Jody Watley Biography

Jody Watley. Photography by Tyler Miles.
Best New Artist 1987. GRAMMY winner & 3 time nominee Jody Watley

Jody Watley the current host of the monthly The Jody Watley Show on SIRIUS XM’s The Groove channel, airing the second Sunday & Monday of each month and ON Demand on the Sirius XM app. The GRAMMY award winning multi-platinum singer/songwriter/producer is recognized as a style icon and one of the architects of 21st century Pop/R&B/Dance music and listed in Billboard as one of the Top 60 Female Artists of All Time, Top 25 Dance Artists of All Time, Top 100 Black Solo Artists Of All Time.

The versatile songstress and Chicago native was honored with Jody Watley Day and a Presidential Award at the Georgia State Capital, receiving an Honorary Doctorate Degree in Business in 2022. Watley appeared on Broadway as the iconic character Rizzo in the musical GREASE, the first black actress to do so, and was recognized by People Magazine in their 50 Most Beautiful People Issue, the first black woman to appear on a Japanese Fashion Magazine some of the of many ongoing milestones in her solo career.

Jody Watley added radio host to her vast resume, with the launch of “The Jody Watley Show” on Sirius XM’s The Groove debuted in March 2023 during Women’s History Month. The monthly show is centered around classic R&B, special guests and conversations about music, life lessons and more.

The Jody Watley Show On Sirius XM The Groove.

As a solo artist, the Pop and R&B singer-songwriter has 6 Billboard Hot 100 Top Ten Singles, 7 Number 1 Dance Singles, 2 R&B Number 1’s, 15 Top 40 Singles, Gold and multi-platinum albums and singles.

Honored in 2017 recipient of the Black Music Honors ‘Crossover Music Icon’ Award for her early cultural influence and impact as a solo artist; other accolades include 2007 Billboard Dance Lifetime Achievement Award, along with 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. Jody Watley kicked off her solo career appearing the the historic Band Aid UK charity single “Do They Know It’s Christmas.”

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, Jody Watley forged the template that is now everybody’s playbook.

June 2022 the multi platinum music icon was honored with Jody Watley Day at the Georgia State Capitol and received the prestigious Presidential Lifetime Achievement Award and became a 2022 inductee into the Women’s Songwriters Hall of Fame in Washington, D.C.

Jody Watley Day at Georgia State Capital, Presidential Lifetime Achievement

Watley received her first Honorary Doctorate in March 2022. The honor was bestowed upon the iconic singer-songwriter-businesswoman before she addressed the graduating class of 2022 in Stone Mountain, Georgia. She received an Honorary Doctorate Degree Doctor of Philosophy in Entrepreneurship & Business Administration from the T.I.U.A. School of Business, an affiliate of Trinity International University of Ambassador. She was also presented the Women of Distinction Award from United Nations Global Women Foundation during the academic ceremony. 

In 2021 Jody Watley was named as First Ambassador to the National Museum Of African American Music In Nashville and in 2022 Watley received her first Honorary Doctorate in Business.

The founder of independent music label Avitone Recordings, online boutique was founded in 2000 with a focus on limited edition items and showcasing products from other small businesses. Jody Watley is also the creator or signature line of luxury soy candles promoting self-care and wellness. Watley has proved to be a true renaissance woman continuously growing and expanding her brand, adding to a continued relevance, legacy and as inspiration to others. Watley is also at the helm of Avid Music Inc. Management and Touring.

Jody Watley Home Line. Exclusively Available
Avitone Recordings. Established in 1995 with a mantra of “Independently Fueling Quality Music”

Watley’s activism has seen her involved in various causes over the decades promoting empowerment for women, LGBTQ rights and organizations focused on promoting HIV-AIDS Awareness and Prevention. She has served as Governor on the Los Angeles Chapter of The Recording Academy on various advocacy groups impacting change in the legislative realm as well as working with the Grammy U Program.

Jody Watley – 2021 Ambassador Of National Museum of African American Music

Her vision-forward marriage in personal branding of couture styles, vintage and black girls outside the box street-wear visuals, her introduction of signature oversized hoop earrings all paired perfectly with her music showing the relationship between high fashion, club culture with breakthrough editorials in Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue Italia including the historic “The Black Issue” has quietly made Jody Watley one of music’s most influential women in music.

