Aretha Franklin, Janis Joplin, Alison Moyet. I’ve often wondered if any of these extraordinary singers would have a chance in hell in the post-American Idol world, a soulless place where an attractive, telegenic demeanor often trumps raw talent. Apparently, what I think of as a new phenomenon in the music biz has been around for some time. Consider the career of Martha Wash.
Anyone who dates back to pre-Idol days and loves to dance (me, me, me) knows Wash, even if they don’t immediately recognize her name. She is the voice of unforgettable club hits from the late 80s and 90s, including “Everybody Everybody,” “Strike it Up,” and “Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now).” Arguably, her most famous track of all would be “It’s Raining Men,” which spurred countless single women to drunkenly rush the dance floor at the annual Christmas party, and could be heard drifting through the opens doors of gay bars for decades. Decades.
Despite her vocal prowess, Unsung — basically Behind the Music for R&B artists airing on TV One — revealed how, when it came time to shoot videos for Wash’s songs, multiple producers hired other women to lip sync her tracks, while also failing to give her proper credit as the vocalist. Need you ask why? Wash is full-figured and not conventionally pretty. Worse, Robert Clivillés, the surviving member of C+C Music Factory, defended employing perfectly pretty Zelma Davis, a fashion model, to lip synch Wash's lines during the episode of Unsung.
No matter; Wash sued Clivillés, his partner, and Sony Music, claiming she was not just under-credited but that she also received a lower pay rate because she believed she was recording demos. Not only did she win, she also secured a solo contract with RCA in the process.
Lesson learned: It ain’t over till the fat lady sings… And yes, it's the fat lady we want to hear sing however she likes in the YouTube video below: