It’s that voice. The moment you hear it, you know it’s Martha Wash. Whether you’ve hit the dance floor to ‘It’s Raining Men’ or ‘Catch The Light’, been inspired by ‘I Who Have Nothing’ or ‘Carry On’ or dove into her latest album, the revelation that is Love & Conflict, the earth-shattering vocals of this legendary performer have been a part of your life. While the pandemic has put a pause on her live performances,. Wash is definitely not short on opinions (so much so that her internet/cable tv show 10 Minutes with Martha Wash returns in the Summer of 2021). I caught up with Wash recently to chat about the current climate of the world, her work with legends like Sylvester and RuPaul, & how Love & Conflict is another fantastic chapter in the book of her career.
MC: So many member of the dance music world bands together when the community needs it the most, and in times like this when dance floors are silent, that is clearly evident. Do you think being part of that “family” of dance music is a large part of your career?
MW: Yes. Having been in the business since the seventies, I think what it is is that the people that are still here; I think that is really what it is. We all lost so many people to HIV/AIDS and I think the ones that are still here and still working, that stayed in the business, I think it is kind of like a family. There are not as many of those that started in the late seventies and early eighties, but the ones that are still here, you can talk to them about things that happened during that time. They were there. It really does have to do with the ones that are still here and still working.
MC: The year has been an incredibly challenging, for so many of us. Performers like yourself especially, it has particularly been a challenge. What has the year been like?
MW: It has been difficult. I haven’t worked since March 8th of 2020. I had just put out the latest album Love & Conflict that came out in January. We were going to debut it at SXSW that usually happens in February. Well, that didn’t work out because everything shut down by March. It has been kind of hard, but you just have to roll with it. I keep saying that I don’t mind if I have to go through this because I would rather be here than be laying somewhere (laughs).
MC: A positive attitude and smart thinking seem to be two of the keys to making it through these crazy times, but it seems that many people simply are not making good choices to get us all out of this.
MW: That is my thought, and I sometimes wonder what people use for brains. You see all of this stuff with people not wanting to wear masks, they go to parties and clubs, or somewhere where there are a lot of people together without masks. Then you hear a week later, many of them testing positive for COVID. I say to myself “you really must want to die?!” My thought is, if you want to die go ahead, but don’t take anyone else with you unknowingly. it is jut totally stupid to me. Now over 315,000 people are not here that did not have to die. That is the crazy part-they did not have to die. It’s not getting any better either. The vaccine is out but everyone is not able to get it at the same time, and in the meantime, people are still going to be being stupid out there and unfortunately, dying.
MC: If there was a Mt Rushmore for the musical legends of our community, Martha Wash has definitely reserved her space. You have truly been the soundtrack for our community. Love & Conflict is another chapter of that. Tell me about this music, some of it is a departure, while other is classic Martha Wash.
MW: (Laughs) I don’t know about all that, I’ve just been around for a while! On Love & Conflict, there are a lot of different fusions of R&B, a little jazz, a little psychedelic, and a little country. I would say that a lot of the music that you hear, you can take it and sit it down into the sixties. Lyrics dealing with certain things as well as what’s going on today. It is just another part of the journey. Everyone knows me from doing the dance music, but I have never ever wanted to be categorized into one particular genre.
That is why the last album Something Good was more pop/rock; I like that kind of music as well. That is why I have my own label, Purple Rose Records, where I can put out any kind of music that I want when I feel like it. it is just another journey and avenue for me, and bringing the fans along with me as well. Some people have told me “you can sing any type of music”. That may be true, but you have never heard me sing all different t kinds of music. You are hearing me do that with the last two albums, and the next album may be totally be something different again, who knows. I want to be able to do whatever kind of music I want to when I feel like it
MC: I was reading an article in The Guardian about the legendary Sylvester and the piece spoke about where Sylvester would have been today. As someone who worked with Sylvester yourself for so long (Wash and former Two Tons O’ Fun partner Izora Armstead sang backing on Sylvester’s anthemic hit ‘You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real’ before becoming The Weather Girls) do you look at the industry and entertainment as a whole and see the influence and legacy that Sylvester left?
MW; Yes probably so. The thing is, I have told people that if Sylvester had lived and if he was the same age now, in his late thirties, there would have been no problem. He was just way ahead of his time. To be an out black man, that was a no-no then. There were a lot of gay people out there, but they weren’t out; and he was. He didn’t care if you liked him or not, he was going to be who he was. I think that at this particular point, yes I see influences of him with the people who are out now and are proud of it. I am happy for them, but he kind of did lay the groundwork for knowing who you are and accepting nothing less.
MC: Speaking of influences, RuPaul is one of the artists who’s influence of Sylvester is evident, especially in terms of as you said, knowing who you are and accepting nothing less. Has your work been RuPaul been as naturally wonderful and joyous as it has seemed? RuPaul has personally said of your own voice “everyone that knows music knows that voice”
MW: It definitely does; we are always just laughing when we see each other. Sometimes we’ve been on the same show, and it is always just very easy with him.
MC: As someone who has spent so much of her life on stage and entertaining the masses, what is it doing to be like for you when you can finally get on stage once again and sing epic anthems like ‘Carry On’ or ‘Catch The Light’?
MW: (Laughs) I think everybody is just gonna lose their mind! Everybody will be out and they can enjoy a show an see a live person on stage, I think it’s just gonna be crazy!
MC: How have you stayed musically inspired and creative during the past year when finding creativity has been a struggle for so many? How do you think we will start to come back?
MW: I think sometimes from watching YouTube videos, sometimes watching other artists on television. I have not done lots of the virtual shows, because I think the kind of music that I do is much better in person than virtual, which is why I have not done that. I would say seeing artists on television and remembering when you were doing the same thing (laughs)! It’s almost like “hey, I used to do that too”! As for coming back, it will probably start with trying to book artists for shows and Pride events, it will just be whether or not we can make it through to having it; it depends on the pandemic and that is the key.
Follow Martha Wash on her website