In the '70s and '80s, Martha Wash was known for singing club hits alongside the legendary Sylvester. With Izora Rhodes, she formed the duo Two Tons o' Fun, which was renamed the Weather Girls when their indelible 1982 hit "It's Raining Men" took off. Her titanic soprano voice is unmistakable, but it didn't stop multiple producers from employing much thinner model types to lip synch Wash's vocals in videos without properly crediting Wash. And all because Wash is overweight and not your average girl in the video. These videos included Black Box's "Everybody Everybody" and "Strike It Up," as well as C+C Music Factory's global smash that helped define early '90s dance pop, "Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)."
Wash's unbelievable story was recounted in last night's episode of TV One's Unsung, the network's Behind the Music for black/R&B-oriented artists who don't otherwise generally get to tell their stories on TV. Even more unbelievable was that Robert Clivillés, the surviving member of the core production duo of C+C Music Factory (David Cole died in 1995), to this day defends employing Zelma Davis (a singer herself) to lip synch Wash's lines.
Referring to Wash's lawsuit against him, which claimed that she was not just under-credited, but that she also took a lower rate because she believed she was recording demos, Clivillés said on Unsung:
For Martha Wash to continue to live with saying that she was working on a demo would be false. I always asked her, every time we finished a song, if she wanted to be part of the group, but she always gave me the same reason: "I want to be taken seriously as an R&B artist." Being that Zelma Davis sang eight out of the ten records on the album, we thought, "Hey, since she's singing the majority of the songs, it would make sense to have her come sing the part"...If we knew that Martha Wash not being in the video would have caused a problem, we would have absolutely made sure that she was on it. But I don't think that would have ever changed anything. I think what changed it was that record went on to be an anthem of anthems, and the album went on to be a multi-million seller.
Wash won her lawsuit against both acts, and scored a solo contract with RCA in the process. Black Box refused to allow their music to be licensed to Unsung, explaining to producers that it "wasn't personal."
Incidentally, I remain obsessed with lip-synching scandals of the early '90s like the one(s) Wash found herself part of. If I worked at Jeopardy!, I would lobby for a category called "Early '90s Lip-Synching Scandals" and here is what it would be: