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Newtown fans of the 70s Disco era are invited to celebrate “Good Times” at the Valentine’s Day Disco Ball benefiting The Ridgefield Playhouse featuring Martha Wash (The Weather Girls), Linda Clifford (“If My Friends Could See Me Now”) and Norma Jean Wright (formerly of Chic) — “The First Ladies of Disco” each performing all of her hits with some special surprises.
Attendees can relive the vibrant sounds and energetic dance moves that defined Disco and a generation — from Studio 54 to The Weather Girls and Chic — on Wednesday, February 14. The party begins at 6:30 pm and the First Ladies of Disco take the stage at 8.
Clifford has made her mark among the classic R&B singers and also as a legendary disco diva. Electrifying audiences with her music and widely celebrated performances, Clifford’s landmark recordings have spent a total of 60 weeks at #1 on Billboard Magazine’s dance charts with hits “If My Friends Could See Me Now,” “Red Light,” and “Don’t Give It Up.”
Wright first came to fame as a vocalist with Chic (“Le Freak,” “Everybody Dance,” “I Want Your Love”) and its founder Nile Rodgers. She is also well-known for her cover of Sam Cooke’s “Having a Party,” her vocals on Sister Sledge’s “We Are Family,” and Luther Vandross’s “Never Too Much” among others.
Since being discovered by recording artist Sylvester in 1977, and featured along with her late partner Izora Rhodes first as Two Tons of Fun, Wash’s voice dominated the airwaves as vocalist with Rhodes as The Weather Girls, as well as a soloist with C+C Music Factory and Black Box.
She is equally responsible for some of the top-selling, most recognizable pop hits of the 80s and 90s such as “It’s Raining Men,” “Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)” “Everybody, Everybody,” and “Strike It Up.” But despite her global fame, Wash suffered from discrimination as a result of her weight.
A 2014 Rolling Stone exposé on her legal travails with C&C Music factory, and Black Box describes Wash as “an accidental linchpin for artists’ rights,” after the singer brought various lawsuits against the groups, their producers, and record labels demanding appropriate credit and compensation for her contributions.
Besides reportedly removing album credits for published songs containing her session contributions, Sony (Records) hired Zelma Davis to lip synch Wash’s vocals in the official music video for “Gonna Make You Sweat.” Wash’s legal actions not only resulted in multiple undisclosed cash settlements, but forced Sony to make the unprecedented request to MTV to add a disclaimer banner to the video that credited Wash for the vocals and claiming Davis’s appearance represented only a “visualization” of Wash.
Wash’s activism and legal wranglings on behalf of recording artists also resulted in eventual federal legislation making vocal credit mandatory for all albums and music videos. But that is a long and separate story from Martha Wash — the consummate entertainer who fans will boogie with when she arrives in Ridgefield on February 14.
In a call-in to The Newtown Bee ahead of the Ridgefield show, Wash was happy to recount some memories of her years as an international pop superstar, recording artist, and activist. But she also revealed that long before hitting the road in her first professional gig with the Gospel group NOW (News of the World), she already had amassed a respectable amount of recording studio experience.
Equally eye-opening is the fact that some of her earliest teenage musical influences around the Bay Area included bands like The Grateful Dead and Rare Earth.
The Newtown Bee: You spent your adolescent and teen years growing up in San Francisco. Did you have an awareness of the unique kinds of music being made there leading up to that “Summer of Love” when you would have been in your mid-teens?
Martha Wash: Oh yeah! The high school I went to was right next to the Haight-Ashbury district and every day my school bus would drive right through the Haight. And I was very aware of that kind of music because it was playing on the radio. It wasn’t the kind of music I was permitted to listen to in my house — I was only allowed to listen to Gospel music. That’s what I was raised on, and sang, and performed. But, I was a teenage with a transistor radio. So I was listening to the rock stations in San Francisco. I was listening to the Doobie Brothers, Rare Earth, Creedence Clearwater, The Grateful Dead, and Carlos Santana. But I was even more influenced listening to artists like Aretha Franklin and the Motown groups of that period.
The Bee: Did I read correctly that after high school you were invited to tour Europe performing opera?
Wash: Actually, my high school choir raised $27,000 and we were able to go over there for two weeks. We performed in churches and halls over there. But at the same time, we also recorded four albums, which was totally unheard of at the time — school choirs recording entire albums. And soon after high school I joined News of the World. I met a guy who was forming a Gospel touring group, and a few of the people I knew around the neighborhood were joining it. So we spent about three years together touring around the country singing. That was a lot of fun. But a lot of my style and delivery was already developed from high school because I was always attending choir classes and rehearsals and such — and I was studying classical music with a private teacher for at least six months before she passed. After she passed away, I never continued with professional lessons. But for that amount of time she really worked with me on things like performing operatic arias and things like that.
The Bee: Your album Something Good is not just a catchy title. I understand it reflected what you wanted to bring to all the material on it. What are a couple of the most uplifting songs from that album you feel resonate with your audience?
