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MARTHA WASH 2012 SOULMUSIC.COM INTERVIEW
WEATHERING THE STORM
Phone interview recorded December 6, 2011

With a voice that forces one to pay attention, Martha Wash's career has been sending a message that true talent always prevails. From the time she first sang professionally, as one of Sylvester's background singers, through her huge hit, "It's Raining Men," as one half of The Weather Girls, Martha knew she would have to dispel music industry opinion about plus-sized singers.

She reveals how image played an important factor in her career in the 90s, and why she took legal action to receive credit for singing lead on hit songs by C&C Music Factory and Black Box.

She also shares with Darnell Meyers-Johnson the empowering impact of her new single "I've Got You," and her plans for a new album ...


Darnell Meyers-Johnson: Good day. This is Darnell Meyers-Johnson for SoulMusic.com. Today I’m speaking with a lady you all know very well, especially if you’ve ever stepped out on a dance floor. Her powerful voice has been entertaining us since the seventies, most notably on hits like “It’s Raining Men” by The Weather Girls, and “Gonna Make You Sweat” by C+C Music Factory. She survived the disco era, and made it through the new jack sound of the nineties, and she is back--sounding better than ever on her new single, “I’ve Got You.? Today I am speaking with Miss Martha Wash. How are you, Miss Wash?

Martha Wash: I’m doing well. How are you?

DMJ: I’m great. I just want to thank you for taking out the time to speak with us; we do appreciate it.

MW: My pleasure.

DMJ: Before we talk about your new single and what you’re doing today, I just want to cover a bit of background with you, if that’s okay. Share with me how you got your start in the business.

MW: I started singing background for Sylvester professionally, that was back in the seventies, and then we went on as Two Tons o’ Fun, and then The Weather Girls… and that’s it. Previous to that I started singing when I was about three years old, and sang in church, singing gospel—so that’s where my roots are, in gospel music—and just always have sung.

DMJ: And at which point did you know or decide that you wanted to sing professionally?

MW: Good question. Actually, I just knew that I always liked to sing; I just didn’t know in what specific genre it would be in. As chance would have it, when I auditioned for Sylvester he was looking for background singers, and that’s how I started professionally, was singing background for him. So it just kind of continued on.

DMJ: And what was that audition like? Do you remember? Were you nervous, or what was the situation?

MW: Yeah, I was a little nervous, because I didn’t know what I was walking into. Basically, I had gotten a call from a friend of mine, and she was saying that they were holding auditions at this address and that I should go check it out. I was going assuming that it was to audition as like a studio singer; so that was my thought, not knowing that I was going to audition for Sylvester at the time.

And he had just put a new band together—in fact, one of the band members was a dear friend of mine. We had grown up together in church, so I knew him. But Sylvester was looking for background singers, and at the time that I walked in there were two blonde white girls that had just finished auditioning. So when I came in and spoke with him and did my audition, he told the girls that they could leave, and he wound up hiring me.

DMJ: Now he seemed so ahead of his time in a lot of ways.

MW: Yes.

DMJ: We all know that he passed away in ’88. What do you remember most about him and about working with him?

MW: Well, that was my first time doing it professionally, so I was, I guess, in awe … I was excited; I was a young kid. Me and the lead guitarist, we were the two youngest in the group. So it was all new to me, but I was still comfortable enough where I felt like I could do it.

Sylvester was crazy, and just “out there” and fun and all this other kind of stuff. He could be very temperamental, but it didn’t bother me. You just took it all in stride, and did what you were supposed to do. But it worked—it worked well.

DMJ: Being that you were kind of new to that whole situation, and singing professionally, you weren’t intimidated by the, I guess, over-the-topness of it all?

MW: Well, at times … at times I guess I was, but not so much from him. I guess it was some of the things that he wanted us to wear--I wasn’t necessarily ready for, or I just couldn’t imagine myself wearing that kind of thing. But him? Look, I could deal with Sylvester. That was no problem.

DMJ: Now music is always looking forward to who’s going to be the next this or the next that. Is there anybody out there today that you think could possibly be the next Sylvester?

MW: The next Sylvester? Good question … good question. Off the top of my head … nope.

DMJ: He was that original, just a one of a kind?

MW: Yeah. Yeah, he was definitely ahead of his time, kind of looking back and seeing what kind of artists have come out in the last ten years or so. No. The only person that may possibly come close would maybe be Adam Lambert, and that would be maybe.

