It’s amazing, and we bet it’s not what you were expecting.
Photo: Mike Ruiz
AMFM Magazine had the privilege of interviewing three amazing artists of the 80’s Disco era, Martha Wash (C+C Music Factory, The Weather Girls) Evelyn Champagne King, and Linda Clifford. They came together with James Arena to talk about their new single “Show Some Love, ” (Purple Rose Records) and the show “First Ladies of Disco” inspired by Arena’s book “First Ladies of Disco: 32 Stars Discuss the Era and Their Singing Careers,” a best seller in the United States, Canada and Europe.
Martha Wash is a two-time Grammy Nominee, known for her distinctive and powerful dramatic soprano voice. Ms. Wash has been dubbed “The Queen of Clubland” due to her ongoing success in the dance music genre. Martha’s fame would have made her mentor, the late disco pioneer Sylvester, proud. As a member of The Weather Girls (previously known as Two Tons of Fun), Wash achieved tremendous success with the immortal “It’s Raining Men,” one of dance music’s all-time greatest hits. Wash also performed lead vocals on Black Box’s chart-toppers “Strike It Up” and “Everybody Everybody,” as well as C+C Music Factory’s “Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now),” which hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Linda Clifford, a five-time Grammy Nominee, scored numerous hits from the 1970s through the 1980s, most notably “If My Friends Could See Me Now” and “Runaway Love,” the latter considered a landmark innovation in rap history. In 1980, she released a duet album with R&B legend Curtis Mayfield, The Right Combination. She recorded the popular “Shoot Your Best Shot,” produced by Isaac Hayes, and the song “Red Light” for the soundtrack of the smash hit movie Fame. Both songs reached #1 on the American dance chart and enjoyed pop crossover success.
Evelyn “Champagne” King made her dramatic debut on the disco scene with 1978’s Top 10 classic “Shame,” taken from her Gold+ debut album, Smooth Talk. The song topped the Billboard Hot 100, R&B and Dance Charts. She enjoyed great success with “I Don’t Know If It’s Right,” “I’m In Love” and “Love Come Down” in the years that followed, all of which cemented her esteemed ranking among prominent pop, club and R&B vocalists. Evelyn is the recipient of numerous honors throughout the world, among them the “Dance Music Hall of Fame Award” in 2004 and the “Living Legend Award” in 2007.
These legendary vocalists are coming together to bring you what will be one of the most talked about shows in dance music history. And here’s what they had to say about it:
JAMES: There wasn’t a whole lot of information out there about this kind of music. I felt like there were a thousand books out there about rock music, and country and R&B.
I wanted to ask these great women about the music they made and how it affected their lives. I followed all of these women when I was younger, I bought all their records. I wanted the world to get to know them a little better – beyond just the disco singer label.
EVELYN: Of course we were just children when we recorded this song (laughs)
AMFM: How did the idea segue from the book to the show?
MARTHA: James Washington (our manager) talked to James Arena, and said this would be a fantastic idea for a show as a group. So we did a show last year with ten of the ladies, all who had been in the disco business and it was fantastic! People are still talking about it.
LINDA: We’d known each other for 25 years but we were like ships passing in the night. This was a perfect chance for us to connect.
AMFM: Tell us about the new single that is kicking off the show.
MARTHA: We are releasing the single called “Show Some Love,” which brings us together in a recording for the first time. It’s a new type of sound for us. We are looking forward to everyone’s reaction.
JAMES: This is historic to have these great women, Martha Wash, Evelyn Champagne King, Linda Clifford on this incredible incredible record. It’s a little different – wait till you hear it. When people hear this sound, I think you’ll see a lot of commotion over this.
LINDA: This song is coming out at the perfect time with all the bad things going on in the world at this time . It’s about bringing people all together, and Lord knows we could use that.
EVELYN: It’s very exciting we have been working for so many years, we haven’t lost our spark in the music business. They don’t hear us on the mainstream radio, but we’re out there working. It hit home to a lot of other female artists to show that we can do this.
AMFM: The song has a strong rock n’ roll edge, so the show won’t be sticking to the Disco genre?
EVELYN: We want people to understand that we are about many different types of music. It’s all about being versatile and showing that we have not been in this business all these years simply by singing just disco. As much as we love that form of music, because we got our start there, we all sing different types of music. Gospel, Jazz, Pop…
MARTHA: Yes, R&B as well. Our new single will help expand people’s thinking about our range.
