Photo: Project Publicity

Hallelujah! It's Martha Wash

Disco Star Talks First Album In 20 years, Fighting For Gay Rights and How She Wants It To Rain Matthew McConaughey

By Chris Azzopardi

If you've been feeling cloudy with a chance of man-rain, have we got news for you. Martha Wash, the former lead singer of The Weather Girls, releases her first full album in 20 years this December - and she's bringing out the sun.

Known for leaving a mark on the disco era, the early '80s girl group's biggest hit, "It's Raining Men," is still as much a part of gay culture now as it was then. The theme of empowerment - one that the 58-year-old can relate to, especially after witnessing the toll Hurricane Sandy took on her New York neighborhood - endures on Wash's latest solo album, "Something Good," an adult-contemporary showcase for her powerhouse vocals.

Just hours after her power was restored, Wash called us to talk about what the new songs mean to her, how she fought for gay rights when few people in the '80s did and being surrounded by hot hunks for the 30th anniversary shoot of "It's Raining Men."

Twenty years: Do you know how grueling this wait has been for your gay fans?

(Laughs) Well, I've tried to give them a little bit off and on, but I'm glad this is finally coming out.

Why the 20-year wait?

Well, what can I tell you? Life. No one particular thing, but I thought it was time to put out a whole new CD and hope that the fans would accept it.

Was it easy getting back in the studio?

Yes and no. Some of the songs are a bit harder for me to do, but it was something I needed to do - to stretch out on things I had not done in a long time. I'm just really hoping that the fans will appreciate the work and love the music.

The album takes a very inspiring and faith-focused approach. How does "Something Good" represent you at this point in your life?

I think it's more so for the masses. There are so many people that are going through something, and sometimes they feel like they're the only ones going through it. I think that everybody needs a bit of uplifting, and the songs kind of sound like anthems. For some people, those are the things they'll take away from the songs - songs of empowerment, just being uplifted. I think that's what people need right along through here.

Obviously you're known for anthems; "It's Raining Men" is still a staple in the gay community 30 years later. Which songs on the album could be remixed for the gay clubs?

Everybody wants a remix! Can't you accept it just the way it is? (Laughs)

You know how the gays are: They want something to shake their butt to. Have you considered remixes?

Nope, no. We have not. I don't think it'll happen. That's not to say never, because somebody is always going to find a way.

This album can stand on its own.

That's what we want it to do.

How can you relate to these songs?

(Laughs) Oh, I can relate to just about every song, to something in there.

Anything in particular?

Good grief. Put me on the spot here. I think as far as "Destiny" is concerned, having gone through love and loss and thinking, "If it's supposed to be, then it will be; that would be the destiny for us. But if it's not, then I gotta let it go."

How much of a hand did you have in writing these songs?

Just the one song, "Destiny." I'm slowly getting into songwriting; that was a song Zach Adam already had the music and lyrics for, and we decided to just scrap the lyrics, keep the music and start all over again. So we wrote that one again.

For the 30th anniversary shoot of "It's Raining Men" with celebrity photographer Mike Ruiz, how difficult was it being surrounded by all those hot men?

(Laughs) Oh, that was fun! And the shoot went great.

The song is played everywhere: at weddings, gay clubs, even at my Zumba class.

Look, it's played everywhere, OK! The gay community snatched it up and made it their anthem, but like you just said, you hear it at wedding receptions, you hear it at bar mitzvahs, you hear it at parties, you hear it at clubs, at your Zumba class - you hear it everywhere. Even though it's a campy song, everybody likes it. I think that's why it's lasted so long, because for 30 years you've got the kids and then you've got the grandkids who like the song. It's one of those pop songs that's a classic now.

Are you glad "It's Raining Men" is the song you became known for, or is there another that you wished became your staple?

I think for that particular time, when it came out in 1982, that was the song that was supposed to be for us, because other people had turned the song down. We were the ones that recorded the song and (co-writer) Paul Jabara was the one who really took the song around to clubs and asked the DJs to play the song in the clubs way before mainstream music picked up on it.

