Jody Watley, singer/songwriter/producer/businesswoman, is one of the architects of 21st century pop. From her groundbreaking marriage of rap & R&B (1987’s “Friends,” a collaboration with hip-hop legends Eric B. & Rakim) to her vision-forward marriage of high fashion, street fashion and music in the ‘80s (long before it became the norm), to her fusion of jazz and underground club culture with keen pop instincts, and the ease with which she crossed and still crosses genre, Ms. Watley forged the template that is now everybody’s playbook.
Winner of the Best New Artist Grammy in 1987, Jody Watley’s entire career has been about looking forward, drawing inspiration from personal heroes like Grace Jones, David Bowie, Diana Ross and jazz great Nancy Wilson – iconoclasts who were always ten steps ahead of the pack. The Chicago native’s eclectic repertoire – R&B, hip-hop, House, jazz, pop, drum & bass, ambient, spoken-word – is built on a positive vision and a strong taste for artistic and aesthetic risk.
Her self-titled 1987 solo debut – a showcase for her vocal chops and songwriting skills – was a beats & grooves tribute to her club kid roots, from the underground spots she frequented as a teenager to her stardom (while still a teen) as one of the most popular dancers in the history of iconic TV show “Soul Train.” It yielded the chart topping hits “Looking for a New Love” (which launched the Jody-penned phrase “Hasta la vista” into popular vernacular, becoming so huge that Arnold Schwarzenegger jacked it for his signature line in the movie The Terminator), “Don’t You Want Me,” “Most of All,” “Some Kind of Lover” and “Still a Thrill,” whose video was the first (and as yet unmatched) time a pop star flexed their skills at waaking, the underground Los Angeles dance that is a sibling to both breakdancing and voguing.
1989’s Larger Than Life, her blockbuster sophomore album, yielded the hits “Real Love” (whose influential music video – nominated for seven MTV Video Music Awards – was her second collaboration with acclaimed film director David Fincher, the first being her sleek video for “Most of All”), “Friends,” and the sultry ballad “Everything.” They were all huge hits.
Like many artists who top the charts, Ms. Watley soon found herself stymied by the limited vision of her label, who wanted to shoehorn her into formula. The albums Affairs of the Heart (1991) and Intimacy (1993) displayed her deepening songwriting skills and singing prowess, as well as her assured experimentation with layered musical textures, but label support was missing in action. The powerful, beat-driven spoken-word track “When a Man Loves a Woman” from Affairs sparked controversy for addressing AIDS and domestic violence long before they were topics of national conversation, and her skittish label turned its back on the track and album. Though Ms. Watley’s artistry continued to deepen and grow, she was hamstrung by her label’s lack of support and their adherence to the same narrow definitions of success that saw her leave iconic R&B group Shalamar at the height of its popularity in 1983. Her own definition of success centered then and now on artistic growth and freedom, not simply replicating whatever was or is hot at the moment.
After breaking from the majors and starting her own label Avitone Recordings in 1995, Ms. Watley began collaborating with a Who’s Who of visionary producers and remixers, many of whom were longtime fans and jumped at the chance to work with her: 4 Hero, King Britt, Kenny “Dope” Gonzalez & Little Louie Vega, Mark de Clive Lowe, Miguel Atwood-Ferguson, Ron Trent, Moto Blanco, and Alex Di Ciò. Thanks to her non-stop touring, her global fan base remains as fervent as ever and they’ve made chart and club hits of Ms. Watley’s indie albums – Affection (1995), Flower (1998), The Saturday Night Experience (1999), Midnight Lounge (2001), and The Makeover (2006) – and her 2014 EP Paradise.
For the past five years, the ever multi-tasking Ms. Watley has focused on both her thriving solo career and the group project “Jody Watley featuring SRL.” Much like Prince had The Revolution, NPG, and Third Eye Girl (among many other projects and aliases) as extensions or branches of his music and creativity, Jody Watley feat. SRL allows Ms. Watley another outlet for her artistic expression. SRL members Rosero McCoy and Nate Allen Smith – gifted singers, dancers, and choreographers in their own right – bring their own cool style and vibe to Ms. Watley’s trademark high-energy, all-love live performances, and the trio’s critically acclaimed concerts draw SRO crowds around the world. With musical influences that include Kaytranada, Anderson Paak, and Little Dragon, they’ve released several chart-topping hit singles in Europe, including the Alex Di Ciò remix of “The Mood.” Their forthcoming album will be a seamless mix of dance grooves, funky beats, deep House, R&B, trap, rock, and ambient ballads accented with guitar flourishes.