Jody Watley. Vogue Italia 2008, The Historic “Black Issue”

Watley has also been featured in various Rolling Stone music and fashion editorials along with various groundbreaking ad campaigns. Saks 5th Avenue featured Jody Watley in an unprecedented 15 pages in their popular fall catalogue. She was also named as one of People Magazine’s 50 Most Beautiful issue among a long list of other accomplishments and breakthroughs in the fashion and beauty industry as a solo artist.

Jody Watley. for Saks 5th Avenue Fall Catalog. 1996

Watley’s eventual fusion of jazz, and deep house music made her a long time staple in underground club culture. The ease with which she crosses genres opened the doors for greater acceptance of black women thinking outside the box in music and fashion.

Jody Watley by Herb Ritts for GAP.

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. Appointed as the first Ambassador to The National Museum of African American Music in 2021.

Jody Watley is a multi-generational artist with a career filled with ongoing firsts and is cited as an influence and inspiration from young designers (A,Potts, Malan Breton and French shoe designer Jerome Rosseau who named a boot after Watley).

Jerome C. Rousseau Billboard Magazine Feature. August 13, 2014 Issue
“The Jody Watley” by Jerome C. Rousseau Fall 2014

A range of artists including Tionne “T-Boz” from supergirl group TLC and renowned creatives in the art world such as Mickalene Thomas’ (“Better Nights” Art Basel Miami Installation), Cassandra Lane (We Are Bridges) and beyond. Producer Andre Cymone recently noted many female artists have taken notes from Watley.

Excerpt from “We Are Bridges” – Cassandra Lane
2022 Excerpt from “We Are Bridges” – Cassandra Lane

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  like the Grammy nominated “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 waacking, the underground Los Angeles dance that is a sibling to both breakdancing and voguing.

Best New Artist 1987 GRAMMY Recipient – Jody Watley

1989’s Larger Than Life, her blockbuster sophomore album, yielded the hits “Real Love” (whose influential music video – nominated for 7 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,” featuring Eric B & Rakim the first rap/ sung collaboration with Pop/R&B singer and rapper to crossover Top 10 Hot 100 , R&B, Rap/Hip Hop and Dance along with the sultry ballad “Everything.” Jody Watley’s Music Discography continued to enjoy a variety of hits in each decade 80s, 90s, 00s, 10s in addition to the 20s. A former and original member of the beloved R&B trio Shalamar of which she was a part of for the trio’s most pinnacle recordings from 1978-1983 before departing the summer of 1983 also left an indelible impression with her distinct vocal sound. Watley gained her first taste of national television exposure as one of the most popular teen dancers on the iconic tv show Soul Train from 1974-1977.

Jody Watley on Soul Train, 1976
The Influential Jody Watley – Larger Than Life Album Cover in 1000 Greatest Album Covers
The Number 1 Million Selling Fitness Video – “Dance To Fitness”
Jody Watley – SPUR Fashion Magazine Japan Launch November 1989. A first for a black woman in Japan.

“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.”  

Watley’s ongoing musical output and sustained occupational stamina continues to defy the odds and go beyond expectations and narrow boxes often found in the music business.

Jody Watley continues to shine her ‘Wattage’ to illuminate the world.

Visit Jody Watley Music Discography Page for more about her diverse catalog

Watley’s award and nominee tally include, Honorary Doctorate TIUA School of Business, Grammy’s, American Music Awards, MTV Awards (“Real Love” directed by David Fincher remains one of MTV’s Most Nominated of All Time), NAACP Image Award Nominee, Billboard Life Achievement In Dance Music, Ranked as One of Billboards’ Greatest Dance Artists Of All Time in 2016, Black Music Honors Cross Over Music Icon 2017, 2018 Added to Billboard Magazine List of Top 60 Hot 100 Female Artists of All Time and Top 25 Dance Artists of All Time, Vanguard Award LGBTQ MusicFest 2019, Inductee Women Songwriters Hall Of Fame 2022, added at #59 to Billboard Magazine Top 100 Black Solo Artists Of All Time chart rankings.

