Say the name Jody Watley and you think musical icon. You think style diva. But do you think entrepreneur? Well, not only is Watley a Grammy Award-winning singer, songwriter and producer but she is also a music entrepreneur. And now she’s back with an innovative new single–“Nightlife.” MadameNoire Business spoke with Watley via phone about her music and the business of music.
Since 1995, she has been in control of her music career through her own label, Avitone Recordings. “Since going solo I have always been very hands-on in my career from the music collaborations to the artwork to the wardrobe,” says one of Pop /R&B and Dance music’s most enduring pioneers.
Watley has had a history-making career. Her music crosses genres from Pop, R&B, Jazz, Dance and Electronic Soul. Her style and music videos raised the bar for women in music. She was the first artist to blend Pop/R&B and have a Hot 100 Top Five single with a customized 16-bar verse and guest rapper with Eric B. and Rakim (“Friends”)–a hit-making formula continues today. And Watley was the first to inject fashion into her image—mixing high-end designers like Gaultier (pre-Madonna), and Issey Miyake along with vintage.
Chicago-born Watley, who in 1987 took home the Grammy Award for “Best New Artist” when she launched her solo career, is — along with Janet Jackson and Madonna — one of MTV Video Music Awards most nominated female artists ever. Her “Real Love” video alone got six nods. In 2008, she received a Lifetime Achievement Award from Billboard magazine.
Even as a child Watley had a thing for music. She made her first stage appearance at eight years old with family friend and godfather, the legendary Jackie Wilson. By age 14 she was dancing on the popular TV music program Soul Train, where she was one of the most popular on the show. Soul Train actually led to her singing career.
Watley and fellow Soul Train dancer Jeffrey Daniel were picked by show creator Don Cornelius to join Gary Mumford and become the original members of the R&B group Shalamar. (Mumford was soon after replaced by Gerald Brown, and Brown was replaced by Howard Hewett as lead vocalist).
Watley stayed with the hit-making Shalamar from 1977 to 1983. And the trio released several albums and produced a number of hits including: “Dead Giveaway,” “The Second Time Around,” “For The Lover In You,” and “A Night To Remember.”