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, Jody Watley forged the template that is now everybody’s playbook.
Winner of the Best New Artist Grammy in 1987, Watley’s entire career has been about looking forward, drawing inspiration from personal heroes and iconoclasts who were and are 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. Appointed as the first Ambassador to The National Museum of African American Music in 2021, Jody Watley has a career filled with ongoing firsts.
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.
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,” 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.” They were all huge hits.
Like many artists who top the charts, Jody Watley soon found herself stymied by the limited vision of her label, who wanted to shoehorn her into styles of earlier crossover releases. 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 with a new label regime, 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 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 (Masters At Work), Mark de Clive Lowe, Miguel Atwood-Ferguson, Ron Trent,Dam-Funk, French Horn Rebellion, Moto Blanco, and Alex Di Ciò as well as folk artist Peter Harper. 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) Japanese Exclusive, Midnight Lounge (2001), and The Makeover (2006) released exclusively to retailer Virgin Megastore and became their Number 1 Best Seller over all big label commercial releases. 2014 produced the EP ‘Paradise’ saying that she felt full length albums in an era of short attention spans weren’t pivotal in this climate of cherry-picking songs and streaming.
2018 saw the release the makeover of Bob Marley’s “Waiting in Vain,” 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. The ever multi-tasking Jody Watley created a side creative endeavor with 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, Watley used it as another outlet for her artistic expression; they two released UK Soul chart-topping singles including the Alex Di Ciò remixes of “The Mood” and “The Passion” in 2018 and often featured in her live concert experiences as singer/dancers accompanying her on a few Shalamar favorites in her “A Music Journey” concert series.
2020 brought the sophisticated soul of ‘Winter Nights’ EP as well as the timely introspective spoken word single “The Healing” released as the Covid pandemic caused a lock down and a pause for millions as Watley would say a time for self reflection. The subsequent lyric video touched upon the civil unrest and Black Lives Matter movement of that moment.
In 2021 the ever productive Watley gave us more reason to dance with the surprise release of the EP “Renderings” with remixes by renowned Italian DJ Alex Di Cio. The release quickly soared into the UK Soul Chart Top 5.
The music remains a touchstone in pop culture relevance with features on shows like the Emmy Winning breakthrough POSE on FX, The Goldbergs, countless social media fan appreciation videos and highlighted as influential in the journey of Tejano superstar Selena on the Number 1 Netflix Series.
Watley’s far-ranging and impossible to pigeonhole catalogue (which has seen her hit the charts in every decade of her career), beginning as an original member of the R&B trio Shalamar as a teenager from 1977-1983, and the ongoing decades of solo artisty is linked with the sincerity and honesty from which it springs and is quintessentially Jody Watley.
“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.” – Ernest Hardy
To date as a solo Jody Watley has 6 Billboard Hot 100 Top Ten Singles, 13 Number 1 Dance Singles, 2 R&B Number 1’s, 15 Top 40 Singles, international chart toppers from the UK Soul and Commercial Pop, Canadian, various European and Asian charts. 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.
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.’
In February 2021 Jody Watley was appointed the first membership ambassador to The National Museum African American Music in Nashville.
Watley’s award and nominee tally include, 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.
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”
80’S DEFINING ARTIST:
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, TOP 40 POP/R&B:
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 http://www.people.com/people/archive/article/0,,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