Last Friday was shaping up to be a rather ordinary evening for Mya and Ronald Worley.
As the teenaged siblings have routinely done this summer under the watchful eye of their father, Ronald Sr., they settled onto the sidewalk at Trade and Tryon streets and started performing music for passersby making their way through uptown Charlotte. But as 14-year-old Mya finished singing Corinne Bailey Rae’s “Like a Star” while backed by her 13-year-old brother’s keyboard, things got out of the ordinary.
Unbeknownst to the Worleys, a pair of women walking back from dinner at City Smoke restaurant stopped to listen to the kids, and one of them said, “We gotta get them to play tomorrow.”
So the other approached Ronald Sr.; introduced herself as Lisa Barbaris, manager for Cyndi Lauper; showered his kids with compliments; and quietly asked if they would be interested in performing the singer’s most iconic song — 1983’s “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” — with her the next night at the big arena down the block.
Any question as to whether this was for real was answered when, Ronald Sr. says, “I saw this little lady also standing there — she was kind of in disguise, almost — but actually I saw her face, and I realized that it was Cyndi Lauper. ... She really didn’t want anybody to know that it was her, so she gave me a ‘shh’ and put a finger over her mouth.”
Barbaris says this was a completely spontaneous decision on Lauper’s part, and that this isn’t something she has done with other kids in other cities. “(Cyndi) just thought, ‘These kids are so young and so good. Wouldn’t that inspire them, to be able to play in front of 20,000 people?’ I’m like, ‘Well, or it could scare the hell out of them, but yeah!’ ”
Less than 24 hours later, Mya and Ronald Jr. showed up at Spectrum Center long before the crowds, so Mya could rehearse with Lauper, so Ronald Jr. (toting his own keyboard) could meet with Lauper’s keyboardist, and so the Worleys could have dinner with members of Lauper’s band. The family enjoyed part of her set from good seats, then headed backstage to get ready for the siblings’ big moment.
From on stage, Lauper set the whole thing up for the audience:
“So yesterday ... I was walking around, and I happened to hear these two kids, and it was kind of awesome,” said the 65-year-old maker of ‘80s hits like “She Bop” and “True Colors.”
“When I heard Mya sing — honestly?”
Lauper turned to face her discovery.
“Hell’s bells, girl. You’ve got so much beauty in your voice.”
When Lauper noticed Mya looked a little nervous, she added: “Take a deep breath. You look like Miles. Miles used to turn his back. (As in Miles Davis, who famously covered her “Time After Time” on his trumpet back in 1985 and even more famously played with his back to the audience). But you don’t have to. Go ahead.”
Mya proceeded to belt out the first verse and chorus of Lauper’s megahit “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” which had been rearranged by Lauper and Mya to be a haunting, slowed-up, almost-gospel-hymn-like number. The only musical accompaniment for her portion was Ronald Jr. on a keyboard. The crowd roared with approval as she held the last note, then cried, “1, 2, 3, 4!” before giving way to Lauper and the jubilant version everyone knows.
Mya spent the rest of the song beaming and joyfully dancing around the stage.
(Mya says she had heard “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” plenty of times before; Ronald Jr. says he wasn’t familiar with it at all, but was able to learn it “in about five minutes.”)
With some 16,000 people in the audience to see Lauper and Rod Stewart, it was the largest crowd the siblings have ever performed for — by about 15,900 people.
Mya, a rising ninth-grader at Northwest School of the Arts, and Ronald Jr., who is entering eighth grade, most recently have performed (as “Dreamz 2”) at open-mic nights at Summit Coffee Co. in Davidson and Barista Craft in Charlotte.
They seem to lean toward contemporary pop artists in their performances, mentioning Shawn Mendes, Adele, Sam Smith and James Arthur as examples of the music they like to cover. But when asked if 1983 megahit “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” will start making it into the rotation when they’re singing around Charlotte, Mya and Ronald Jr. practically shout the answer in unison:
As thrilled as they were by the experience, though, there’s one person who has even more of an appreciation for all of this than Mya and Ronald Jr.
“I’m an ‘80s child,” Ronald Sr. says. “I grew up listening to her music. I always loved Cyndi Lauper. ... So this was just incredible. I tell you, it was so incredible. ... Cyndi wrote some things down on paper for us, so I have a piece of paper with her handwriting on it that we’ll never, ever, ever, ever, ever-ever lose.”