I said to myself, "I don't believe this shit is happening again."
February 2, 2016 12:16 PM   Subscribe

Martha Wash was sitting in a Los Angeles hotel room, furious and confused. It was late 1990 and the singer, relaxing before a show that night, had decided to unwind with some channel surfing. She stumbled upon a new music video by Italian house group Black Box, whose synth lines, horn stabs and pulsating, club-tailored drum patterns had already made them dance music stars. When the song's vocals kicked in, she was shocked to see French model Katrin Quinol, the ex-girlfriend of founding member Daniele Davoli, bending over and crouching in a unitard, lip-syncing Wash's vocals to the eventual hit "Everybody Everybody." - Martha Wash: The Most Famous Unknown Singer of the '90s Speaks Out (Rolling Stone)

Martha Wash began her music career as a backup singer for '70s disco star Sylvester and soon gained further stardom as one half of disco-pop duo The Weather Girls, famous for their transcendently campy anthem "It's Raining Men." However, her appearance--large, black, female--made solo stardom an uphill battle.

Though Wash provided lead vocals for some of the most beloved and enduring dance hits of the '80s and '90s, a troubling pattern established itself almost immediately: in music videos, stage appearances, and cover art, Wash was replaced by statuesque women, sometimes receiving diminished credit (or none at all) for her work. French Caribbean model Katrin Quinol can be seen lip-syncing Wash's vocals in the video for Black Box's "Everybody Everybody." In C+C Music Factory's #1 hit "Gonna Make You Sweat" (Everybody Dance Now), the band's other singer Zelma Davis appeared in Wash's stead. Another C+C Music Factory hit with vocals by Wash, "You're My One and Only," was released under the name Seduction; the video featured three women hired to be the face of the group, with Wash demoted to "backing vocalist" credit.

Further reading: Lawsuits Seek Truth in Music Labeling (NYT, 1990)

Required viewing: Martha Wash singing Everybody, Everybody live onstage and being completely awesome.
posted by duffell (28 comments total) 51 users marked this as a favorite
 
I remember the C + C Music Factory thing coming up at the time, but it didn't seem to be a very big deal, whereas the Milli Vanilli thing was around the same time and blew up everywhere. 10-year-old me remembers feeling confused about how the Martha Wash thing was different (I guess they didn't technically claim that someone else was singing, but that seems like splitting hairs).
posted by kevinbelt at 12:49 PM on February 2, 2016 [3 favorites]


large, black, female

Black and female never was much of a problem in eurodance, but forget about being large.

For yet another example, here's a video with Swedish eurodisco viking E-Type. You cannot really miss the female vocalist, can you? Here's a video with the actual singer (Nana Hedin, a Denniz Pop / Max Martin veteran).

(this example is a bit unusual, since they actually released a recut version of the video about a decade later, after enough people went WTF?)
posted by effbot at 1:00 PM on February 2, 2016 [1 favorite]


It feels to me like this is just one shitty aspect of the reality of image-driven corporately produced music. Authenticity, if that's the term, has never been high on the list of priorities for music video producers. So there's some middle aged Swedish songwriter cranking this stuff out, then the real musicians, then the dancers, and so on. i find it interesting that we do indeed expect the person singing in the video to be singing, even as other aspects of the production are clearly made by a board of directors.

Sexist discriminatory music videos suck. I don't know that it's ever been much of a secret, but it's nice to know that someone making an important contribution is now getting the deserved attention.
posted by jimmythefish at 1:07 PM on February 2, 2016 [2 favorites]


I don't remember this, but I was a bigger fan of Technotronic, so I do remember Ya Kid K being replaced with Felly for the "Pump Up the Jam" video, which I of course didn't find out about until the videos for "Get Up (Before the Night is Over)" and "Move This."
posted by infinitewindow at 1:09 PM on February 2, 2016 [6 favorites]


I'd rank Wash's contributions as way, way above 'important.' Her vocals have been absolutely foundational in the dance music world, she created one of maybe five Top Gay Anthems, C+C took dance music relatively mainstream, etc. It is a fucking crime that she's been sidelined so much.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 1:12 PM on February 2, 2016 [34 favorites]