Also in the works is Jody Watley: The Jazzy Sessions, a longtime dream project finally come to fruition. Fans were given a taste of what to expect from that forthcoming EP on the bossa nova tinged cover of Bob Marley’s “Waiting in Vain,” which shot to the top of the jazz charts within weeks of its release. A lilting, gorgeously melancholy take on the classic tune, the track simmers with tension between the longing of the lyrics and the lush, languid music and arrangement. Though some newer fans were pleasantly surprised that Ms. Watley pulled off a jazz tune, longtime fans saw it as simply the artistic thread being pulled forward from Ms. Watley’s show-stopping cover of Cole Porter’s classic song “After You,” from the landmark AIDS benefit recording project Red Hot & Blue, released in1990.
What links “Waiting” to the rest of Ms. Watley’s far-ranging and impossible to pigeonhole catalogue (which has seen her hit the charts in every decade of her career, from 1977’s Uptown Festival album with Shalamar to 2018’s “Waiting in Vain” single) is the sincerity and honesty from which it springs.
“Everything I’ve ever done has been to be distinctively Jody Watley,” says the pop icon herself, “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.”
Jody Watley, just added to this Freestyle Explosion Holiday Jam. This will be a non-stop party December 10 in San Diego, CA Pechanga Arena. Get tickets early, this show with all of your freestyle favorites will sell out. AXS Tickets
Watch on EPIX – “I know who I am…” Watley joins other trailblazing women in music sharing a snippet of their journeys and having agency over a male dominated industry. Jody Watley also talks about stepping outside of perceived boxes for black artists.
“I’ve always been selective about what I do, how much I do it and tend to not do a lot of traveling earlier in my solo career it was to be present and raise my children, in recent years caring for my Mom then even less with the pandemic. When I do choose to come out, I always make it worthwhile for my fans and not only give a great show in any format, but have them leave feeling empowered and inspired” – Jody Watley “Wattage”
This quote was sent to me by a dear friend to uplift me in this time of grieving the recent passing of my beloved Mom, Miss Rose, Rosebud and my ugly cries (ugly cries water the garden she said)- and then added this poignant and profound piece of inspiration:
“Rose bushes that have been removed from the garden can regrow from the roots left behind.”
Jody Watley ROCKS! The legendary singer, songwriter, producer, and businesswoman is one of the architects of 21st century pop.
EPIX’s original docuseries ‘Women Who Rock’, from John Varvatos and Derik Murray’s Network Entertainment, pays homage to Jody Watley and other trailblazing women pioneers in music who have stormed the stage, wielded their instruments, amplified their voices, and sung the soundtrack of our lives. In their own words, generations of iconic women artists discuss truth, defiance, artistic expression, hard-won success, and most importantly, the insights and tales behind their timeless music.
The four-part music ‘Women Who Rock’ docuseries premiered on Sunday, July 10 at 9 p.m. EDT/PDT and features original interviews with Jody Watley, Nancy Wilson, Shania Twain, Chaka Khan, Pat Benatar, Mavis Staples, Sheryl Crow, Sheila E., Macy Gray, Rickie Lee Jones, Norah Jones, Aimee Mann, Tori Amos, Kate Pierson, Tina Weymouth, St. Vincent, and Nona Hendryx.
In addition to Varvatos and Murray, Jessica Hopper, Jesse James Miller, Paul Gertz, Kent Wingerak, and Rachel Brill serve as executive producers. Hopper directs the docuseries, with additional episodes airing July 17, 24, 31..
Jody Watley is a Grammy-winning trendsetting pioneer in music, video, fashion and style is celebrated around the world.
In a statement released by Ms. Watley, she said, “I am honored to be recognized as a trailblazer in music, alongside such incredible women.”
Watley continues to be a solid and stellar fixture in entertainment. Her signature vocals and memorable favorites are the soundtrack of our lives and can be heard all over the world.