I’ve never really seen his show; I’ve only caught him on TV a couple of times, but I’ve never seen his show in person, so that would really just be off the top of my head. Possibly Adam Lambert. But no, Sylvester was really one of a kind.

DMJ: Now at which point did you and Izora Armstead meet up? Was it before you auditioned for Sylvester, or around the same time?

MW: No, we had sung together in a gospel group years earlier, called News of the World. We also sang in community choirs. Every month there would be what everybody would call a third Sunday musical: she sang in one choir and I sang in another, but we would have musicals and fellowship on third Sundays. So that was how I got to know her.

And ironically enough, our churches were right next door to each other--that was only separated by a little small walkway, so sometimes we could hear each other’s services going on at the same time.

DMJ: Because I know together you guys … weren’t you with Sylvester at one point together? I’m just trying to piece together at which point she was a part of Sylvester’s troupe.

MW: Yes, I brought her in to audition for Sylvester when he asked me to find somebody else that was large as me, and that could sing, and I brought in Izora for him to listen to, to audition.

DMJ: Okay, that makes sense now. Like I said, I just wanted to get a little background.
Now in ’82, everybody knows, The Weather Girls—you evolved into The Weather Girls. You were Two Tons o’ Fun, initially—but in ’82 you released “It’s Raining Men.” That became your biggest hit. What do you recall about the making of that song, and why do you think it has endured as long as it has with the fans?

MW: I would probably give the credit to Paul Jabara; he was the one who really begged us to record the song. He said, “I know this song is going to be a hit,” and he begged and pleaded with us to record the song, and we just laughed and said, “You’ve got to be kidding. No, we can’t do this song.” And he said, “No, I really do need you to record this song.”

He had told us that other artists had turned it down—like Diana Ross, Cher, Donna Summer, Barbra Streisand—they had all turned it down. And he said, “I know this song is gonna be a hit. I need you to record this song.” And we just kind of went back and forth saying, “No, we can’t do that song,” and “You don’t really expect us to …” and “What? ‘It’s Raining Men’? No. Come on.” We were going back and forth about it.

Finally we relented, and probably the next day or two we went in the studio and recorded the song in about ninety minutes, and walked out of the studio and said, “Okay, Paul, see you later.” And that was basically it. He was the one who really shopped the song, going into different clubs, begging the DJs to play it. So it really, really was a hit more so in the clubs long before radio even picked up on it.

DMJ: And so you think that kind of set the framework for how it was able to last as long as it did in the minds and hearts of the fans?

MW: Well, you know what? Over the years, it's one of those songs that’s fun to sing: women like it, men like it, kids like it. So over the decades it’s come to be a song that everybody can sing, everybody likes to dance to … everybody just likes to have fun with the song. And at least one time in each wedding reception or bar mitzvah or whatever kind of party, it’s got to be played at least once. You know what I’m saying?

DMJ: Every karaoke bar.

MW: Exactly. So over the decades it has become a classic—it is really now a classic.

DMJ: And even today it seems as if you can’t perform anywhere without having to do that song. How do you keep it fresh for yourself, having to sing it so many times, over and over in almost every performance?

MW: Well, I change it up just a little bit every now and then, but it’s more so for the audience, because they want to sing along with you, and that’s what I have them do. Each audience is different: they get into it, they sing the lyrics, they clap where they’re supposed to clap … you know, all of that stuff. It’s really one of those audience participation songs.

DMJ: Does it ever bother you that despite the fact that you had real talent there, with The Weather Girls, some people still consider you to be kind of a one-hit novelty act?

MW: No, because actually we had more than one hit. Going back to Two Tons o’ Fun, we had about three different hits off of the first album. As far as the Weather Girls was concerned, “Raining Men” was the biggest hit. So no. No, I know better, and other people know better, but I would say historians have it wrong.

DMJ: Going back to the original name, Two Tons O’ Fun, was there ever a bit of novelty consideration with the playful name, Two Tons o’ Fun? Were you poking a little fun at being overweight?

MW: Well first of all, you definitely couldn’t miss us, okay? So yeah, it was a little poking fun, a little tongue-in-cheek thing—and the audience got it and the audience didn’t care. The bottom line is, we could sing. That was really the bottom line.

DMJ: Izora passed away in 2005. Did the two of you remain friends over the years?

MW: Yes. By that time she had been living in Germany for years, so I would see her, or she would call me. And then the last time I saw her was, I think, a year before she passed. She had come over to New York, and she had come over to the house and [we’d] seen each other. But yeah, she was doing her own thing—her and her daughter were doing their own thing in Europe, working and stuff.

