QUINCY - Whenever the rock band Rush comes to the area, Quincy's Donna Halper has a backstage pass waiting for her. That's because she discovered the band in 1974 while working at a Cleveland radio station.
Halper said she listened to the self-titled album - sent by a colleague whose company passed on it - because she needed a ``bathroom song," a track long enough so the DJ can run from the studio to the loo and be back in time to cue up the next song.
"So I dropped the needle down on ‘Working Man,' which was more than seven minutes I recall, and I thought immediately ‘forget bathroom songs, this is a good record,"' Halper said. "That's when I got excited about the band."
Thirty-four years later Halper remains excited about the band. She's become close friends with the band's members, Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson and Neil Peart, and organized an effort to secure the band a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Rush will be one of 25 recipients being honored with a star at a ceremony next year. Also in the 2009 class are Cameron Diaz, Hugh Jackman, Kyra Sedgwick, Shakira and the Village People.
The Walk of Fame, which lines both sides of Hollywood Boulevard, honors more than 2,000 entertainers. Dates for the ceremonies have not been scheduled yet.
When she's not touting Rush, Halper teaches at UMass-Boston, and will soon begin teaching at Lesley College in Cambridge. She also runs a media consulting company and is working toward a doctorate in communications from UMass/Amherst. Her fourth book, the yet untitled history of talk shows, is to be released in fall.
Staying busy keeps her alive, Halper says. "I'm not ashamed of my age, but I don't know what 61 means."
Halper calls the Walk of Fame achievement "amazing" because few bands are accepted on the first try.
"I can tell you that success has not spoiled them at all. They've had many gold albums, performed all over the world, and have earned the acclaim of a devoted fan base. Critics have been somewhat scornful of them, but their millions of fans adore them," Halper said.
Halper was a pioneer for women in radio. In October 1968, she said she was the first woman to broadcast on Northeastern University's campus radio.
"Women were still being restricted," Halper said. "(I remember thinking) I've got to show them that a woman can do it. Now, today that sounds like ‘oh-ho-hum of course a woman can do it,' but there was no ‘of course' back then." She also went on to work in radio in four major cities.
Halper took a chance on Rush and by giving them airtime, she connected them to an audience eager for the cathartic beat of rock. She got them noticed, which eventually got them signed.
To show their gratitude, Rush dedicated their first two albums to Halper. Mercury Records, Rush's label, hired her to find more talent. In 1975 she became the first female Director of Artists and Repertoire at Mercury Records.
"(Mercury) toughened me up," she said. Halper was fired in 1976 over the song "Play that Funky Music" by Wild Cherry. She thought it'd be a big hit. Her boss didn't think so. "I got to see them sign with another label and become a big hit."
Halper received the Walk of Fame news June 17, two days after being backstage with the band in Mansfield.
"She is a fiercely passionate and highly-opinionated woman and is a tireless supporter of Rush," said Lee, lead singer of Rush.
"We have remained friends through the years and she always makes a point of paying us a visit whenever we are near her home," Lee said.