LINDA: There’s all sorts of music in the three of us. Can you imagine – between all the women in James’ book how much we ground we cover? There’s going to be a lot of versatility coming from that stage.
AMFM: Your Manager, James Washington, described the show as a spectacular display – can you tell us what to expect?
LINDA: Great costumes, music, and lighting, but the main focus will be the women in the show.
MARTHA: We will be paying tribute to some of the people that are not in the show, but were part of the disco era, like Donna Summer, and even Sylvester.
LINDA: We want to honor those people. they were part of our family. They paved the way for me.
EVELYN: We also want to represent and honor the sophistication of women in the business. We are very strong willed, but we get along well together. We compliment each other – like sisters. And that will come across to our audience.
MARTHA: The biggest thing is we respect each other’s talents – what we all bring to the table.
AMFM: This is going to be such an amazing show, what are your plans for it? Are you going to take it to Broadway?
LINDA: Without a doubt it could easily something that could be done on Broadway. I,t would be wonderful to have a longer running show. This was an era where people were happy, they had laughter and they had glamour. That’s what we’re going to bring to the show.
JAMES: If you take a look at the chapters that these three women provided in the book, you can see that I just scratched the surface. If you had these three women telling their stories on stage through song and dialogue, the world would see these ladies and disco in a whole new way.
In those days, the songs were well known, but sometimes the artists themselves were not (with the possible exception of these three great women). What they have to say, and what they’ve been through, is fascinating. I’m so happy that these women are working together. They have great energy, magnificent voices, and their opportunities – what they can do – is almost endless. If given the right opportunity to be exposed to the public, they would be appreciated as much as the public appreciates a Tony Bennett/Lady Gaga collaboration. They are in that same league.
LINDA: I’m noticing that we’re also bringing all our individual fans together with all the different styles, and we’re crossing boundaries with what we’re saying and how we’re projecting it.
AMFM: That’s really needed, with what’s happening in today’s world. There should be a push towards communication between all people. That brings me to the next question, about how the Disco Music influenced and affected the gay community.
JAMES: One among many observations that can be made about these women is that they championed the underdogs. In the 70’s and 80’s, the gay community were certainly underdogs. They were being ravaged by a plague and were largely considered the outcasts of mainstream society. It was a tough time. These women stood behind those people and a lot of other groups too. They gave support and a sense of community and hope. They gave a lot of love and got a lot of love back.
EVELYN: Yes, that’s how I got my start!
LINDA: Before I had my first hit single, I worked in a club in Chicago. I performed at a gay bar. I’d never been in one before in my life. I went there initially to watch a band I had been working with. I was pregnant and due any moment. They asked me to get up and sing one song. I ended up staying on the stage for two and a half hours. I had never felt this kind of love and response from an audience. I wanted to stay there. When I did have my son, and I woke up in the hospital room, it was filled from floor to ceiling with gifts, and a note that said: “From Your 1500 Fairy Godfathers.” They’ve had my heart and soul from the very beginning and they know it even today.
EVELYN: For my part, I was working with the Village People, and that was my beginning of my learning about the gay community. I loved the music we put out. I was only 15 when I was traveling with the hit “Shame.” My first show was a dinner club in Boston called Jason’s. The song went to number one basically from the love, appreciation and affection of the gay community. We gave them something to dance to, something to listen to, something to sing to and believe in.
LINDA: And feel free to be who and what you are, whatever you are.
EVELYN: Even though I was young, I supported the community wholeheartedly. I was brought up to appreciate them as people. They are people first and foremost. It’s not about what’s going on in the bedroom. It’s about who they are as people and how they express themselves on the dance floor.
AMFM: Our music reflects our times. We need a positive influence like this song. What is the best possible scenario for the outcome of this project?
MARTHA: We put it out, the music is a hit, and we go to Broadway!
EVELYN: That’s the joy and the dream.
JAMES: When you’ve accomplished as much as these ladies have, you realize and artist doesn’t need to be 21. It’s time we started appreciating more of what this generation has done, and what they have to offer. I hope that will be another outcome of this important music project.
EVELYN: As well as teaching the youngsters that the youth can sing and entertain without taking off their clothes.
LINDA: Also, the let the kids know where their music came from. They are under the impression that a lot of the music today is new, but in actuality much of it we’ve done before and they are simply replicating it, and they don’t even know it! The producers of course know, but the young people out there buying the music don’t where it came from.
AMFM: Please keep us informed as the shows are added to your schedule, and bring this great music to the world. We will let everyone know where you will be performing. Thank you so much ladies, and you too James.