DMJ: Right. And I think now I read somewhere that two of her daughters have in recent years performed as The Weather Girls?

MW: Right, yeah.

DMJ: What are your thoughts about that? Did you ever, yourself, want to pair up with someone else and do your own act as The Weather Girls?

MW: No, I think by that time I was focused on being a solo artist, and seeing how well I could do as a solo artist.

DMJ: I want to go back to the nineties for a moment. You were involved in various lawsuits with producers who used your voice on hits like “Gonna Make You Sweat” by C+C Music Factory, Black Box and their hit “Everybody, Everybody,” and other songs, without properly getting credit for it yourself. Looking back, why was it important for you to seek legal action on those matters?

MW: Because the situation was wrong. And it was like saying my voice existed, and that’s all. If you do the work you want to be recognized for your work—that’s in any kind of occupation; nobody else takes the credit for the work that you’ve done. It’s wrong. But couple that with it being music, and your voice is being heard but not your face: so you hear this voice, and you think it’s one person singing it, and it’s not. It’s wrong; it’s false, and so that’s why I took litigation about it, because, in a way, it’s like false advertising.

DMJ: Right. In both of those groups I just mentioned, C+C Music Factory and Black Box, the people who were onstage performing to your voice were thin, model-type women, so I wanted to ask you: how much did image factor into that whole situation, as far as you’re concerned?

MW: I would say completely. It’s gotten better—and in a way it hasn’t—over the decades. It’s gotten better only because you have seen more full-figured women singing background. I think up until the seventies you didn’t see full-figured background singers at all, so it’s gotten a whole lot better now—you see them everywhere now.

As far as being a lead artist, there are some that are out there now--probably in other genres, not necessarily in R&B or dance music, or those kind of genres. Or pop. Not that many. The biggest one to date is Adele, and I give her props.

DMJ: And do you think her huge success—she was even very successful with the previous album—but do you think the fact that her success--she continued it, and it even went to newer heights—do you think that’s going to change the game in terms of people thinking twice about being hesitant to put somebody out in front because of how they may look?

MW: Well, you know what? First of all, I would like to say that the public has the intelligence to figure out who they like, who they want to see perform; but I think a lot of it still goes back to record labels and the images that they perceive that people want to see. I think it’s still a lot of that is on them, so that part I don’t think has changed as much.

DMJ: On Luther Vandross’s ’91 album POWER OF LOVE, you guys did the duet “I (Who Have Nothing)” together. Was Luther also concerned about image?

MW: I don’t know, I never asked him. I never asked him. And by the time we did that album he had lost weight and gained some of it back, I believe. He was always kind of a yoyo dieter—he’d lose and gain, and lose and gain. Because I’m looking at him in my mind right now; he had put on some weight. He wasn’t back to where he was before, I don’t believe; but he had put on some weight. But I never really asked him.

DMJ: Do you think Luther had concerns about your image at the time that you guys did that song together?

MW: I don’t believe so. He never voiced it if he did.

DMJ: Because I just wanted to dispel something that’s been out in the air since that song came out, since that album came out, that maybe there was some sort of issue he had with your image, which is why the song was never promoted with a video or anything like that.

MW: Oh, I see what you’re saying. I don’t know, I definitely don’t know.

DMJ: Tell me what the impact that those lawsuits that you had—with the C+C and the Black Box situations—what impact did those lawsuits have on music that’s being made today?

MW: Well, there is some kind of statute that anybody that has, I guess, either a work-for-hire or something like that, they have to be credited with what they’re doing—whether it’s vocal or anything else, they’re supposed to be credited. I’ve had people, mostly musicians and singers, who have come up to me over the years and tell me, “I’m glad you did what you did. People needed to know.”?

DMJ: You know what’s also interesting, and because you’ve been around as long as you have, I’m sure you’ve maybe seen this too, but even as just being a fan myself, I’ve noticed it. Sometimes in the recording process when you have two people who are supposed to be dueting—I don’t know if it happens in the final mixing stages or whatever, but when you finally hear the song it’s almost like one person’s voice is more in the front, and the duet partner, their levels aren’t as high. I don’t know if that’s an intentional thing sometimes, but sometimes you can hear that when you’re just listening to the music.

MW: Right. Now that, I don’t know—it could possibly be in the editing … it could possibly be in the editing, I really don’t know.

DMJ: Speaking of image, I read that you recently lost a considerable amount of weight. Is that true?

MW: Over the last few years, yeah.

DMJ: And is it too personal to ask how much did you lose?

