The hard-fought legacy of Martha Wash

You know Martha Wash from her hit 1983 single, It’s Raining Men, a powerhouse anthem she sang as ½ of her former group, The Weather Girls, but do you really know her story? Wash has re-released her newest album Love & Conflict and its lead single Never Enough Money after the project’s rollout was thrown off by the COVID-19 pandemic and illness in her family; Wash is set on continuing her legacy as a diva who’s had to work hard to assert her right for recognition.

It’s less well-known that Wash is also the voice heard on C+C Music Factory’s number-one single Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now), as well as Strike it Up and Everybody Everybody by Black Box, which were both top 10 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 in the late ’90s. That’s probably because Wash’s name was initially left off those releases, and their accompanying music videos starred models lip-syncing instead of her or her likeness. Much like Loleatta Holloway, Wash’s vocals have been used multiple times over her career without credit, but she fought for her recognition, leading to federal legislation making vocal credit mandatory for all albums and music videos in the United States. She did that!

“When Gonna Make You Sweat came out it became almost an immediate hit. Since they [C+C Music Factory] had Zelma [Davis], they went on and decided to use her in the video because she was part of the group. Bad idea, but they went on anyway and the record company-sanctioned it. Well, you can’t do that! That’s why the litigation had to go on because you just can’t do that and expect people to just accept it,” Wash says. After the settlement, Wash and C+C Music Factory continued to work and tour together.

Martha Wash – Love & Conflict

Her latest album, Love & Conflict, brings Motown into 2020. The lead single Never Enough Money talks about the social media attention economy. “I think those media platforms can be really good, but I think in other cases they can take you so far away from your own reality sometimes to the point that you’re trying to run away from it, so you try to create this other kind of reality that people are going to buy,” Wash says. “This man that we have in the office here in the United States, they really don’t delve into reality. It’s a very warped reality that they’re projecting, so it all kind of lumps together.”

Diva-House music always has the energy turned up to 11, but on Love & Conflict Wash is able to explore her beautiful lower register and the other parts of her voice that are less easy to pick out in a belting club jam. “I’m a little older now and I’ve always been the type of artist where I did not want to ever be categorized into one particular genre of music. I think it’s good that an artist keeps experimenting and since it’s on my own label I can put out whatever kind of music I want, so that’s definitely made a difference,” Wash says.

Martha Wash
Photo by Mark Ruiz

Love & Conflict was recorded in Montréal with all Canadian musicians and songwriters. “It was fun doing it although most of it was in the wintertime,” Wash says through her infectious laugh. “I’ve always liked Canada and I’ve worked in Canada off-and-on for a few decades. Between Montréal and Toronto, I’ve had my fun up there. Canadian people are always very supportive and very, very nice.”

Wash started her commercial music career as a backup singer for queer disco legend Sylvester who was lost during the AIDS crisis. “I was young and I didn’t know what I was doing singing backup for this crazy guy,” she says with a warm giggle. She recalls a favourite gig they did together; the night they performed at San Francisco’s War Memorial Opera House when Sylvester recorded their Living Proof album. “We were the second non-classical act to perform there. I think The Pointer Sisters were the first ones. It was a great, magical night. The place was sold out and it was just any kind of person you could imagine being there was there, although we were never invited back, ever! There was a lot of glitter. A lot. We were told by people on the balcony, it was so full up there and they were dancing and jumping around so hard that it felt like an earthquake, and San Francisco is famous for its earthquakes. The powers that be would never invite us back but we can say that we performed at the San Francisco Opera House so that was a great thing.”

Love & Conflict is available now on Spotify, Apple Music, and YouTube Music.

Header photo of Martha Wash by Mark Ruiz.