Grammy winner, master of nearly all genres from pop to hip hop, R&B, soul and even house, Jody Watley is considered to be one of music’s defining artists and musical mavericks. Beginning her career as a dancer on “Soul Train” and then group member of Shalamar, Jody is best known for her hits “Real Love” and “Looking For a New Love (Hasta La Vista Baby).” She is also amongst Janet Jackson and Madonna as one of the MTV Video Music Awards’ most nominated female A-Listers.
Beside her career as a songwriter, dancer and pop artist, Watley has been considered a fashion icon. She appeared in Harper’s Bazaar’s “Ten Most Beautiful Woman” issue as well as several other high-fashion publications. She is admired for her unique evolution of big hairstyles from the 1960s until today.
On April 11, Watley will make a special guest appearance at the 29th annual Night of a Thousand Gowns along with Deborah Harry, Dionne Warwick, Cheyenne Elliott and several other artists, all hosted and produced by the prestigious and royal Imperial Court of New York. This year the huge charity event will be held at the Marriott Marquis in the heart of Times Square. Gala proceeds will be donated to The Center and The National LGBTQ Task Force. Tickets for this extravaganza can be purchased at
I had the extreme pleasure of a conversation with Watley, who I found to be warm, humorous and brilliant, as well as extremely excited to perform at The Night of a Thousand Gowns.
I know you must be excited being chosen to perform at one of the most prestigious gay events in the world, Night of a Thousand Gowns. How does it feel being a gay icon?
I love it, I appreciate it. I love it. What’s not to love?
Can I ask what you’re going to perform that night, or would you prefer to keep it a surprise?
It’s a surprise. I don’t want to give it away, but it will be fun and fabulous. I’ve come to spread the joy, and that’s what I’m going to do, and be fabulous. Being a part of this event is, you know—I’ve always heard about it, and I’m excited to be there, and it’s for a great cause. So yeah, I’m not giving away what the set is.
That’s even more fun. You will love the event; you’ll have a blast. Right now you’re also touring?
I understand you’re going to appear in D.C.
Yes, I will be in Washington, D.C., June 24 at the Howard Theatre, and also I’m coming back to New York in June. I can’t say what it is yet, because the event has to be announced. It’s with my full band, and it’s a proper concert at a very prestigious venue. I can’t wait until they announce it. So yeah, it’s Jody Watley featuring Shalamar reloaded. I recently acquired the rights to Shalamar, so I’ve reloaded it with new fabulous guys who sing and dance. It’s like two shows in one. You get Shalamar hits and Jody Watley, so it’s like a complete musical journey. So we have a lot of fun. The new guys are Nate Allen Smith and Rosero McCoy, who is a renowned choreographer. He’s worked on “America’s Best Dance Crew,” “Shake It Up,” he’s worked with Usher, Justin Timberlake. They’re younger than me, but they have to work hard to keep up with me.
I bet they do, and they’re hot! I saw pictures of them.
Thank you. They’ll like that, and they are nice guys. Most of all they’re hot, but they’re a pleasure and a joy to be around, and that’s always good in any work situation.
So have you gotten your gown yet for Night of a Thousand Gowns?
You know what, from the moment I was asked to do it—actually, I got the gown before deciding what songs I’m going to do, so it’s being made for me. I’m looking forward to walking the red carpet with this creation.
And I’m sure it will pale in comparison to some of the other spectacular gowns that will be featured that night, but I will do my best.
I know that you are big into fashion.
Yes, but because this is such an epic, opulent extravaganza, I’m really having to be a bit more flamboyant than I probably would be, and I’m looking forward to that.
Who inspires you musically?
Over the years I really have a lot. It runs the gamut from Diana Ross, Grace Jones, to Tina Turner to Karen Carpenter. It’s just kind of all over the place. Nancy Wilson, Aretha Franklin – all of them. In fact, I couldn’t believe it, though I’ve worked with her in the past as a teenager, my publicist told me that Aretha Franklin, “The Queen of Soul,” wanted to speak with me. So I had the most wonderful conversation with Aretha Franklin, and I couldn’t believe it—she ended the conversation with that she was so proud of me, that she’s been following me. She said that ponytail in the “Real Love” video that went to the ground—she said, “Girl, you did it.” She’s also one of my music heroes, and for her to compliment me… Also, many artists like Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, James Brown and Michael Jackson and the Jackson Five, just all over the place musically.
I heard you’re doing house music.
Dance music has been a part of what I’ve done, even starting in the mid ‘90s when I did collaborations with David Morales [and] Louie Vega, so over the years I’ve always done a bit of house music. From 2010 I started really going in more of that direction, and I’ve worked with some really great people. On the current release “Paradise” I have Mark de Clive-Lowe, who is very renowned not just in dance music but as a jazz musician and remixer. I think there is a certain freedom in a soul that exists within house music, and I really enjoy the collaborations that I continue to do with some of the DJs and some of the new up-and-coming talents as well.
Are you writing anything new?
Oh, yeah. The current EP release is “Paradise,” and there are seven new songs on that. One of my favorites is “Sanctuary.” It’s beautiful. It has a groove to it, and it’s inspired to creating an environment of love. Actually, I want to do that one at Night of a Thousand Gowns, but I don’t know if it will fit in the set. But just the message of it, it’s a sexy song about the appreciation of your home—when you come home from whatever you’re doing. It’s just a really cool song. Like I said, the past 10 years of this part of my career has been a combination of an underground mix I did, a project called “Midnight Lounge,” which came out in 2006. That was very well received critically, and after that I did a project called “The Makeover,” which were reimagined songs like “Borderline,” which was recorded by Madonna but written by Reggie Lucas, and I just totally made them over in an entirely new way. Even on that project I wrote some new songs as well. So writing is in my blood, and it keeps my creativity going. I’ve been working on a memoir that is a work in progress, because I really want it to be in my voice. So that is something that I’d really like to see come true. I’ve been writing since I was in junior high: poetry, songs, short stories, novels. I just love writing.
You’ve done so many things—I mean, you’ve won Grammys, you write, you love fashion. Is there anything you still wish to accomplish?
Well, I would like for the memoir to be a best seller, and from that I would love for it to either be a film or a Broadway musical. I think it could work well in both. Those are still creative, but also very entrepreneurial. I think we should always create and do new goals and new dreams, keeping things moving forward.
What’s the one thing that you’d want me to know about you?
I think it comes across in my music that I’m a very positive person, a very strong woman. I have a wicked sense of humor. I laugh a lot. My friends say, “You laugh all the time.” People are generally surprised about that, because with my visuals they come off so fashionable and powerful and so strong, like I’m giving you attitude. Most folks, if they haven’t met me, they think I’m very cold, the ice queen, but I’m a very warm person…unless you cross me!
Photography: Albert Sanchez
Makeup: Billy B