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.”
Morning power walks have been a longtime part of my lifetfyle though there have been times I haven’t been as diligent and disciplined. Now – if I don’t feel like going out, I tell myself just go – even if you do a 10 minutes it’s better than nothing. My goal is usually 3 miles and I’m always happy when I exceed it with 4 miles, 4.5, 4.1 – I’m like Yess!
Walking is a great way to relieve stress, lower blood pressure, increase your heart health and overall mood. I make it a point to look around at the beautiful trees and flowers, the sky – the things that remind us the beauty of nature and life. There are so many blogs are I see really heavy on promoting who’s wearing what super expensive designer item..and not being judgmental because I love nice things..but as life goes along and getting older you appreciate or should appreciate that many of the best things are free. Taking moments of solitude to clear your mind of cluttering thoughts, social media, news.. is important. If you don’t live in the best neighborhood find a local park.
Whatever you choose to do the point is to keep moving and never take for granted just looking up – whether the sky is gray, full of clouds or blue – it’s another reminder to appreciate life and not get jaded. The autumn season is perfect to really be reminded of the beauty of changing seasons before it gets too cold to be out – take advantage of it. Do something good for your mind, body and spirit daily.
Rest In Peace dearest DJ Lisa Moody – very sad to learn this news -really can’t find the right words.
Such a great lady, with a welcoming smile all the time and DJ always ready to bring joy and make every event special, lifting everyone’s mood through her skills — by the time I’d take the stage (dancing in my dressing room with the tunes bumping “Yess Lisa Yess!” – the atmosphere was perfect. Miss Lisa Moody always understood the assignment setting the tone for my concerts creating a festive musically soulful atmosphere spinning house music classics at some of my East coast shows in recent years NYC & D.C. – bringing so much joy and sense of oneness and community – truly special.
As half of Sugar Girl Squad with the great Ultra Nate’ – I also send my deep condolences to all the family, friends and colleagues in the Deep Sugar and House Music Community.
The good vibes, love and memories will live on, you will be missed. Soar with the angels and house music greats Miss Lisa Moody. To have touched so many people through the music turntables and beyond, for everyone to remember your kindness is a life well lived.
People will forget what you said, they may forget what you did, but they will always remember the way you made them feel. – Maya Angelou.
From Lisa on my birthday; I couldn’t let this day/night go by without wishing a Happy Happy Birthday to the #icon, Queen of Cool and everything fierce & fabulous @jodywatley! During these tough times you continue to inspire & encourage us all! Cheers to you! 🥂♥️🤗 ✨ #wattage
Discovering all sorts of gems trying to organize the vast press clippings in my archives. I’m fortunate to have hits in other countries like the U.K. though I rarely get over there going back to my early releases in the 80’s and 90’s on the Official Charts, and later on their Dance and Soul Charts.
You are the CEO of your life. You are allowed to hire, fire, demote – promote and adjust your life path and vision how you see fit. Make sure you have a great team, remain open to learn and grow but know that you must have and take agency over your life and decisions. Handle your business – your life.