• Black Music Honors

Jody Watley

As quiet as it’s sometimes kept, Grammy award winning artistand songwriterJody Watley has been at the forefront of some of the most groundbreaking trends and movements in modern pop culture –political statements, music and music videoinnovation, and the place where all thosetracks meet.“She’s one of the most prominent visionaries of her era, and one whose influence remains a key touchstone in contemporary pop music.” -Dean Van Nguyen, Wax Poetics Magazine 2014, Issue 57 Cover Story. Here’sjust a fragmentof herrésumé:6 Hot 100 Singles, 15 Top Forty Singles, 2 #1 R&B Singles, 7 Top 5 R&B singles 13 #1 Dance Singles ranking Watley by Billboard in 2016 as one of the Greatest Dance Artists of All Time, millions of albums sold including 2 #1 albums and allas a solo artist.
The video for her classic 1987 song “Still a Thrill” (from her Grammy-winning eponymous debut album of that same year) dazzlingly incorporates waacking, the undergroundfreestyle dance (think of it as an even more beat-driven cousin to voguing), andis the first time a major pop star usedtheir artistic platform to showcase this particular means of body expression. But Ms.Watley hadactually brought the dance to widespreadAmerican attention a few years earlier as a teenage dancer on the iconic TV show Soul Train. Now, waacking has fans andpractitioners aroundthe globe, many of whouse the music of Ms.Watley in their routines as a show of respect for an OG who’s kept the flame burning.•Her groundbreaking 1989 cut “Friends”carvedthe template for both R&B/hip-hop andpop/hip-hop fusions to come, as it was the first time a rapper (the legendary Rakim, of Eric B. & Rakim) wrote original verses for an R&B/pop song.
The video for “Friends” was a landmark of subversive/progressive representation that has still not yet been matched–or given its due as a taboo-shatteringcultural artifact. Set in an undergroundNew York dance club, andfeaturing performances by Miss Watley andEric B. & Rakim, the club’sdenizens are made of up straight, gay, andtransgender folk, of all races, body shapes andsartorial aesthetics. B-boys jostle alongside drag queens, Rakim rocks the mic, andJody serves face andfierceness. It’s a warm utopian vibe. The gathering is organic, andlacks the opportunistic marketing tactic of gay-friendly advocacy that is now on trendfor pop divas.•Long before making his mark as a film director, DavidFincher (Se7en; FightClub) cut his stylistic teeth on Miss Watley’s sleek,hugely influentialmusic video for the 1989 smash “Real Love,” perfecting a signature visual look that he wouldlater impart to other pop divas.The timeless videoremains one of MTV's Most Nominated Videos of All Time.
Unhappy with the constraints of being on a major label, she partedways with her industry home andstartedher own label Avitone Recordings in 1995long before the digital age ushered in the common trend of self release. Through it she has releasedfour critically acclaimedCDs (Affection, 1995; The Saturday Night Experience, 1999; Midnight Lounge, 2001; The Makeover, 2006)a #1 Electronic debut on iTunes,the EP's Paradise which produced the Top 5 dance smash "Nightlife"and ode to home "Sanctuary" in 2017. Theyhave collectively spanned the genres electronica, ambient, R&B, and House, also reinforced her roots in and solidified her ties to the global dance underground, as everyone from 4Hero and King Britt, RonTrent, Soulpersona to Masters at Work, DJ Spinna all at the top of the genres jumped at the chance to work on these projects.
A fashion-forwardvisionary from her Soul Train days, JodyWatley never known to usea professional stylist but, as a solo artistwith a singular vision andkeen instincts, carvedher own look by weaving vintage clothing andcontemporary street fashions from her own closet with high-endpieces from fashion designers who hadn’t yet caught the public or industry eye (Jean-Paul Gautier; Rifat Ozbek.) Photographers from the legendary Francesco Scavullo to firebrandSteven Meisel linedupto work with her. For her iconoclastic andinfluential eye, shewas honoredwith a featurein VOGUEItalia’s groundbreaking “Black Issue”in 2008, was named one of PEOPLE Magazines Most People, Harper's Bazaar's Ten Most Beautiful, appearances in early celebrity ad campaigns for GAP, LA Eyeworks, an unprecedented 15 pages in the prestigious SAKS 5th Avenue catalog setting the stage for a new era of artists to follow such as Rihanna, Beyoncé, Zendaya and more to bridge the gap of music, fashion and advertising.The first black woman with a #1 million selling fitness video "Dance to Fitness"•The first black woman to be featured on the cover of a Japanese high fashion magazine to launch "SPUR" as "The Face" and subsequent television ad campaign seen by millions across Japan
From her days as a dancer on the iconic TV show “Soul Train” (where she first amassed a huge cult following as a trendsetter) to her breakthrough as one third of legendary pop-soul trio Shalamar and the original female lead vocalist with the distinct harmonic sound on classics such as “A Night to Remember,” “Take That To The Bank",” and “Second Time Around.” Walking away when the trio was on the rise going on to become of the few members of a group to surpass the success from where they came; when no one expected it to happen bolding choosing peace of mind and better business toward her longevity. She embodies the term "Black Girl Magic." Beyond the talent; Jody Watley is smart, resilient and grounded. Watley is an early advocate for her workwith the LGBTQ community, working to bring awareness to HIV and AIDS testing, has served on the board of the Recording Academy Los Angeles Chapter and working with the Grammy U Program, the Musicians Institute and other youth based organizations.She was also a part of the historic Band Aid charity single "Do They Know It's Christmas" appearing with the top British artists in the world, and participatedin the international Tsunami aid relief'Force of Nature' held in Malaysia and hosted by the King and Queenfeaturing some of the world's most celebrated pop and film stars.Mostly, she says "I try to inspire by example and my connections to fans through the music and making them believe they can do anything if believing in themselves no matter the obstacles."
“Everything I’ve ever done has been to be distinctively Jody Watley,” she says thoughtfully, “from my first solo album through right now. Everything that I will ever do always has to be authentic to me, work that I can always be proud of first and foremost. It’s not so much about, ‘Oh, this is going to be popular,’ or ‘Oh, this is going to be a big hit.’ It’s always been so personal to me, everything that I do. And the fans can feel that. They connect with the honesty.”With decades of music and a continued evolution with each release, dynamic concerts, international recognition, millions of records sold,anda hot new group SRL set to release their solo debut "Bridges"; Jody Watleyshows no signs of slowing down and her quiet influence will continue to be a part of music history.