Martha Wash sings her classic "It's Raining Men" at NPR headquarters in Washington, D.C., on July 20.
Martha Wash sings her classic "It's Raining Men" at NPR headquarters in Washington, D.C., on July 20. Amy Ta/NPR
Soul singer Martha Wash's songs have become classics played on repeat at parties and clubs around the world — so much so that she's been dubbed "The Voice" and "The Queen of Clubland."
After smash success with The Weather Girls and a solid solo career, Wash started her own music label, Purple Rose. She's working on a new album today.
Wash began singing when she was 3, and started her music career as a backup singer for Sylvester, who recorded soul, disco and other dance music. In a performance chat with Tell Me More host Michel Martin, Wash recalls first seeing Sylvester.
"I just kind of stood there with my mouth open, saying to myself, 'Who is he?' and 'I don't believe it!' I had never heard anything like him before," Wash says.
A few years later, she auditioned at Sylvester's house. When she finished, he dismissed the "two tall, thin, blonde girls" who had auditions right before she did. Sylvester asked if Wash knew of someone else who shared her physical size and singing talent. She brought in Izora Rhodes in a few days later.
"Maybe his mind shifted and said, 'Well, maybe I can do two large black girls as background singers,'" Wash says.
NPR host Michel Martin enjoys a performance chat with Marsha Wash at NPR headquarters in Washington, D.C., on July 20.
NPR host Michel Martin enjoys a performance chat with Marsha Wash at NPR headquarters in Washington, D.C., on July 20. Amy Ta/NPR
She and Rhodes became the duo The Weather Girls (formerly Two Tons of Fun). They released their smash hit "It's Raining Men" nearly three decades ago. The song, written by Paul Jabara and Paul Shaffer, became an ear worm and earned a Grammy nomination.
Wash says she had no inkling that the song would be a hit. In fact, she thought the songwriters were kidding when they begged her and Rhodes to record it. But they weren't.
"Barbra Streisand, Donna Summer, Cher — they had all passed on recording this song, and my feeling is, we were the ones that were supposed to record the song," Wash says.
"It's Raining Men" is an official cult classic now. Next year, it will be 30 years old.
Another hit was "Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)." Wash says she recorded the song as a demo for C+C Music Factory, and it became a hit in 1990. But model Zelma Davis lip-synced the part, and Wash was not credited for her work.
"I was in my hotel room, flipping through channels and saw the video," she says, "and I said, 'Okay, I don't believe this.'"
Audience members cheer for Martha Wash after she finishes her performance chat at NPR headquarters in Washington, D.C., on July 20.
Audience members cheer for Martha Wash after she finishes her performance chat at NPR headquarters in Washington, D.C., on July 20. Amy Ta/NPR
Wash and her attorney settled the case, where she won legal changes for the industry, requiring artists to be properly credited.
Asked if she thinks there's now more tolerance for people who look different — particularly those with remarkable talent — Wash replies, "Why do you have to tolerate anybody? That's just who they are. Either you accept or you don't. You like, you don't. You buy or you do not buy. And I've always kind of felt or hoped that the buying public can see through and has a little bit more intelligence than what the powers-that-be say.
"Somebody asked me not too long ago," she says, "if I had to go through what I went through before, now, would I be as successful? And I said, 'probably not.'"
Regardless, Wash's latest single is "I've Got You," which she describes as inspirational and uplifting, with a lean toward pop.
"We all go through our rough patches, and it seems like we're the only ones going through them," Wash says. "But there's somebody out there who knows what you're going through and they understand. It can be a physical person, but it can be a spiritual thing, as well."