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MICHEL MARTIN, host: I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

You know you know that voice when you hear it, which is one reason she is called The Voice and also the Queen of Clubland, for her role in the songs that have become classics played over and over again at parties and clubs around the world.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SWEAT (EVERYBODY DANCE NOW)" )

MARTHA WASH: (Singing) Everybody dance now. Everybody dance now.

MARTIN: Who else could we be talking about but Martha Wash? She began as a backup singer, but with fellow backup singer Izora Rhodes, became one of the Weather Girls. Together they released their smash hit "It's Raining Men," winning them a Grammy nomination and a hit song that you cannot get out of your head even if you tired. She went on to a solo career and even started her own music label, Purple Rose.

Today the R&B soul diva is working on a new album. But she was nice enough to take a short break to join us in our performance studio in Washington. Welcome, Martha Wash, our diva. Thank you for joining us.

WASH: Thank you so much. It's my pleasure to be here.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

WASH: My pleasure.

MARTIN: Now, of course, I think a lot of people instantly know your long list of hit songs. But I don't know that everybody knows about your earlier life. So could you just tell us how you realized that you had the voice?

WASH: I started singing when I was about three years old. My godmother told my mother that I was singing in the backseat of her car. My mother loved to sing. She sang in the church choir so she was the one who really encouraged me to sing gospel music. And growing up that was the only music that was played in my house.

MARTIN: You started your career as a backup singer to Sylvester.

WASH: Yes.

MARTIN: How did that come about?

WASH: I met - well, I saw Sylvester about two or three years prior to actually meeting him and auditioning for him. He was the opening act for Billy Preston. And I just kind of stood there with my mouth open watching this guy, saying to myself, who is he? And I don't believe it. I had never heard anything like him before.

Fast forward a few years later, I get this call to go audition. I go to this house and at that time, he had just finished auditioning two tall, blonde, thin girls. I walk in, he asks me to sing. I sing. When I got finished, he told the blonde girls to leave. They could go. And we started talking. And he asked me, he said, do you know anybody else that's as large as you are and that can sing and I said, yes. And brought in Izora a couple of days later.

MARTIN: As large as you. You mean...

WASH: Big.

MARTIN: Big.

WASH: Fat.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

WASH: I guess he figured at that time that he saw me and saw the other girls that he had auditioned, maybe his mind shifted and said, well, maybe I can switch this and do two large black girls as background singers.

MARTIN: Right. And I remember that the group at that time was called Two Tons of Fun.

WASH: Correct.

MARTIN: Always wanted to ask you how you felt about that.

WASH: It was like a novelty name to get attention. But thankfully I didn't weigh a thousand pounds, but it got people's attention. So we just went on as Two Tons of Fun.

MARTIN: Not sorry to let that one go. Not sorry to let that one go.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: And then, of course, in 1982, the smash hit "It's Raining Men," which a lot of us know by heart.

WASH: Yes. All the words.

MARTIN: All the words.

WASH: All the hand claps. All of it.

MARTIN: That's right.

WASH: Yes. Yes. True.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: And there have been several iterations. There was one with RuPaul. But how did that song come about and did you have any idea it was going to be as huge as it became? Or did you have an inkling or...

WASH: No. After we kind of picked ourselves up off the floor from laughing, Paul had begged us, literally begged us to record the song. And we said, you must be kidding. And he said, no. I really, really want you to record the song. He named everybody who had passed on it. Barbara Streisand, Donna Summer, Cher, I think I left somebody out. But they had passed on recording this song.

And if you stop and think about it, which I've had to do, could you really see any one of those women doing this song? That's the thing. So my feeling is we were the ones that were supposed to record the song because they could've also done it, but it may not have been a hit.

MARTIN: Clearly. It was meant to be.

WASH: That's what I'm saying.

MARTIN: It was your song.

WASH: Yeah.

MARTIN: OK. And are you going to sing that or are we going to play that? How are we going to do that?

WASH: We're going to sing and play.

MARTIN: Awesome. All right. Excuse me. Okay.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Well, we'll try not to sing with you because you know we all know it. Right. Let me just say...

WASH: Listen, the more the merrier.

MARTIN: Well, let me just say it this way, half of us know it, right.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

WASH: The more the merrier. It does bother me.

MARTIN: All right. Here it is.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IT'S RAINING MEN")

WASH: Well, you know, I'm still your weather girl and I've got some news for you. Get ready all you lonely girls and leave those umbrellas at home.

(Singing) Humidity is rising. Yeah it's rising. Barometer's getting low. And how low are we go? According to all sources, what sources have you been listening to? I want to know. The street's the place to go. 'Cause tonight for the first time, just about half-past 10. For the first time in history, it's gonna start raining men. Raining men.

It's raining Men. Hallelujah. It's raining men. Amen. It's raining men. Hallelujah. It's raining men. Amen. It's raining men. Hallelujah. It's raining men. Men. Men. You I like tall, blonde, dark and lean, rough and tough and strong and mean. I love the men. Hallelujah. I love the men. Yes, I love the men. Yes. It's raining men. Hallelujah. It's raining men, Amen. It's raining men. Hallelujah. Raining men. Men.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

MARTIN: You know, that's a little hard for us because most of us aren't used to listening to that song sitting still.

WASH: I know. I know.

MARTIN: Okay?

WASH: It's very. I know it's very unusual.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: We'll have to do it again so we could show you our moves.

WASH: Oh. Oh, that's fine. That's fine.

MARTIN: You know and that song works not just for, you know, there's that lyric that Mother Nature is a single girl too.

WASH: Right. Right. Right.

MARTIN: But, you know, a lot of men like that song too, right.

WASH: Absolutely. Absolutely.

MARTIN: You know?

WASH: The song is really an official cult classic now. It will be 30 years old next year.

