Jody Watley has performed for most of her life, starting on the stage at 8 years old with her godfather Jackie Wilson. She then danced on Soul Train and, later, became part of the R&B group Shalamar, who had hits like "A Night to Remember" and "Dancing in the Sheets."
As a solo singer, she released a successful self-titled album with the lead single "Looking for a New Love." More singles ( such as "Still a Thrill" ) hit the charts and she earned a Best New Artist Grammy Award in the process. Larger Than Life came next, with more chart toppers such as "Real Love."
For decades, Watley has continued to make more albums, changing themes and genres. She became the registered owner of Shalamar ( also creating SRL, or Shalamar Reloaded, to show it was not a reunion, with newcomer Nate Allen Smith and choreographer Rosero McCoy ).
Windy City Times: Hi, Jody. Since you are a Chicago native, do you visit often?
Jody Watley: No, I do not actually. I don't have any family there and I moved many moons ago. I only come when I'm working. It is always nice to come there, though, and have some pizza!
WCT: What do you do when you are not touring?
JW: I am working, always. As the multifaceted renaissance woman that I am, I have to run Avitone [Records]. I have a desk job that is administrative where I do business research, make phone contacts with talent buyers and various agents, and write songs. My jobs are never done.
WCT: It sounds exhausting.
JW: [Laughs] I occasionally have friends over. I like to cook. That is something I enjoy doing. When I am not working I am pretty much a quiet, unexciting person.
WCT: You also raised two kids…
JW: Yes; that was a full-time job, and definitely my priority. Every day I have texts or I FaceTime with both of them. They are young adults. One is on the East Coast, and one is in the Bay Area. We are still in close contact. I am very fortunate that they didn't tell me to move away, and get lost!
These last couple of years I have been working, and touring a lot more. Once my son left for the East Coast for college, it freed me up to travel without guilt.
I have a new group, as you know, called SRL. It has been really nice to bring them into the fold and develop them as a new entity. It is a wonderful collaborative effort. They won't be with me for Market Days, though. We did the full show when I was in Chicago in May, which was awesome.
This Market Days appearance will be fun, too. It will just be Miss Jody Watley!
WCT: How do you pick out a set list for a show like Market Days?
JW: I am coming to give the people what they want. It will be hit-driven and a couple of new surprises thrown in there. I try to make it fun and impactful.
I do "Sanctuary," which is my current single. It is an important song for me to remind people in this crazy world that we don't have control over a lot of things, but one thing we can control is our own home environment. It is about getting some piece of mind at the end of the day every day. People respond to it well when I sing it in concert. They get emotional about it. It still have a nice groove to it so it doesn't break up the flow of the show.
I will never give up the opportunity to share the gift of music and make people feel happy.
I will also be doing a little bit of "Affection," which is very appropriate. My song should have been an anthem, it doesn't matter if you are young or old, doesn't matter if you are straight or gay, everybody needs to feel loved. It was from 1995, but still a timeless message.
I think all my songs have timeless messages and I am fortunate to write songs that as time goes on. I'm not like, "Why do I have to sing that song? What was I thinking when I wrote that?"
WCT: Your songs definitely don't sound dated. Do you have a favorite George Michael memory? You had that song with him called "Learn to Say No."
JW: We had the same manager for a while: Rob Kahane. There was one time that Rob and his wife were having a BBQ. Everyone was just hanging around and relaxing. George was happy and had that British humor, which was dry, but I liked that. The reason I had Rob as a manager was because George suggested it. He was a really supportive person.
When I do my full show I do a tribute to him. I do a bit of "Waiting for That Day." It is one of my favorite songs. I loved the album Listen Without Prejudice.
He was a great guy, a great talent and will never be forgotten.
WCT: When did you first notice gay fans?
JW: It has just been a seamless relationship of love. It has been since the beginning of my career. I have never shied away from it. I remember doing the Gay Games in Chicago. I was at a radio station there and they didn't want me to mention that I was there for the Gay Games. I asked them, "Why not?" and they said, "We don't talk about that stuff here." When I went on the air I said, "I am so happy to be here for the Gay Games!" They were not happy with me and cut the interview short.
Throughout my career I have always unabashedly shown my love and support, even when it was not so accepted. When I released a song in 1995, I was asked to edit my song and take out the word "gay." I told them, "I cannot because that isn't the song. Humanity is love. It doesn't matter." That is how I feel in my heart.
When I was a dancer on Soul Train here in Los Angeles when I was 15 years old, I had support then. Some of my biggest haters or supporters on the show were the gay dancers. It was either "Yesss, Miss Jody" or "I can't stand Miss Jody!"
They appreciate my style and individuality. Even when I was a lot more shy and reserved there was a connection that we had as human beings that was just there.
WCT: Let's also not forget your contribution to help people with HIV/AIDS with the Red Hot + Blue project.
JW: I always will. I think it was part of the way I was raised. My father, rest his soul in heaven, was a minister in the church. He was reprimanded a lot for his beliefs. Our church had everybody in it. I remember flamboyant characters, and all sorts of wonderful people. I didn't even know what a drag queen was, as a little girl, but I saw one at church. My parents never pointed out that someone was different, and that is why I am who I am. We are all in this world together and I look at all people the same way.
WCT: Have you ever seen drag queens perform your songs?
JW: Yes, good ones and bad ones! [Both laugh.] But it is all about love…
WCT: Do you have beauty secrets to stay young?
JW: My secret is to be joyful in this often challenging world. I laugh a lot. Even when I have my blue periods when I am sad and depressed, I will snap out of it. Today is a new day. I try really to be in gratitude.
I take care of myself in terms of what I eat. Coconut oil is a wonderful thing. I slather it on myself at night.
Genetically, I have great skin. My mom is still alive and in her 80s. She has beautiful skin.
I'm not a gym rat, but I go to the gym. I love to power walk, and jog a bit.
I surround myself with people who aren't stressing me out and getting on my nerves. [Laughs] I highly recommend it. People will wear you out and wear you down, so get rid of them!
Look for a new love with Watley on Saturday, Aug. 12, at 8:45 p.m. at the North Stage on Halsted Street during Northalsted Market Days.