Collection, coming out later this year.

Also in the works is The Gospel According to Marcia – an album of gospel songs, inspired by her history growing up singing in the churches of Boston.

The latter album will be the basis for a live show, due to have its world premiere in June at Vivid Sydney 2022, featuring a 12-member choir and full live band.

“Most black children in America are brought up in church. A large part of my musical education and what I do came from that time. What made me lean towards music was church,” she tells The Sentinel.

“My godmother was head of her choir it was jamming! Its nice to go back to that place and celebrate those wonderful days I shared with my godmother.”

“When you’re in this business, you do it because you love it … We bring joy and that’s what the world needs.“

– Marcia Hines
Marcia Hines will debut her new show The Gospel According to Marcia at Vivid Sydney 2022. Photo: supplied.

Hines says that after two years of Covid-19 interruptions and long periods of introspection, she has never felt more strongly about getting back out there, making music and performing.

“When you’re in this business, you do it because you love it and because you want to. So If you can do it … then get your butt on that stage and do it! It’s joy. That’s what we do. We bring joy and that’s what the world needs.“

– With Peter Hackney.

Marcia Hines’ new show, The Gospel According to Marcia, will be held during Vivid Sydney 2022 at 8pm Thursday, 9 June and Friday, 10 June at St Stephen’s Uniting Church, Sydney. For tickets and further information, visit https://www.vividsydney.com/event/music/the-gospel-according-to-marcia.

Marcia Hines was recently a guest on the Sentinel Speakeasy, the official podcast of the Sydney Sentinel. Visit https://thesentinelspeakeasy.buzzsprout.com to hear the full interview.

Travis de Jonk is the creative director of the Sydney Sentinel and the producer of the Sentinel Speakeasy podcast.

For further news, features, reviews, interviews, opinion, podcasts and more, visit https://sydneysentinel.com.au. You can also like/follow us on FacebookInstagram and Twitter.