MARTIN: What? Oh, no. that can't be because that would make me 35. That can't be.

WASH: I know. We're old babes. I know.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, I'm Michel Martin and you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I don't even have to tell you. I'm talking to R&B diva Martha Wash. We're talking about her career and anything else that's on her mind. Hopefully she's going to tell us about her new album as well.

Of course there's another iconic classic that you sang "Gonna Make you Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)," which became C&C Music Factory's first hit. I played that - we played that in the introduction.

WASH: Right.

MARTIN: But you did not appear in that music video.

WASH: No.

MARTIN: I think a model named Zelma Davis or somebody?

WASH: Another singer.

MARTIN: Another singer. She was another singer.

WASH: Right.

MARTIN: How did that happen? I mean...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Did you just like wake up one and saw it and was like what? Or did they tell you or...

WASH: No. I had recorded the song for them as a demo. That's now, remember, this is 20 years ago. Were talking 1990. And it was released as one of their songs. The way I found out about it actually was through the video. I was in my hotel room flipping through channels and saw the video. And I said okay, I don't believe this, and talked to my attorney. They talked to the powers that be with C&C Music Factory and everything and we went to court about it. But it was settled out of court. In fact, we worked together on another CD and I was in the video for the next song that came out.

MARTIN: And you did win that. In fact you won some changes that benefited other artists where people have to be properly credited, if I have that right for work that they appear on an...

WASH: Basically.

MARTIN: ...album. But there is that whole thing about, you know, musical talent versus body image. And as I, when I read about that controversy, one of the producers said well, you know, you know, Martha just has to understand that, you know, we want a different image, you know, for the video. And I'm wondering do you think anything's changed where there is more of a tolerance people with different looks, particularly people who are so talented?

WASH: 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 have a little bit more intelligence than what the powers that be say.

I just know that I am who I am. I'm never going to be a small woman. Somebody asked me not too long ago if I had to go through what I went through before now would I be a successful. And I said probably not. Even though things have changed I don't know if I would still be viable. I've been through a whole lot of things over these many many years and I've still been able to make music, people still know who I am. But I think maybe if I was just starting out now I don't know if it would be the same.

MARTIN: Well, we're happy. We're thankful. We're appreciative, right? Right?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: So now you're working on the new album. Tell us about it.

WASH: Well, the new single is called "I've Got You," and I'm kind of leaning more towards the pop. I've always tried to record music that was uplifting and inspiring to people, even in the dance mode. But I'm kind of slowing things down now a little bit and doing a little bit more pop, a little bit more ballads, things like that. Still keep me at inspirational and uplifting as much as possible because times are hard for everybody now and everybody needs some help and they need to be reassured that it's going to be okay. Whatever it is, it may be hard going through it right now, but when you come out of it it's going to be okay.

MARTIN: All right. Well, I think we're going to hear "I've Got You."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'VE GOT YOU")

WASH: (Singing) I'm walking on ice. I'm drawing the line. I'm reading the signs oh, oh. I've taken the world one war at a time, the fall and the climb oh, oh. I make my own love. I shuffle the cards, the spades with the hearts, oh, oh. I've taken a side. Not scared of the high. I always turn right oh, oh. I can do anything that I want to do if I want to do. I can be anything and I'll make it through, I'll make it through.

(Singing) Everyone needs a helping hand, someone to tell them they understand. Everyone needs somebody who would stand behind them and keep them true. Even the ones that seem so strong sometimes feel alone. When everything's blue. I know I've got you. You can be my waking call, be my hammer and break this wall. And it's pain and bittersweet. This a friend makes me, makes me happy.

(Singing) Everyone needs a helping hand. Someone to tell them they understand. Everyone needs somebody who will stand behind them and keep them true. Even the ones that seems so strong sometimes feel alone. When everything is blue, I know I've got you.

(Singing) Everyone needs a helping hand. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Someone to tell them they understand. I know, I know. Everyone needs somebody, thank God. Thank God. Thank God I got you. And I know that I seem strong. But I used to feel alone. I used to be alone but now I've got you.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

MARTIN: That's lovely. Anything in particular inspired it?

WASH: Just people.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

WASH: Just people. People need help. We all go through our rough patches and it seems like we're the only ones going through them, but there's somebody out there that knows what you're going through and they understand. A lot of times it can be a physical person but it can also be a spiritual thing as well.

Martha Wash is the diva of divas. Hit songs "It's Raining Men," "Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)," "Carry On." Her latest song is "I've Got You" and she was nice enough to join us for conversation and some beautiful songs in our studios in Washington, D.C. Martha Wash, thank you so much for joining us.

It's been my pleasure. Thank you so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

MARTIN: And I think you said you were nice enough to sing us out on what? "Everybody, Everybody?"

WASH: Yeah. Why not?

MARTIN: Okay, All right. "Everybody, Everybody."

WASH: Oh. Oh. Okay, I know everybody in the studio was just sitting there and they've been listening to the music and everything. But I want to hear you clap. I want to hear you clap. Come on.

(SOUNDBITE OF CLAPPING)

WASH: (Singing) You won't belong to me, I let you down. I walk around and see your night skyline. I feel the light but you don't want to stay. So lonely now, just let me off downtown. Sad and free. Uh, huh. Sad and free. Yeah.

MARTIN: And that's our program for today. And to tell us more, please go to npr.org and find us under the Programs tab. You can also friend me on Facebook and follow us on Twitter at TELL ME MORE/NPR to give us your feedback. I'm Michel Martin and you've been listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News and the African-American Public Radio Consortium. Let's talk more tomorrow.

WASH: (Singing) Everybody, Everybody. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Every, everybody. Oh, everybody. Come on now everybody. I said now everybody. Everybody. Everybody. Hey, hey. Everybody. Everybody.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

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