MW: At that time I think I lost about seventy-five or eighty pounds, something like that.

DMJ: Have you managed to maintain it?

MW: Of course not! [Laughs] Of course not.

DMJ: Especially at this time of the year, right? With the holidays and everything.

MW: Even not so much the holidays, just over the few years. You gain it and you lose it. Well, first of all, I have not gained all that weight back; “thank you God.” But I have gained some back, which I’m trying to see about getting off. But I think I gained about twenty pounds back.

DMJ: Okay, so twenty of seventy …

MW: Twenty or thirty pounds back, yeah.

DMJ: That’s not bad. I want to talk about your new song: you have a beautiful new song and video out called “I’ve Got You.” So just tell me a little bit about the song, and how you came to record it.

MW: “I’ve Got You” is a great song. Initially I had turned it down. My manager was the one who heard the song first, and he brought it to me. He said, “This is a song you need to record.” And I listened to it, and I said, “Hmm … I’m not sure.” He said, “No, just keep listening to the song—just keep listening to it.” And I did, and finally fell in love with the song.

And when we did the video, the video came out so great—so great. The director, Ruben Latre, directed the video, and it was just gorgeous. And when people see the video, the first responses that we were getting were people telling us that they were sitting there watching it in tears. And I said, “Okay, cool. Cool.”

It’s the kind of song where people get their own interpretation of it: everybody has their own interpretation of that song, and most of the time it seems like it moves them so much, they’re in tears. They say they really, really love it and they feel the music; they feel the song. So that’s a good thing … that’s really been a good thing.

DMJ: And you can’t see me right now, but I was raising my hand and confessing that I was one of those people.

MW: Well, that’s okay—that’s okay. But I’m glad that people really like the song that much … that it moves them that much. That’s a good thing.

DMJ: And it does have this underlying empowering, encouraging message to it, as have some of your other songs in the past that you’ve done. Has that been a conscious thing for you to put out songs with that sort of encouraging kind of message?

MW: Yeah, yeah. I like to sing songs that lift people up, that make people think, because we all go through our trips and changes and challenges, and all this other kind of stuff, so sometimes you need to hear something that’s going to lift you up a little bit, and make you feel a little bit better. So that’s the kind of music that I like to sing. I still like to do the fun dance stuff, but, for the most part, I do like to sing songs that help people get from one day to the next.

DMJ: As I said earlier, you sound better than ever on the new song.

MW: Thank you.

DMJ: How do you maintain your vocal quality?

MW: Good question. Nothing in particular.

DMJ: Do you feel that you have maintained your vocal quality? You may not necessarily agree with me on that.

MW: I’m going to just leave it at that; thank you very much [laughs]. Thank you very much.

DMJ: Okay, so you’re not working with a voice coach, or any particular exercises or anything?

MW: No, no.

DMJ: So it’s all natural, God-given, I guess you could say.

MW: Yes, that is true. That is true.

DMJ: Now the single is available on iTunes, but what everybody wants to know is when they can expect a full album.

MW: We’re looking at sometime in February. Hopefully, no later than March, but we’re trying to shoot for February.

DMJ: Do you have any other projects that you’re working on right now?

MW: Actually, that is the main thing right now: I’ve been working with an autism organization in New York called QSAC, which stands for Quality Services for the Autism Community. In fact, we just got through doing our second talent show last week, which came out great.

I’m the celebrity spokesperson for them, so that’s been fun-- just trying to get the word out to people about autism. And funny enough, since I’ve been doing a whole lot of interviews, and talking about QSAC and what I’ve been doing with them, I’ve been hearing from a lot of people who either have someone in their family that has autism or they have a friend who has somebody in their family with autism. So it’s been interesting conversing with them, kind of like as a sidebar to the interview, about how they have to deal with a person who has autism in their life.

DMJ: And how did you become connected to that particular cause?

MW: Actually, I was one of the judges for their first talent show. And before that, I had heard a little bit about autism--didn’t know a whole lot about it at the time … but funny enough, it was through a soap opera called "All My Children." They had a little girl who had autism, and that’s when I first heard the word and what the child had to deal with, growing up with autism, and the people around her that were affected with her autism. So it’s just progressed a little bit from there.

And the organization is really, really great—they have such comprehensive services for the person with autism, as well as the families, or the person who has to take care of the autistic person.