One of the more outrageous bits comes well down in the article.
According to Wash, she was paid a flat fee to record demos to be presented to other singers. Instead, the producers included her vocals on nearly every song on Black Box's debut album Dreamland, including future hits "Everybody Everybody," "I Don't Know Anybody Else," "Fantasy" and "Strike It Up."...
"I was told it was going to be a demo for another singer," Wash says of "Gonna Make You Sweat." It wasn't.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 1:22 PM on February 2, 2016 [14 favorites]


five Top Gay Anthems

If I could draw I would be creating kind of a vision of a Tom of Finland version of U2 playing to a huge stadium of similar dudes
posted by thelonius at 1:39 PM on February 2, 2016 [3 favorites]


there's a lot more different-looking gays than Tom of Finland gays.

(and for ref I'd probably list those anthems as It's Raining Men, I Am What I Am, Express Yourself, I Will Survive, and We Are Family)
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 1:44 PM on February 2, 2016 [7 favorites]


I'd rank Wash's contributions as way, way above 'important.'

Agreed, I wasn't meaning to diminish that.
posted by jimmythefish at 1:50 PM on February 2, 2016 [1 favorite]


I think Homestar Runner ripped this one off too.
posted by XMLicious at 2:45 PM on February 2, 2016


That's a great article.

The title through me - in the gay club world Martha Wash was a star, and not at all a "most famous unknown singer."

I had no idea how shady C+C Music Factory was.
posted by kanewai at 3:15 PM on February 2, 2016 [4 favorites]


I puzzled at the title of the article used as the link in the post, because I know who Martha Wash is, and have for decades. But it's clear after reading the article, I'm probably one of the few, and she's had her contributions to music deliberately obfuscated for a very long time. She seems to be in a good place now, and I hope her career supports her well and allows her some financial freedom while she continues to make awesome music.

Great read, thanks for posting!
posted by hippybear at 3:17 PM on February 2, 2016 [2 favorites]


Dance-pop has never been my thing, but her voice is undeniable, and defined that era of the genre like no other. I knew about "Gonna Make You Sweat", but I didn't realize that they pulled this shit without her prior knowledge, or that she wasn't even credited in the liner notes, or that this was part of a larger pattern for her. Utter bullshit.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 3:33 PM on February 2, 2016 [1 favorite]


For sure, I've been aware of Martha Wash for a long time (I worked at a dance/pop/electronic FM station years ago) and I knew she was very well-known in certain circles--but also knew that, outside those circles, she was a complete unknown. Basically I just think she's fantastic and merited an FPP; I was surprised there wasn't one already!
posted by duffell at 3:38 PM on February 2, 2016 [3 favorites]


Man. I'm watching some of these videos now and it's true: the past really is a foreign country.
posted by brundlefly at 4:22 PM on February 2, 2016


I am glad of this post for two things. First off, I had NO IDEA who Martha Wash was, had no clue that her voice was in so many of the songs that we danced to back in my formative years. So I am glad to learn who she is!

Second, good lord this post is a pleasant walk down memory lane. Tom of Finland and club music? I keep expecting the next comment to involve a bowl-full of condoms supplied by GMHC!
posted by mittens at 5:11 PM on February 2, 2016 [2 favorites]


(and for ref I'd probably list those anthems as It's Raining Men, I Am What I Am, Express Yourself, I Will Survive, and We Are Family)


feckless fecal fear mongering, that is an excellent list! Can we add You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)?
posted by MoxieProxy at 5:56 PM on February 2, 2016 [2 favorites]


This incident was parodied in Rusty Cundieff's hip-hop mockumentary as the N.W.H. song "Come and Pet the P.U.S.S.Y." (although the YouTube video cuts off before the actual singer confronts the model lip synching her lyrics)

If you're unfamiliar with the movie, it's a note for note, gangsta rap take on Spinal Tap. If you're unfamiliar with Cundieff he's a writer, actor and director with one foot in social satire an one foot in shlock comedy. He directed for Chappell's show, did produced man on the street bits for Michael Moore's TV Nation, and created the hip hop horror anthology Tales from the Hood, though I cannot vouch for his segment in the recent Movie 43 cuz that whole thing looked horrible. Keep that in mind I you watch the flick. It's got a lot of cogent satire of race relations in America/hip hop/masculinity/the music industry, but, while tasteless by 1994 standards is downright insensitive in parts by 2016 standards.
posted by elr at 6:16 PM on February 2, 2016 [5 favorites]


