This is the 20th post in a biweekly series. Read about the series — and just what we mean by “freestyle music” — here. Freestyle Fridays post on the first and third Fridays of each month. 

Most people will recognize “Two to Make It Right,” Seduction’s biggest hit song, released in late 1989. Some may know — or notice, if they look very closely at the song’s video —that RuPaul’s bestie and long-time collaborator Michelle Visage is in the group, sporting platinum blonde hair and still-dark eyebrows. And if you’re really hardcore, you might also notice that MTV VJ Idalis is also in Seduction. But let’s take a look at Seduction’s curious road through the music landscape of the late 1980s/early 1990s.

It all started around 1987, with the house music group 2 Puerto Ricans, A Black Man And A Dominican. The group had some success with remixes as well as with their own house single, “Do It Properly.

But much bigger things were in store. One of the two Puerto Ricans was David Morales – soon to become a superstar DJ and producer. Other members were Robert Clivillés (the other Puerto Rican) and David Cole (the Black Man), who went on to work together as producers Clivillés and Cole, as well as the group C+C Music Factory. (Chep Nuñez was the Dominican.)

But before finding massive success producing hits for Mariah, Whitney and Aretha – or releasing C+C’s “Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)” — Clivillés and Cole were fooling around in the studio, creating a track called “Seduction.”  The song, featuring vocals by Carol Cooper, was released to dance clubs and became a minor hit. Inspired by this success, they created a second single, “(You’re My One and Only) True Love” featuring uncredited vocals by Martha Wash. It was a surprise hit,  reaching Number 23 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, Number 56 on the R&B chart, and Number 3 on the Hot Dance Club Play chart.

With a surprise hit on their hands, Clivillés and Cole scrambled to put together a group of young women to promote the singles and, with a bit of luck, create and perform new songs. Thus, Seduction was formed, with members Michelle Visage, Idalis DeLeón and April Harris.

The new group and producers quickly recorded the album “Nothing Matters Without Love.” Their biggest hit came in early 1990 with “Two to Make It Right, which reached Number 2 on the Billboard Hot 100. Two other singles from the album also charted: “Heartbeat” (Number 13), and “Could This Be Love” (Number 11).

I love a story like this, where various creative people from different backgrounds and musical genres come together and then spin out in different directions, finding various degrees of success. I love how pop, house, freestyle, disco, and early EDM were all swirling about together, with everything from a drag scene icon to a jock jam for the ages emerging from the same fruitful mix.

But this origin story has one thread I want to tug. Let’s talk about “uncredited vocals by Martha Wash.”

black-box-martha
Martha Wash (left), Not Martha Wash (right)

Martha Wash got her start as a member of Two Tons O’ Fun, the duo that sang backup for disco icon Sylvester. Wash and her Two Tons O’ Fun colleague, Izora Rhodes, later renamed themselves the Weather Girls, and their 1982 single “It’s Raining Men” became a worldwide smash. (Watch Boston DJ Val Bernasconi talk about his reaction to hearing the song for the first time, realizing he’d be spinning it for decades.)

When the Weather Girls disbanded, Wash began to provide vocals for various dance and house music tracks, some of which became huge pop, R&B, and dance hits. Wash sang almost all the songs on Black Box’s 1990 album “Dreamland,” while French model Katrin Quinol lip-synced the lyrics in all the videos and performances.  This would have been happening at just about the same time that Wash recorded vocals for Clivillés and Cole’s “You’re My One and Only (True Love),” with Seduction’s April Harris lip-syncing the lead vocals in the video. Shortly after that, Wash was singing C+C Music Factory’s “Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now),” while Zelma Davis lip-synced in the video.

None of this was especially surprising or new. The music industry had been pulling these lip-sync shenanigans for a long time; one famous example is Darlene Love providing uncredited vocals for many of producer Phil Spector’s acts in the 1960s. But everything changed dramatically in 1989, when the very successful, Grammy-winning pop group Milli Vanilli was revealed to be lip-syncing all their songs. Suddenly, American fans were insisting on authenticity in their pop music, or at least an acknowledgement of who deserved credit for creating their favorite songs. Milli Vanilli was not just maligned and discredited, but sacrificed on the altar of authenticity; their career was ruined, their Grammy revoked, and no one involved with Milli Vanilli ever really recovered from the disgrace.

As that drama unfolded, and tired of not getting proper credit for her contributions to these massive hits, Martha Wash successfully sued both Black Box and C+C Music Factory for financial compensation, a guarantee to be properly credited for her work, and a recording contract from RCA. She moved on to a solo career, and she’s still a beloved gay icon. But, for my money, nothing she’s done since has ever come close to her collaborations with Black Box and C+C Music Factory.

Just for fun, here’s a quick look at Michelle Visage’s various looks in various bands – including self-proclaimed freestyle gods TKA. The clip is from RuPaul’s  1990s talk show on VH1.

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