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Wednesday, August 12, 2020

After a 40-Year Career, Artist Jody Watley Still Shines as an Icon, Influencer, and Entrepreneur

Jody Watley is a Grammy Award-winning artist, songwriter, trendsetter, and the founder of Avitone Recordings whose career has spanned more than four decades.

Jody Watley

Nationwide — Today, Jody Watley (respectively Ms. Watley) forever remains relevant as one of the architects of 21st-century pop. She is a well-respected businesswoman, an innovative music maker, and style-forging pioneer who has led the way as an entrepreneur working in the independent music world as one of the few already-established female best-selling artists to produce, create and own her recordings.

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.

From her groundbreaking union of rap and R&B (1987’s “Friends,” a collaboration with hip-hop legends Eric B. & Rakim) to her vision-forward amalgamation of high fashion, street fashion and music in the 1980s (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.

Her adoring fans from ‘old school,’ to ‘new school,’ embrace the Grammy Award-winning artist, songwriter, visionary, and producer with great adoration, including writers who assessed her broad and deep impact.

Iconic. Trendsetter. Relevant. Jody Watley has blended all of these and much more into a singular career in music, fashion, and longevity that’s influenced generations.

We are fortunate to engage and connect with the icon on her social media platforms – a tremendous treat and honor!

Her timely spoken-word anthem release, “The Healing,” with lyric video touching up the civil unrest and Black Lives Matter stretches globally with a message that resonates with listeners everywhere. The beautiful living legend reminds us to keep living, keep loving, and keep moving forward.

Watley is also the goddaughter of music legend pioneer Jackie Wilson.

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.

Her self-titled 1987 solo debut – a showcase for her vocal chops and songwriting skills was a beats and 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 a 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 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.

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 overall 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 of 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 in 1990.

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.

What links “Waiting” to the rest of Watley’s far-ranging and impossible to pigeonhole catalog (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 artistry is 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.”

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. 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.

As an original member of Shalamar add 1 Top 10 Single, 3 Top 10 R&B singles Billboard singles.

All Hail Ms. Watley – forever relevant.

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