"Davis, for her part, said it took her decades to get over her role in the C+C dispute. "For 20 years, I blamed myself. I experienced severe depression. No record label would touch me. I was branded a model and fraud. My career was over. I was blacklisted. Chewed up and spit out. I felt horrible about myself for the part I played. As a child, I was a fan of Martha Wash. I still am. I apologized to her several years after the scandal, placed blame on myself and claimed responsibility for my role. Martha's vocals were used as lead and I believe she had the right to sue for proper compensation."

Sad, because Zelma Davis was a capable singer herself, and her voice can be heard on the rest of C + C's catalog, most notably Just A Touch Of Love.
posted by tantrumthecat at 6:19 PM on February 2, 2016


This incident was parodied in Rusty Cundieff's hip-hop mockumentary as the N.W.H. song "Come and Pet the P.U.S.S.Y."

Which in this case stood for "Political Unrest Stabilizes Society, Yes". Classic movie!
posted by tantrumthecat at 6:21 PM on February 2, 2016 [3 favorites]


Relevant Game Show Network Video
posted by parliboy at 7:18 PM on February 2, 2016


I know who Martha Wash is, and have for decades. But it's clear after reading the article, I'm probably one of the few,

Same here. I remember this being pretty common knowledge at the time. I think I might have iffy on the C+C tracks, but had no illusions that that girl was singing the Black Box tunes.

The main problem I have is not that they got someone else for the video, it’s that they didn’t pay and credit her properly for her performance. And they could have avoided the whole thing if they’d just been upfront.

The video thing is tricky. That E-Type video linked earlier has a drummer, bass player, and guitarist performing, but none of those instruments even appear in the song. That’s not uncommon in these kinds of videos.

(this example is a bit unusual, since they actually released a recut version of the video about a decade later, after enough people went WTF?)

Good for them. That’s a lot of work and expense to go to, hats off. I’m not at all sure why they think that wouldn’t have worked in the first place. You can still have the dancer girl dance.
posted by bongo_x at 11:07 PM on February 2, 2016 [1 favorite]


kanewai: "I had no idea how shady C+C Music Factory was."

REALLY fucking shady. First I've heard about Black Box, though.

Best of luck to Ms. Wash, and I'll have to find a way to incorporate her name into my lyrics of these songs as I sing along to these two scumbag groups.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 11:22 PM on February 2, 2016


What an amazing voice she has. I'm very glad to be able to acknowledge her superb work. Thanks for posting!
posted by persona au gratin at 1:16 AM on February 3, 2016


And she was in "20 Feet From Stardom" I see. If you've not seen it, do. It's amazing. And heartbreaking at times.
posted by persona au gratin at 1:39 AM on February 3, 2016 [5 favorites]


Holy shit, I just found out (thank you YouTube comments) that when C+C Music Factory assembled the trio Seduction to promote You're my One and Only, one of the three women they hired was Michelle Visage. She's the blond one in the music video. And that is how she got her start.
posted by duffell at 3:52 AM on February 3, 2016


The title through me - in the gay club world Martha Wash was a star, and not at all a "most famous unknown singer."

The guys popping in to say this remind me of my recent discovery, via my 8-year-old, of the song "It's a Barbie World," and my gay friends' incredulity that I hadn't heard of it. I felt sad that the passing of my club years meant I'd never gotten to dance to it with them.
posted by not that girl at 9:05 AM on February 3, 2016


The guys popping in to say this remind me of my recent discovery, via my 8-year-old, of the song "It's a Barbie World," and my gay friends' incredulity that I hadn't heard of it. I felt sad that the passing of my club years meant I'd never gotten to dance to it with them.

Aqua warranted way more fame than they got. I think I gave that whole album a listen because the author of Porn Store Diaries talked about it being awesome and they were totally right.
posted by phearlez at 11:02 AM on February 3, 2016


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