From her groundbreaking marriage of rap & R&B (1989’s “Friends,” a collaboration with hip-hop legends Eric B. & Rakim pairing that is the first to crossover R&B/Hip-Hop, Pop and Dance into the Billboard Top 10 “Friends,” to her vision-forward marriage of high fashion, street fashion and music in the ‘80s (long before it became the norm), to her fusion of jazz and underground club culture with keen pop instincts, and the ease with which she crossed and still crosses genre, Ms. Watley forged the template that is now everybody’s playbook.
As a solo artist, the pop and R&B singer has 6 Billboard Hot 100 Top Ten Singles, 13 Number 1 Dance Singles, 2 R&B Number 1’s, 15 Top 40 Singles, Gold and Platinum albums, 2007 Billboard Dance Lifetime Achievement, 2017 recipient of the Black Music Honors Crossover Music Icon Award and nominations from the American Music Awards, MTV Awards, NAACP Awards and Soul Train Awards. In 2018, Billboard Magazine included Jody Watley in the Top 60 Hot 100 Female Artists of All Time and Top 25 Top Female Dance Artists of All Time. Her timeless series of hit songs such as “Looking for a New Love,” “Real Love,” “Still A Thrill,” “Some Kind of Love,” “Everything,” and “Friends ft. Eric B & Rakim,” are favorite classics still today played on the airwaves. Ms. Watley was also named as First Ambassador in 2021 to the National Museum of African American Music in Nashville and in 2022, she received her first Honorary Doctorate Degree in Business.
Wattage thoughts this morning thinking of my Mom. Until we meet again, Rest Peacefully to my beloved Mom, Empress, Miss Rose – my original fashion influence – glamorous and first woman I’d see in dolman sleeves and rhinestone pumps allowing me to play dress up in your clothes and sing to an imaginary audience in your best hairbrush and dream big. Best Grandma to my children Lauren & Arie-an inspiration to those who knew you from your work at Walden House/ Health Rite for almost 20 years, showing it is never too late to have a new beginning.
A tough cookie with a heart of gold, Miss Rose – Aries, everyone who met you always said “she’s such a sweet lady”
Thank you for bringing me into this world. We got through some rough times along the way, you got through some tough times but turned it all around and wrote new chapters for yourself. We shared some amazing and fun times, experiences including when you joined me on The Joan Rivers Show and you were so proud and tickled when she clocked your Chanel purse, Dick Clark from the Hollywood Palladium bringing onstage to help introduce me – you were a good sport when I cast you in my “When A Man Loves A Woman” video we laughed so hard on every take when you kept missing your cue, family trips with Lauren & Arie, Dave Koz jazz cruise, vacations especially Maui, cheering Arie on in all those AAU and school bball tournaments, all of the holidays Xmas, Thanksgiving, Easter all of the traditions, the cooking, (your potato salad will always be the best) .. graduations, school events..the list goes on ..I benefitted from our many talks and conversations from your wisdom, you helped dry my tears always had a sympathetic ear when I got divorced.. up through our recent new tradition of early Sunday morning pancakes and coffee, after your listening to your favorite gospel music and service ..talking NBA sports, life..and so much more-not just my Mom, you were my best friend. I’m happy you got to see me on your favorite show Tamron Hall when I was on in 2021.
I will always hear your voice telling me “ok gurl go let them have it!” with regard to my career up to my recent trips and appearances to Atlanta, Detroit and D.C – it was tough for me to leave your side for those days in June, I followed your encouragement to just go have fun. I’m happy to have always made you proud as a your daughter, a Mom to my kids, Grammy winning Solo artist, songwriter, style icon entrepreneur though always ever present till the wheels fall off child, ride or die, highs and lows for and with you. I am who I am because of you and Dad.
Caring for you these past two years and through the pandemic hasn’t been easy and truly profound in many ways including a reminder of what’s important in this life and who when all is said and done. Showering and bathing you – was truly humbling – I just did what you once did for me – full circle. Losing Dad so many decades ago taught me what to value and who to value in life and to live with as much joy as possible and never take a day and those we love for granted, changed how I live life, this principle will remain.
Watching you continue to fight until the very last breath, further proved you are the most resilient woman I’ve known. Thank you for everything, I’m going to miss you, missing you already-though understanding love is eternal forever and always in the heart and memories – you will always be with me and within me. I love you so much Mom, my heart is broken- you are now free of all ailments and pain. Rest In Heavenly Peace and soar with the angels and ancestors. Your light will always shine. 😔❤️💔🙏🏾🕯🌹🕊✨
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