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She’s known as the Queen of Clubland. But when she’s not on the road or on stage before her loyal subjects, Martha Wash lives less like royalty and more like regular people. Wash says she spends her time “trying to run my little company and things like that, dealing with my church. That keeps me busy enough.”
The “little company” Wash is referring to is her production company, Do-Kwa Productions, and her new record label, Purple Rose Records.
“The sterling rose, which is a lavender colored rose, is my favorite flower,” she said, explaining the name of the label.
Wash has recently released her first single on her own label, “You Lift Me Up,” which went to number five on Billboard’s hot dance music/club play chart. Chart topping dance hits are what Wash’s career has been built on. In the 70s, as one half of Two Tons of Fun, she backed the legendary gender-bending superstar Sylvester on a string of hit records. Sylvester’s life and career has recently been revisited by Joshua Gamson in his book “The Fabulous Sylvester: The Legend, the Music, the 70s in San Francisco,” for which Wash was interviewed.
“I was skimming through it and reading some parts and I called him and I had him laughing,” Wash said of Gamson. “I said, ‘Where was I when all this stuff was going on? Some of this stuff I don’t even remember. Where was I?'”
Some of the stuff she does remember, though, and it simultaneously feels like it was a lifetime ago and yet just yesterday.
“It does seem like it’s been a lifetime ago, but I do remember quite a few things and just reading some of that stuff brought back memories of that time when he was so popular and just out there and us doing a lot of shows around San Francisco.”
After leaving Sylvester, the Two Tons transformed themselves into The Weather Girls. Their number one dance hit “It’s Raining Men” rivals Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” as the biggest gay anthem of all time.
By the time the 90s rolled around, Wash was on her own, doing session work for a series of groups. Not always credited at the time – and frequently left out of the music videos that accompanied the songs, Wash was the unforgettable voice behind the number one dance hits “Everybody, Everybody” and “Strike It Up” by Black Box and “Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)” and “Do You Wanna Get Funky” by C&C Music Factory.
Despite all the hits that Wash had under her sizable belt, it wasn’t until 1993 that she started recording in her own name. Her self-titled debut album contained the number one hits “Carry On” – an absolute anthem later covered by Diana Ross – and “Give It To You.”
“It was a milestone,” Wash said of the album. “I was happy about it, that finally I could do something and people would know my name. As it turned out, people still don’t necessarily know my name, which is a funny thing and I’m used to it. People don’t know my name but they know the songs. So if you mention the song and they’ll say, ‘Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. OK, I know who she is.’ But it’s not necessarily a household name.”
In gay circles, though, Wash is more popular than circuit parties and Wetª Lube. And the Queen of the Clubland could just as easily be known as the Queen of Gay Prides. The summer months are definitely Wash’s busiest touring season, and life on the road can be a challenge.
“The traveling part, that’s the hardest,” she said. “The traveling can make you very tired. But other than that, it’s what I’m used to doing.”
And performing at a gay pride festival, with all its frenetic energy, is like a Red Bull for the soul.
Said Wash, “Everybody always wants to have a lot of fun.”