I had one of the biggest thrills of my life last week when I had the chance to speak with Martha Wash about her phenomenal life and career. It all started a few weeks ago when I introduced my little sister to the music video for “It’s Raining Men”. I realized that she was one of the first images out there of a sexy larger woman. Probably the only one I was exposed to as a child of the seventies! So needless to say I knew I just had to interview her.
I am happy to report that Ms. Wash is just how you would expect and want her to be: warm, wise, strong and gifted with a remarkable sense of humor!
She very graciously and candidly recounted both the triumphs & trials she has faced in her career including being passed over for the famous C&C Music Factory video (in which Zelma Davis lip synchs) “Gonna Make You Sweat.”
JJ: I can’t tell you how excited and thrilled we are to be interviewing you! You are a bona fide Goddess and I feel honored to be speaking with you. I know you have a lot going on right now so fill us all in.
MW: Well I am working on new music, and I am right in the middle of filming a new T V pilot; it’s a comedy. I am also working on an animation project.
JJ: How exciting I can’t wait to see you on screen! I look forward to them. When will they come out?
MW: Very soon.
JJ: Ok Martha, I am going to just dive right in. Would you like to share your experiences dealing with size discrimination in the entertainment industry? Is it true that they didn’t want you to appear in the C&C Factory video?
MW: “Gonna Make You Sweat” was the first single off of the album. They released it first before the album was finished and what happened was that it became a huge hit and the album wasn’t ready. You know you have to take advantage when the opportunity strikes, so they ended up shooting the video with Selma Davis. The funny thing was that I happened to see the video on TV.
JJ: Is that how you found out?
MW: Yes, that is how I found out. Needless to say we had to do some legal wrangling and it all worked out in the end. Because I ended up doing the second song with them, “Do You Want To Get Funky,” I appeared in that video. And I went on to record with them on their second CD, so it all worked out in the end. But you have to get the legal stuff out of the way and move on.
JJ: So do you think they wanted a different image in the video or do you think they were just trying to get out a video fast?
MW: Probably a little bit of both. But the thing was my voice was recognizable.
JJ: It sure is! Do you face a lot of discrimination because of size?
MW: I would probably go back to when I sang with Two Tons of Fun when we were back up singers for Sylvester. He put the group together with another friend of mine. He asked me if I knew of another singer who was my size and I said yes, so the record company didn’t quite know what to do with us; I believe it was because of our size. So we were just novelty artists: two large women who sing. But the bottom line was that we were two large women who could really sing! During that time if you remember, you did not see large women on TV; only opera singers and perhaps… nobody else. But in the mainstream music world you really did not see large women.
JJ: We still don’t see that many now… I think it is just beginning to change.
MW: It’s true, you don’t see as many but I do think it has gotten better. I mean there are pop stars now who may not be very large but are still not as thin as other girls you might see out there. We are slowly getting there. And you would think that after many years record companies would realize that yes, they want this total package look, which is thin (and usually blonde): what they consider “pleasing to the eye,” but that’s not necessarily the “it” factor.
Some people are tired of looking at this. They want something different. They want to see someone who can sing. I mean the look is the marketing prospective and that is fine, but at the end of the day you also want to listen to a singer who can also possibly soothe your soul.
JJ: Recently, I saw the video for “It ‘s Raining Men, and I was struck by how sexy & gorgeous you look in that video. And really it may be one of the first images of a larger woman looking like a sex Goddess that the media allowed.
(Original video no longer available and replaced on Jan 13, 2019)
MW: (laughing) It was hilarious to do that video: it was a nightmare! But we pulled it off on a shoestring budget!
JJ: What do you think of the term plus size, and what words do you use to describe yourself?
MW: Well a lot of people say plus size. I say Plus sexy!
JJ: I love that.
MW: Yeah plus sexy because there are men out there that like something to hug onto.
JJ: It’s true. And ironically I have recently found out that men seem to like the very parts of my body that society tells me are disgusting. Stomach, arms etc.
MW: There are a lot of men too who find thicker women attractive, but keep it a secret.
JJ: What would you tell a young girl struggling with body image?
MW: Oh God, I went through all of that.
JJ: I think every woman does, that is why I ask.
MW: You don’t even have to be big to go through that.
MW: Girls… when they are starting puberty and beginning to know themselves and they don’t necessarily feel like they are “cool girls,” and trust me I went through all of that stuff in school… I wasn’t fat but I developed earlier than girls my age, and I was heavier. Not necessarily fat, but bigger. I didn’t consider myself obese, but I still got picked on a lot. Part of that experience (growing up) is getting picked on but the other part is getting to know yourself. Some of it you have to go through because it is a part of growing, but don’t let other people define who you are. You have to learn who you are as you are growing up, and that process, and how you are treated, isn’t always pleasant. If you keep yourself surrounded by people who love you, people who accept you, then that helps a whole lot. Especially with a young girl who is trying to find herself.
JJ: Did you have any role models?
MW: I came from a very strict religious background and could only listen to gospel music growing up. That was the only music allowed. When I got older I would sneak records into the house!
JJ: (Laughing) Which ones did you sneak?
MW: Aretha Franklin! She is the one I have clung to the most. I have always admired her from a young age. I would sing a lot of her songs in my school’s talent shows.
JJ: She is amazing and you share a lot of the same qualities. That’s for sure!
MW: Thank you, that is very nice to know.
JJ: It’s true and you are very welcome. I hear you are designing a shoe line.
MW: First of all, I love shoes, but I cannot wear stilettos. I love them, they are beautiful, but I can’t wear a narrow heel. So I am working on designing a shoe that is really, really stylish and also comfortable.
JJ: OK, segue… any favorite memories of performing?
MW: One of my favorite memories performing was for President Clinton at the White House. It was actually kind of eerie how it happened. I was watching a Christmas special on TV about the White House during the holiday season, which was hosted by Hilary Clinton. Maybe two days later out of the blue I got a phone call. This person said, “Would you like to perform at the White House?” And I said, “Uh-yeah!” It was for their annual Christmas dinner. And two days after that I was at the White House looking at all of the things she had shown us on TV! I had a thoroughly great time!
JJ: What a great story! I bet it was an incredible performance. Did you get to sing, “It’s Raining Men”? And do you ever get tired this song?
MW: No, not really because everybody loves this song. It is now an official classic. Between young kids, their parents and now their grandparents, people love the song. It’s so funny because I have sung that song at so many different kinds of events: concerts, weddings, bar mitzvahs, receptions… people love that song. I think it’s because it’s so upbeat and campy.
JJ: I personally never get tired of hearing it. I think everybody loves it because they wish it were true!
MW: (laughing) I know, I sometimes feel like if I just sing it hard enough maybe it will come true!