Whitewashed No More: Martha Wash’s Music Revolution

“Its pretty weird to have somebody else playing you,” says Martha Wash, talking about the strange experience of being portrayed on stage in Mighty Real a jukebox bio-musical about disco star Sylvester that toured several cities a few years back.

Before striking out on their own and becoming The Weather Girls, Wash and Izora Rhodes, were Two Tons of Fun: Sylvester’s back-up vocalists and one of the most notable elements of his records’ sound.

However weird it is to see yourself played by someone else, its unfortunately not an unfamiliar experience for Wash. Over the past two decades, the  now 64-year-old dynamo has become an outspoken pioneer—and a hero to studio singers—in her fight to receive compensation and credit for the indelible but largely unacknowledged presence of uncredited vocalists.

Wash sung lead—but received minor compensation and zero credit—on massive late 80s and early 90s dance hits including C + C Music Factory’s “Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)” and a string of smashes for Black Box, including “Everybody, Everybody,” “Ride on Time,” “I Don’t Know Anybody Else,” and “Strike It Up.” In video and concert presentations of these songs in their heyday, skinny models—sometimes white—stood in as front-people, lip-synching along to Wash’s vocal tracks.

With significant financial settlements from bringing suit against her whitewashers, Wash founded her own record label, Purple Rose and in 2013 released her first album in twenty years, Something Good,  which shows her spreading her vocal wings to take on melodic pop as well as beat-driven dance music.  The album’s first single, “I’m Not Coming Down,” hit Number 2 on the Billboard Dance Charts.

“I don’t think of it as vindication,” says Wash. “But it is nice to have a hit under my own name. A lot of studio singers and musicians have come up to me and thanked me for speaking up, and that feels good to me. I want to be known as a good singer and a good person.”