You know, 1982 was also the year I was born. Should I blame it for turning me gay?

(Laughs) Uh huh! There are a lot of people who say, "I came out when that song came out." And I say, "Well, cool!"

When did you know you had a big gay following?

It was actually before "It's Raining Men," when I was singing background for Sylvester. I started singing with Sylvester in the mid-'70s, and so he had a large gay following and it followed us when we started recording under the name Two Tons o' Fun and then into The Weather Girls, and so forth and so on.

And how about all the Weather Girls drag queens?

There have been over the years, because they've come up to me and told me, "We sing your songs in our show!"

Do you get a kick out of seeing them?

At times, yes. (Laughs)

Which men would you want it to rain? For me, I'd put George Clooney in the sky.

Mmm, sure. Let's see: George is a nice-looking guy, but I'm leaning more toward Matthew McConaughey or Idris Elba. And Terrence Howard is cute. Russell Crowe's not bad. So yeah, there are a few out there.

You'll be given the Lifetime Achievement Award by the AIDS Emergency Fund on World AIDS Day at the 30th anniversary dinner gala - in the heart of the National AIDS Memorial Grove in Golden Gate Park - to honor your friend Sylvester, who passed away from AIDS back in 1988, and for years of raising money and awareness of HIV/AIDS. Why were you so outspoken about gay issues when so many people in the '80s were not?

Yeah, we were going around doing all these fundraisers for these grassroots organizations in different cities and we were asked to come and do shows to raise money for different organizations that were trying to set up hospices. I always say I wish I didn't have to do this, but it's been over 25 years (of AIDS/HIV) and I'm still going out, doing shows and trying to help people raise money.

How do you reflect on that time? And why was it important for you to stand up for the gay community?

Because at that time I was losing so many people in the industry: artists, DJs, agents, managers. People just leaving out of here in droves. It was a really scary time for a lot of people, and at that time nobody could really figure out what was causing this AIDS epidemic and the blame was always on the gay community - which I don't believe was true, because I was hearing of straight people who were dying of AIDS. They couldn't figure out how they contracted it. At the time, the gay community was really getting slammed for bringing this AIDS epidemic to the world, and it was wrong because at the time nobody knew how it was contracted. But you always have to put the blame on somebody, so why not the gay community? That's the easy thing to do.

So you were defending them.

Yeah, I couldn't understand why would you blame the gay community but not know how it's contracted. Again, there were straight people (getting AIDS). I remember an older woman who died, she was in her 50s or 60s, from what they said was AIDS. So now how did she contract it? Was she with somebody who was gay? Use a little bit of common sense, but people weren't. And they were scared. They were saying, "Don't be around somebody who is gay, because you don't know if they might give you the AIDS virus."

I remember this one time there was a celebrity who had this big dinner party and she had all her silverware washed in bleach. Seriously. This was kind of a gossip report. And I'm saying to myself, "You don't know how this is being contracted, so why would you bleach all your silverware?" It was just crazy.

Is that celebrity still a celebrity?

Yeah.

Can we talk about who it is?

I'm not gonna talk about who it is. She is famous and she was married to a very famous man. But it was just the mentality at that time.

What do you miss most about Sylvester?

I guess his craziness. (Laughs) Yeah, he was crazy at times, but you had to love him. He was way before his time and really just kind of on the cusp of going mainstream when he passed. I think if he had come out now, it would be no problem - him being a gay singer. There are more people who are coming out every day, period. But I think he was way before his time. Great singer, great entertainer. I think if he had lived longer, if he had come along in this generation, it wouldn't have been a problem.

Where do you stand on gay issues like marriage?

I'm for it. 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?

Chris Azzopardi is the editor of Q Syndicate, the international LGBT wire service. Reach him via his website at http://www.chris-azzopardi.com.
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