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Jody Watley: New Tour, New Music and New Shalamar

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By Mary L. Datcher
Speical to the NNPA via The Chicago Defender

 

 

If you grew up in the era of cultural identity, sexual exploration, political uprise and post-Vietnam—most likely you’re either a baby of the late 60’s and 70’s period. Each of us could probably recount a song, album or musical artist that influenced our daily moods. As we developed our musical palette into the 80’s, the world of hip hop, punk rock, funk and post disco transcended into dance—launched the power of a new generation of young women entertainers who took centerstage.

Among this breakout group of artists, was Jody Watley—a former member of the R&B group, Shalamar. A native of Chicago, Watley relocated and was raised in Los Angeles often gracing the Soul Train dance floor. Signed to Dick Griffey’s Solar Records, Shalamar was a regular fixture on Soul Train. Joining the group at the age of 18, Watley shared the spotlight with fellow group members; Jeffrey Daniels and Howard Hewitt. The group topped the R&B charts with hits such as “Second Time Around”, “A Night to Remember” and “There it Is” making them one of the most sought after groups on the international circuit. After a 3-year run with the group and creative differences, Watley left the group.

“As a child I wanted to do a lot of things – sing, dance, design and own my own business. The beginning days of Shalamar was a learning experience for me from ’77-’83 over the course of those albums there was a lot going on. The business was wrong, no one in the group was getting along and my Dad had died in 1982. It changed my life. I didn’t want to take things for granted, not wasting time, not wanting to be around people who were negative.” she said.

Soon after, she moved to England for some soul searching, where she participated on the Band Aid charity concert organized by rockstar, Bob Geldof to raise money for anti-poverty efforts in Ethiopia.

She explained. “When I left the group in ’83, most of all I wanted to be happy in my life. As long as I’m happy, I’m good. I moved to England and lived there for 3 years. I made a plan for myself in what I wanted to do, what kind of music I wanted to do. I was able to do something that not many singers from a group are able to do. To establish your own identity and create hits on your own. It doesn’t happen that often.”

Returning to the U.S., after a couple of years performing at the Band Aid charity concert, she pursued her dream of going solo as an artist. At the time, Jheryl Busby was the President of the Black Music Division at MCA Records and signed Watley knowing she had a unique appeal with the potential of crossing over into the Pop music market. Watley trusted him immensely.

“Coming back to the U.S. and I met with the various companies. When I met with Jheryl Busby, we just connected right away. He got my creativity, he instantly appreciated the fact that I knew what I wanted. All of artists at the time, had looked the same to me.” she said.

“My first album cover, I wanted to be black and white because it’s timeless. I like classic Hollywood glamour. He said, ‘black and white’ album covers don’t sale and I told him mine was going to sell. He loved it and had so much respect for me from the beginning. It wasn’t because I was girl, or just trusting the label but as a woman he empowered me. He empowered MCA Records to rally with us and me to make it happen.”

As we witnessed her rise as one of the most influential Pop music entertainers during the late 80’s into the 90’s, Watley earned a Grammy for Best New Artist, for her debut single, “Looking for a New Love” following up with another hit, “Still a Thrill”. She’s been recognized for numerous accolades for a style fashionista, gracing international magazine covers and holding her place among Pop music royalty like Madonna, Janet Jackson and Tina Turner.

“Through the moments when some people at the company didn’t think I sounded Black enough or I wasn’t street enough. Not everyone is going to get it but that’s how you become a trendsetter. I’m not trying to be Janet Jackson. I’m a freestyle girl, I’m doing fashion – the jumbo hoop eye rings, the ripped jeans so they were like, ‘what is this?’”

Most of us can remember her collabo with Hip Hop Gods, Eric B. and Rakim on “Friends” infusing R&B Dance with Hip Hop meshing the two worlds together.

With the music industry changing, being married, divorced and raising two children as a single mom—has not stopped Watley’s continual drive in her career. She’s taken time out in between projects to raise her children, nurture her independent label and release music throughout the last couple of decades.

“My daughter just graduated from college. My son is currently in college so in the midst of being ‘Jody Watley’ , to be a sane person and to have grounded children is really number one. I’ve never been afraid to step away from the spotlight and take my son and daughter to their school events. To be there to cheer them on because time goes very fast.”

Today, we still see her influence with the next generation rocking the mega hoop earrings, chunky gold jewelry, ripped jeans and a freestyle spirit of creating trends from Beyonce, Nicki Minaj, Miley Cyrus and others. Everything goes full circle.

“I was determined to have it to be my own style–how I looked, the songs I was writing, who the photographers were and who I was working with. It was an easy transition and I still enjoy being a solo artist. The unique thing with the new Shalamar it feels very collaborative. It’s refreshing for me to not think of every detail.”

Watley not only has a new project gearing up for a summer release but she has recently brought together new members to launch the new Shalamar. After years of re-issues of the Shalamar catalog through various companies between the U.S. and abroad, Watley was frustrated at her likeness and image being misused. After a long search and the advice of her attorney, she found out the group’s name had not been trademarked.

“In life and in business, you have to have good people around you that are trying to protect you. That’s what led me to it. It was a thorough process for two years so that there was no shady business going on. With a trademark, it’s a long and exhaustive process. So, with a brand – what do you do with it? How can you make it fresh and honor the legacy of it but also bring some younger people on board? Make it something that is marketable and not for just the older fans – the classics.” she said.

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Cars

Lions Hold Car Show in Corte Madera

The Corte Madera Lions Electric Vehicle and Classic Car Show was held last Sunday, September 12, at the Village shopping center’s overflow parking lot next to Nordstrom’s. 