The Historic The Black Issue, VOGUE Italia 2008

People’s Magazine 50 Most Beautiful

Harper’s Bazaar Magazine America’s 10 Most Beautiful

GAP, first celebrity ad campaign

LA Eyeworks, first celebrity ad campaign

Dance to Fitness, First Number 1 Fitness Video by a woman of color and recording artist

First woman of color to play Rizzo on Broadway in the hit musical GREASE!

SPUR Japan, first woman of color to appear on the cover of a Japanese fashion magazine for the lauch of SPUR.

Fashion layouts include: Rolling Stone, Harper’s Bazaar, Saks Fifth Avenue Fall Catalog.

Jody Watley was a part of the historic Band Aid charity single “Do They Know It’s Christmas”

Style Icon Since the 70’s as a teenaged dancer on the iconic TV show Soul Train:

“….with Jody emerging as a late 70’s style icon. She could rock silver shorts and red glitter converse sneakers, vintage 1940’s inspired dresses with pumps or her prom dress. Her hair was an ongoing adventure, sometimes filled with tons of ribbons, sometimes long ponytails, or a 1940’s hairdo..” – Nelson George from his book “The Hippest Trip In America – Soul Train and the evolution of culture and style – Harper Collins Books / William Morrow

One Of The Defining Artists of the 80s

Life Section, (February 16, 1996) Best Bets Jody Watley Greatest Hits – “..who set standards for fashion and music in the late 80’s.”  USA Today

Pioneer, Influence and Connection to Hip Hop / R&B / Pop Crossover

Watley’s collaboration ‘Friends’ with Eric B and Rakim was the first to popularize the 16 bar rap solo coupled with Pop/R&B. This formula became a staple in contemporary music: Icons of Hip-Hop Culture: An Enclyclopedia of the Movement, Music, Culture, Vol. 1 2007 Greenwood Press by Mickey Hess ISBN-10: 0313339031

” With a respectful Kangol tip to Chaka Khan and Melle Mel and their Grammy winner ‘I Feel For You’ the successful team up of Eric B and Rakim would make permanent the now formulaic Pop/R&B singer X featuring a rapper X a prerequisite for a Billboard chart topper”. To The Break of Dawn: A Freestyle On The Hip-Hop Aesthetic by William Jelani Cobb, 2007 NYU Press Page 142 ISBN 0814716709, 9780814716700

“Chaka Khan’s 1984 single ‘I Feel For You’ famously included a rap intro from Melle Mel and Jody Watley enlisted the rhyme skills of none other than Rakim for an interlude on 1989’s “Friends”. In short order , the rap bridge became a standard part of the R&B song structure. “The Billboard Book of Number Two Singles Christopher Feldman, Jody Watley ‘Larger Than Life/Real Love” Publisher Watson-Guphill , ISBN 0823076954, 9780823076952000 The track ‘Friends’ was one of the first collaborations with a Pop/R&B singer and a hard-core rapper.

Harpers Bazaar May 1989, Photographed by Francesco Scavullo Pages 126-127 Jody Watley is making a substantial dent in the annals of hot pop history..her smashing good looks and style have not hurt her.. GAP Ad Campaign 1989 Individuals Photographed by Herb Ritts Subsequently released as a part of the GAP: Individuals “Portraits of The GAP Collection” Book Chronicling the ads used over the years. Publisher: Melcher Media 2006 Harpers Bazaar September 1990, “Americas Ten Most Beautiful Women” Issue Photographed by: Matthew Rolston Page 180-183 “The Hot Beauty” Watley is a student of style. She creates her own video concepts and styling .

Jody Watley combines seemingly contradictory elements with ease – the soulful with the mundane, the outrageous with the classic. ” – Anna McDowell People Magazine: America’s 50 Most Beautiful People May 09, 1990,,20063273,00.html Rolling Stone Fall Fashion: Italian Collection Pages 9-13 Photographed by William Laxton Harpers Bazaar- November 1991, Photographed by Andrea Blanch Pages 142-145 “Irreverent, Irrestible Dance Diva Jody Watley has always brought bravura style and energy to the Pop-Soul party...

Watley’s reputation has rested on a rebellious fashion sense and a taste for uptempo.. “Affairs of The Heart” marks a shift in emphasis..” – Alan Light