Today we honor and celebrate an amazing singer whose perseverance has made the music industry a more just place while entertaining millions and advocating for social justice. Martha Wash was born in 1953 in San Francisco. By her early 20s she was already known as a powerhouse vocalist. She teamed with Izora Rhodes Armstead as regular vocalists with gay disco icon Sylvester. Celebrating their big voices and ample frames, the duo billed themselves as Two Tons O’ Fun.
Two Tons pursued their own career starting in 1980, recording two albums that were very successful on the dance charts. Their first brush with pop stardom came when songwriters Paul Jabara and Paul Shaffer offered them a song that had been rejected by Donna Summer, Barbra Streisand, and many others. They renamed themselves the Weather Girls and had a huge international smash with It’s Raining Men. The track also solidified Wash’s credentials as a diva of the gay scene, an honor she has embraced throughout her career. Izora moved to Europe in the late 90s and Wash began planning a solo career.
In the meantime, Wash did session work with a number of producers. In 1989 and 1990, her voice was everywhere as she sang on hits credited to Seduction and Black Box. She had been led to believe that she was creating guide vocals or demos, but the producers were so impressed with her voice that she ended up on the final products. Sadly, she was not given vocal credit, however, and Black Box used French model Katrin Quinol as the face of the songs. Infuriated with the lack of credit, low scale compensation, and clear discrimination against her size in the video realm, Wash sued Sony music. She received an undisclosed settlement that included credit and royalties. Occurring in the wake of the Milli Vanilli scandal, her actions also changed music industry law, requiring proper credit and royalties for anyone used as a lead vocalist.
Besides her amazing talent and business determination, Martha Wash has used her fame and fortune for social justice. She is active in charitable work for autism and is the official spokesperson for Quality Services for the Autism Community. She is also a staunch supporter of gay rights and an outspoken advocate for marriage equality.
Look, from my perspective, there have been more gay couples who’ve stayed together longer than straight couples. My feeling is, if you are a citizen of the United States, you should have all rights and liberties of everybody else. If you’re paying taxes like everybody else, why can’t you have the full commitment from the United States government, from marriage on down?
Recognizing her debt to her early gay fans, she is flattered by the many drag performers that cover her songs. She also enjoys telling stories of the many people who have told her they came out while one of her songs was playing.Wash was part of the opening ceremonies at the first OutGames in 2006 and performs many benefits.
Having come to fame during the early days of the AIDS epidemic, she is also a strong advocate for the HIV+ community. She has no patience for those who stigmatize the LGBT community for the disease or for those who marginalize those impacted by HIV. On World AIDS Day in 2012 she was awarded a lifetime achievement award from the AIDS Emergency Fund for her ceaseless advocacy and fundraising.
Martha Wash isn’t resting on her laurels, however. She started her own label, Purple Rose, and released her first full album in 20 years on January 10, 2013. Something Good proves she’s lost none of her vocal fire and is aptly named for her presence in the world.