born on january 30, 1960, jody watley made regular visits to saturday afternoon living rooms across america when, as a teenager, she was a featured dancer on the country's premiere dance program, soul train. her big break, however, came when she was invited to be a part of r&b supergroup shalamar, in 1977. for the next seven years shalamar would enjoy great success with songs like "a night to remember", "for the lover in you" and "second time around". having gained recognition as both a singer and dancer, watley began to envision a solo career and worked as a london model while searching for her big break. combining her dancing, singing and modeling talents, she produced her 1987 debut, jody watley. released on mca records, jody watley went multi-platinum and earned her a best new artist grammy in 1988. with her first single storming the r&b, pop and dance charts, watley was well on her way to solo success. more hits followed with "still a thrill", "don't you want me", most of all" and "some kind of lover" all meeting a warm reception from the public and making her billboard magazine's number one dance artist. though less publicized, "learn to say no", a duet with george michael, further helped to establish watley as a pop star on the rise.
although smooth grooves and sultry vocals served as the foundation for watley's success, it is impossible to discount the relatively new medium of the music video as a key element of watley's career. an experienced dancer with looks that would be welcome on any fashion runway, watley quickly became a favorite of music video networks and programs, such as mtv. jody's second album, larger than life, followed closely the recipe for success established with the release of her first album. hook-driven dance tunes were combined with flawless visuals to acheive music industry perfection an artist who women want to be and men want to be with. in fact, watley was in such demand that mca saw fit to release an album of her hits, remixed for the dancefloor, entitled do you wanna dance with me?. additionally, her voice can be heard on the cole porter tribute red, hot + blue, alongside some of the music industry's biggest starsdeborah harry, neneh cherry, lisa stansfield, and others.
jody's next album, affairs of the heart, departed greatly from the dance diva persona which had become firmly ingrained in the mind of music fans across the globe. songs such as "it all begins with you" showcased watley's talent as a balladeer while simultaneously alienating all but the most devote watley fans. while a toned-down jody may have lost some fans on the dance floor, "it all begins with you" gained her a very impressive following in george and barbara bush, who invited her to the white house to perform. previously positioned as the late 1980s answer to donna summer, music industry players from label executives to radio station programmers seemed unable or unwilling to market this new, subtler watley. jody's last album for mca, intimacy held true to its title, as well as to watley's more sophisticated, romantic image, acheiving only marginal success with the singles "your love keeps working on me" and "when a man loves a woman".
watley's next album, affection, was released on her own label, avitone records, in 1995. though affection failed to repeat the success of her first two albums, it did earn her untold respect within the music industry as she racked up credits as songwriter, producer and video director. meanwhile, watley was persuing other endeavors. the first african-american female singer to release a fitness video, watley has been named as one of people magazine's fifty most beautiful people, as well as one of harper bazaar's most beautiful women in america. in 1996, she hit broadway as the first africa-american to undertake the role of rizzo in the smash-hit revival of grease. the same year, watley returned to the world of modelingrepresented by none other than the ford modeling agencyappearing in high-profile ad campaigns for saks fifth avenue and the gap.
currently signed to a two-album deal with atlantic records, jody's latest release, flower has suffered limited distribution, turning up in london and canada. though industry insiders still approach watley's new direction with trepidation, the artist and her fans continue to support her work. of her transformation, watley explained, "i've always felt that, while people have known me for a long time, they know who i've been. they remember that and appreciate that, but they may not know who i am now." indeed, it is easy for anybody who has followed her music to recognize and undestand the gradual and natural progression from 1970s disco diva to soulful, mature chanteuse. has not vanessa williams transformed herself from media pariah and dance siryn to adult contemporary broadway sweetheart? and has not karyn white, whose "the way you love me" could be heard in dance clubs across the country in 1988, found a more mature r&b following with the release of make him do right? a artist whose lyrics have always appealed to other women, flower reflects the persona of today's womanstrong, self-assured and driven. in 1999, watley teamed up with the saturday night experience for the release of the saturday night experience volume 1, which the group describes as " superly utilizatoin of smooth vocalization over software and hardware systems. head-bobbing and viablicious improvisations over harmonic foundations". indeed, watley's smooth vocalization lends a certain credibility the remarkable cd which, otherwise, may have mistakenly been dismissed as yet another electronic offering in an already over-saturated market. more than anything, though, this largely unpublicized release proves that watley possess a voice that is as recognizeable as it is enchanting.
like artists such as tina turner and cher, jody watley has spanned decades in the music industry, making her an icon. and like those divas, time has only served to enhance watlely's talent, poise and beauty. she has acheived success in dance, music, acting and modeling, and given of her time and talent to benefit a number of charitable causes. while she serves as a reminder of how the music industry often turns a cold shoulder to established talent in favor of new, up-and-coming artists and how difficult it is for an african-american female singer to break out of the disco diva mold, she also serves as an example of determination, confidence and inner-peace.