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From top, left to right: Chloe Nolasco selling the 2021 Electra Meccanica Solo, 1968 Shelby GT, 1972 Citroen 2cv, 1957 Rolls Royce, 1967 Morgan, 1993 Dodge Viper. Bottom photo from left: 1965 Shelby Cobra 427 S/C MKIII, 1959 Shelby Cobra, 1959 Chevy Corvette (Photos by Godfrey Lee)

The Corte Madera Lions Electric Vehicle and Classic Car Show was held last Sunday, September 12, at the Village shopping center’s overflow parking lot next to Nordstrom’s. 

The latest electric vehicles from Marin Luxury Cars — Mercedes, Mini, Ford, Electra Meccanica, and more than 75 pristine pre-1975 classic cars were featured at the show, including a fire truck and a farm tractor.

The event featured food from the The Pig in the Pickle, beer, wine, and live music from three local bands.

The Corte Madera Lions presented this community wide event. All proceeds will benefit local charities.

“The Marin Post’s coverage of local news in Marin County is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support community newspapers across California.”

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Black History

Ella Fitzgerald and Count Basie: First Black Grammy’ Winners

Two Black performers left the event that night with Grammys in hand: Ella Jane Fitzgerald (1917–1996) for Best Vocal Performance, Female, and Best Jazz Performance, Individual; and William James “Count” Basie (1904–1984), for Best Performance by a Dance Band and Best Jazz Performance, Group. Recognition for the pair was well overdue as their roads to the Grammy were storied.

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Ella Fitzgerald and Count Basie, the first two African Americans to win Grammy awards, 1958. Photo courtesy of 9gag.com/gag/aQREN3K

It was the late spring of 1959. The music industry’s elite converged inside the Grand Ballroom of Los Angeles’ Beverly Hilton. Others were gathering at a function held simultaneously in New York City.

That night, the Grammy Award’s first show took place, and no one knew then that it would become a historic event for African-American performers.

Two Black performers left the event that night with Grammys in hand: Ella Jane Fitzgerald (1917–1996) for Best Vocal Performance, Female, and Best Jazz Performance, Individual; and William James “Count” Basie (1904–1984), for Best Performance by a Dance Band and Best Jazz Performance, Group. Recognition for the pair was well overdue as their roads to the Grammy were storied.

Fitzgerald was a teen when her mother died. Her aunt then took young Ella from her home in Yonkers, N.Y., back to Newport News, Va. Shortly after, Ella’s stepfather died. These events brought on depression. Ella began failing school and frequently skipped classes. After getting into trouble with the police, she was sent to a reform school. There she endured beatings by the caretakers. The brutality forced her to escape.

At age 15, she was alone and struggling to make a life for herself. But things would change when she was in New York City about five years later.

In 1934, young Ella performed at the Apollo’s Amateur Night. The crowd booed her; shouted “What’s she going to do?” A frightened Ella decided to sing. She asked the band to play Hoagy Carmichael’s “Judy,” one of her mother’s favorites. Her voice silenced the audience, and by the song’s end they begged for an encore.

Two years later, Ella made her first recording, “Love and Kisses,” under the Decca label. The rest was music history.
Later dubbed “The First Lady of Song,” Ella was the most popular female jazz singer in the United States for more than half a century. On June 15, 1996, she died in her Beverly Hills home. She’d taken home 14 Grammys throughout her career.

Basie, born in Red Bank, N.J., was one of the all-time great jazz band leaders. Dubbed the “King of Swing,” his career started in clubs and speakeasies in Asbury Park and Long Branch, N.J., then New York City (1924) and later Kansas City (1927).

His music served as inspiration for artists including John Lewis, Thelonious Monk, and Oscar Peterson. Along the way, he faced discrimination but overcame barriers to become one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century.

“Every day, we used to say, ‘Not one drop of my self-worth depends on your acceptance of me,’” musician and producer Quincy Jones said of the racism that he and Basie experienced back then. “It was horrible. It ain’t much better now.”

Basie wrote in a letter: “I can’t remember when I did not experience discrimination … And I didn’t let it bug me.”
The Count won nine Grammy awards over the course of his career. He died on April 26, 1984, in Hollywood, Fla.

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Community

Fillmore’s Great Jazz Era Featured in Book Talk, Concert at S.F. Botanical Gardens

Authors Elizabeth Pepin Silva and Lewis Watts will talk about their book, “Harlem of the West: The San Francisco Fillmore Jazz Era” at the San Francisco Botanical Gardens in Golden Gate Park on Monday, September 20. 

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Sam Peoples Jr. in the Fillmore./ Photo Courtesy of Lewis Watts

Authors Elizabeth Pepin Silva and Lewis Watts will talk about their book, “Harlem of the West: The San Francisco Fillmore Jazz Era” at the San Francisco Botanical Gardens in Golden Gate Park on Monday, September 20.  It will be followed by a mini-concert by the Sam Peoples Trio. The event, co-sponsored by the garden, Bayview Opera House, and the San Francisco African American Historical & Cultural Society will run from 4:00-5:00 p.m. It is part of the garden’s critically acclaimed “Flower Piano” program, where 12 grand pianos are placed around the garden and musicians are invited to come and play them. 

Sam, whose father was a highly regarded, Fillmore-based musician in San Francisco back in the heyday of Harlem of the West, will be performing music that celebrates the great jazz and cultural heritage of the Fillmore District in San Francisco which is described Silva and Watts book.  

The fourth edition of the book, released by Heyday Books in 2020, will also be on sale at the garden. For more information, go to: https://www.sfbg.org/flowerpiano

The San Francisco Post’s coverage of local news in San Francisco County is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support community newspapers across California.

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