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Martha Wash - Singer

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Hi, we're your weather girls
And have weeeee got neeeeews for you!
Two Tons of Fun - AKA The Weather Girls

When the disco anthem 'It's Raining Men' first hit the airwaves, it embodied the essence of the carefree, hedonistic club scene of the 1970s. It was saucy and suggestive, yet innocent and far too camp to take seriously, especially with the sight of two large ladies giggling conspiratorially throughout the song's promo video while scantily-clad umbrella-wielding men dropped from the sky.

One of those women would later be responsible for singing on some of the most catchy, powerful dance tunes of the late 20th Century and beyond, yet many of 'her' fans would still be unable to put a name to the voice.

Two Tons of Weather Girl Fun

At the age of two, Martha Wash could be found singing at church. While still at high school, she left her home in San Francisco to study opera and tour Europe, eventually joining a contemporary gospel group called NOW ('News Of The World').

By the late 1970s, Wash had hooked up with Izora Armstead to provide backing vocals for Sylvester, a black, gay man famed for his swirling falsetto voice and androgynous high-camp performances on songs such as 'You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)' and 'Do You Wanna Funk'. Armstead and Wash also performed as a duo who rejoiced under the name of 'Two Tons of Fun'. They had already released two albums of their own (Two Tons of Fun and Backatcha) before they recorded 'It's Raining Men' - a song written by Paul Schaffer1 and Paul Jabara that had been intended for the girls' third album, Success, which that would catapult them to stardom. However, the song's intro vocals, in which the women declare themselves 'your weather girls', confused many DJs, who assumed that 'The Weather Girls' was the name of the duo. Despite protestations and corrections, the name stuck. Nevertheless 'It's Raining Men' became a massive international hit.

A Disembodied Voice

Sadly, further releases by The Weather Girls failed to do as well and history wrote them off as a one-hit wonder. By the late 1980s, the Weather Girls had drifted apart and Martha Wash found herself working as a session singer for hire for a number of different acts. Probably the best-known of these was an Italian house group called Black Box, who had the biggest British single of 1989 with 'Ride on Time' using a sample2 of Loleatta Holloway's 'Love Sensation' - without Holloway's permission! It was felt at the time that the fuller figure of Holloway would not sit well with the energetic club style that the marketeers were trying to promote. So it was that for the band's videos and TV appearances, the lyrics were mimed by French model Katrin Quinol. For subsequent singles, though Quinol continued to shake her booty and mouth the words, it would be the voice of Martha Wash that everyone would be dancing to.

Wash provided the lead vocals for all of Black Box's subsequent hits, which included 'Everybody, Everybody', 'I Don't Know Anybody Else' and 'Fantasy', a cover version of the Earth Wind and Fire hit from 1978. However, Wash was less than pleased to discover that she had received no credit on any of the releases. A period of lawsuits followed before Wash was in part appeased by a solo recording contract under her own name.

A similar thing happened with record producers Clivilles and Cole, whose C+C Music Factory had combined frontwoman Zelma Davis with Wash's powerful vocals on 'Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)' and 'A Deeper Love'. When fighting her case for recognition, Wash was interviewed by American chat-show host Arsenio Hall. Hall invited her to prove her claim that she had been the voice that Clivilles and Cole had exploited: when Wash belted out a completely live, 100% impromptu and unaccompanied 'Everybody Dance Now' the studio audience and the viewers at home were in no doubt whose voice they'd been enjoying all those years.

Singing Her Own Tune

Since proving her worth to music, Martha Wash has continued to lend her voice to a number of musical projects as well as forging a career under her own name.

Her debut single 'Carry On' was released in 1993. Though it reached Number 1 in the American specialist Dance charts (as did the follow-ups 'Give It To You' and 'Runaround'), it failed to make the mainstream charts in either the US or the UK (where it peaked at 72). While, on the whole, the record-buying public seemed less willing to accept a 'larger lady' then a thin frontwoman with model looks, it became clear that one niche market at least managed to recognise her talent and embrace her wholeheartedly - the international gay scene.

In 1996, DJ Todd Terry teamed Martha with Jocelyn Brown for the top-ten hit 'Keep on Jumping'. In January 1998, Martha felt it was time to reflect on her career so far with a 'best of' compilation. The collection included 'It's Raining Men... the Sequel' - with Izora Armstead replaced by drag queen RuPaul. Other highlights included 'It's True I Do', a song from the days of Two Tons of Fun, as well as three new songs written especially for her. The year 2000 saw Martha return to her gospel roots with the group Small Voices Calling on a charity CD Sounds of a Better World.

Martha Wash's voice has appeared on soundtracks (for films like Kiss Me Guido and The First Wives Club) and adverts (the 'Everybody Sweat' pastiche for Pringles potato chips), and her songs continue to be played on radio stations across the globe. Her influence is still felt in popular music today and though she's equally comfortable with dance or gospel. For her legions of fans, Martha Wash remains the true 'Queen of Clubland'.

Further Reading

  • Ms Wash's own Web site continues to provide up-to-date information on her releases and tours.

1A Canadian musician known for his work on Saturday Night Live, The Blues Brothers and This is Spinal Tap, as well as the sidekick of David Letterman since 1982.2The late-1980s saw the arrival of 'sampling', which is really just stealing a vocal or musical section from another song. Although a number of lawsuits eventually resulted in the practice being recognised as fair artistic interpretation, many artists felt that sampling to the extent that bands like Black Box were doing was cheating other performers out of royalties that they felt were rightly theirs.

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