And the other thing about it was this organization deals with children all the way up to adults, and I think the adult side was also what kind of fascinated me about it, because you hear a lot about autism, but you hear a lot about children with autism, not really realizing that the child is going to become an autistic adult. So how do you deal with that? It’s a little bit easier dealing with a child as opposed to an adult with autism. And, depending on the severity of the autism, some people need twenty-four hour care, where others are fully functional and can go out into the community and be a part of it, like a regular person—like a person that doesn’t have autism. So that’s the side of it that kind of got me interested in learning more about this organization, and becoming a part of it.

DMJ: Well, it sounds fascinating. I actually have some experience in that area myself, having done some charity bike rides for autism. So yeah, I do appreciate that you’re working in that area, and it must be nice to use your celebrity or your fame, or whatever you want to call it, for a greater cause, I would imagine.

MW: Right, right. Between working with the autism community and, over the years, doing a lot of fundraisers for AIDS organizations and things, it’s been good to give back.

DMJ: I wanted to ask you—and I didn’t have this written down, so I’m just going off the top of my brain with this one—maybe it’s because of your work with Sylvester, or maybe it’s because of “It’s Raining Men,” but you’ve become this icon within the gay community, specifically; they’ve just embraced you and shown you so much love throughout the years. Did that actually start during your time with Sylvester, or did it develop with “It’s Raining Men” becoming such a big song?

MW: No, it started all the way back with Sylvester. It did, it did, because we played a lot of gay clubs, and did a lot of festivals and things like that. So yeah, it started back there and it just continued over the decades.

DMJ: And what is your feeling about being embraced so strongly by the gay community throughout the years?

MW: I love it. I love it because they’ve been the largest fan base that I have. That’s not to exclude anybody else, but they have been the largest fan base over the years. So yeah, I embrace them definitely, as well.

DMJ: So just a couple more questions, real quick. As you look back on your career, were there more highs than lows?

MW: I would probably say more highs … I would probably say more highs. I think the real bottom line is--I survived it all.

DMJ: Exactly; you’re still here.

MW: I survived the good and the bad—I survived it all, and I’m blessed to still be here, and still be able to do what I do.

DMJ: Well, we certainly hope that you’re around for many, many more years to come. But after all is said and done, what do you hope is your legacy, as far as the music business is concerned?

MW: Probably that I hope I did well, that people really liked my music, and just remember those great songs.

DMJ: Well, at this point we’ll wrap up, but if there’s anything that you would like to mention that we haven’t talked about?

MW: I’m still working on my book.

DMJ: Okay, tell me a little bit about that.

MW: Well, it’s my memoirs.

DMJ: And I just spoke with Nile Rodgers recently about his book.

MW: Really? I know he’s got a lot to say.

DMJ: Oh, he does.

MW: I know he does.

DMJ: He has a lot to say.

MW: Well, hey, he’s been around, I think, even longer than me.

DMJ: So you said you’re still working on that. Any timetable when that might be available to the public?

MW: We were hoping it would be next year [2012], since “Raining Men” actually turns thirty years old next year.

DMJ: Oh, wow. Okay.

MW: Can you believe it? But that’s not to say it can’t happen, but at this particular time, it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen right now. But I’m still looking for a book company.

DMJ: Well, these days everybody is on social media, so I have to ask you, as far as being online, how can the fans stay in touch with you? Are you on Facebook or Twitter, or anything like that?

MW: I’m on Facebook, I’m on Twitter, kicking and screaming [laughs].

DMJ: It’s part of the times.

MW: Kicking and screaming … yeah, I’m on Facebook, and on Twitter I’m Martha underscore Wash. And the website is marthawash.com.

DMJ: Okay. Well, Martha Wash, I do appreciate your time.

MW: My pleasure.

DMJ: Anytime that you want to come to SoulMusic.com to let us know what you’re doing, whether it’s about the album, when that comes out, or the book when that comes out, our doors are always open.

MW: Thank you so much.

DMJ: Much success with the new song; it’s a great song and I encourage everybody to check it out—go to YouTube and check out the video right after you’ve finished listening to this interview. And again, thank you so much for your time.

MW: Oh, thank you very much.

DMJ: All right. Take care. Be blessed.

MW: You too.

About the Writer
Darnell Meyers-Johnson is a New Jersey based music journalist and creator of The Meyers Music Report (www.TheMeyersMusicReport.Tumblr.com). Previously, he served as Entertainment Editor for the now defunct publication Nubian News and as Editorial Coordinator for SoulMusic.com. When not conducting interviews or writing liner notes, Darnell hosts a weekly radio show, Vocal About Jazz, which streams online every Saturday from 12-2pm, EST on JazzOn2.org and iTunes.
  
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