Wash: The title track for sure, also “It’s My Time” and “Proud.” All of those songs were particularly written and performed to be uplifting to people. It’s a little bit of rock and a bit of pop, and there’s even a cover of Aerosmith’s “Dream On.” I still get feedback from people today about how that album helped them through dark times, and even though it’s been out for awhile  people are still discovering it. And the songs on there are very timeless. I think they will sound as good — and the good feelings people get listening to them — will be just as good today as they will years down the road. That’s the kind of music I like to record and perform. Music that will uplift them and help them feel good. You know, I’ve done the dance and club music for most of my life, and that’s easy for me. But I’ve always been the kind of artist who embraces experimenting with different kinds of music.
The Bee: As the person who is known as the “Queen of Clubland” what are some of the good things — or bad things — happening in the club music scene today?
Wash: Truthfully, today I don’t listen to a lot of it. I really try to keep my focus on the pop stuff, or rock stuff, or the style of music I want to explore at the time. I’m a singer, and it seems like so much of the club music out there now is not about singing. It’s more instrumental. The other thing is, if you go into the clubs, you don’t hear full songs anymore. You have the DJ mixing pieces of a bunch of songs. You may hear a minute of one song, and then it’s mixed into the next song and the next song…
The Bee: Let’s talk about 2015. That was a busy year for you — you joined Evelyn “Champagne” King and Linda Clifford on a new recording called “Show Some Love,” and you were prominently featured on a tune called “N2U” released by Showtek.
Wash: “Show Some Love” came out on my label, Purple Rose Records. And it was done because the “First Ladies of Disco”‘ — the tour with the three of — us had just come together. We wanted people to know we were out there, and we were serious about having a name for ourselves as a trio. So we decided to put out a single and it actually charted really well on the Billboard Dance Chart. With Showtek, they approached me to do a song. So I basically went in with them, wrote it and recorded it, and they did really well with it — so I’m really glad about that.
The Bee: Your bio indicates that Sylvester wrote “Taking Away Your Space” especially to showcase your voice. Do you recall anything about the moment he revealed that song to you for the first time?
Wash: I initially had not realized that he wrote it. But I do remember from the first time hearing it I really liked the arrangement. Then when I got the words, I said “hmmmm, ok,” this was giving me the room I needed to do it as soulfully as I could. And it’s one that people still like to this day.
The Bee: Did you think the Weather Girls, or any other sessions you recorded on, were destined to produce enduring monster hits?
Wash: No (laughing), none of them. We had hits under Two Tons of Fun with songs like “Just Us” and “I Got The Feeling” — those are still played today, as is “It’s Raining Men.” I mean I called [co-writer] Paul Jabara and said, nobody is going to buy this. At least that was my idea at the time. And here we are 35 years later and it’s considered a classic. But at the time we recorded it, no, no clue it could ever be a hit.
The Bee: Do you recall reaching a point in your career where you decided to approach offers to come and record — or your actual session work — differently?
Wash: Probably after the whole C&C Music Factory and Black Box situation happened. For some years I actually stopped accepting offers to record with or for other people. I just kind of laid back from that. That was probably three or four years that I stayed away from that and just did my own thing.
The Bee: You support a few diverse charities. What was it that ignited your passion about an organization called QSAC?
Wash: It all stated out when I was watching All My Children probably back in the 90s. They had a young girl with autism, and I watched that character, and how they talked about her and the things she had to go through as a child. And it made me wonder — these children all grow up to be adults with autism, right? But all I could see was a focus on the children with autism, even still today. My thought was what happens to these adults and how are they treated and perceived? So I met some people from QSAC and talked to them, and had them explain to me what happened with adults on the spectrum. And they told me all the things they do for teens and young adults with autism, and I found out one of their places is right out near me where I live on Long Island. So I went to visit them and saw how they teach these young adults to be self-sufficient — where they are recognized as simply being members in the community with special challenges. But many may still hold a job, and live on their own, many of these high functioning kids can do just about anything you or I could do. So that was my introduction to working with QSAC.
The Bee: So you’re coming into Ridgefield with Linda Clifford and Norma Jean Wright for Valentine’s Day — tell me about the show.
Wash: This is going to be a show that is 100 percent fun. We want people to come out and dance, and sing, and have fun. We have three different styles of music and three different fan bases who come together and intermingle over our music. It’s really so much fun. It’s a mix of back in the day with today. And we will be performing together as well. I can guarantee a great time.
The Bee: Your voice is as familiar on your hits with The Weather Girls, as it is on those global hits with C&C Music Factory and Black Box — do you perform any of that material in the show?
Wash: You just have to come out and see!
Each ticket holder will be treated to a free glass of champagne from Pera Wines, chocolate by Deborah Ann’s Sweet Shoppe and desserts by The Cake Box, Elizabella’s Bake Shoppe, and Whistle Stop Bakery. Guests will also have a chance to win a rose gold and diamond cascading circles pendant on silk ($3,600 value) donated by Lera Jewels; a “Me Time” beauty and spa package gift certificate ($750 value) courtesy of Adam Broderick Salon & Spa; or a Date Night with dinner for two, tickets to a show, and a BMW with a personal driver courtesy of BMW of Ridgefield.
For tickets ($75) call 203-438-5795 or visit ridgefieldplayhouse.org.
Check out Martha Wash performing her monster disco hit ‘It’s Raining Men’ in a May 2017 television appearance:
Martha Wash performs her classic hit “Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)” live at the Cutting Room, New York City: