Jody Watley: Popâs Fashionista Godmother

Jody Watley: Pop’s Fashionista Godmother

The icon muses on her past, her comeback plans and why Rihanna owes her a debt of gratitude

Miles Marshall Lewis

by Miles Marshall Lewis, April 16, 2012

Jody Watley: Popâs Fashionista Godmother

Jody Watley

first person to bring me onstage, and I’m telling you, it had such an impact. To this day I remember he was such a good-smelling man. (laughs)

We used to see him all the time when I was little. As time went on and our family moved around a lot, we didn’t see as much of him. We didn’t have a christening or anything like that where he was my godfather, but he’d say, “I’m your godfather.” I don’t have a lot of pictures from when I was little because some of our things were lost in storage, but I have a picture of Jackie Wilson and my father. It’s on my piano.

EBONY: Your father was a minister in Chicago?

JW: Church of God in Christ. Pentecostal. My father was very unique and he got a lot of flack. These are things that I learned later on. He was very flamboyant and he was a showman. I definitely got that from him and my mom. They were both fashionable and over-the-top. He tried to do things like Christmas in August, which got him in some trouble. It’s a religious holiday, but he wanted to do it in a way that the spirit of giving should be every day. Music was always in our home despite the sacreligious aspect of it. My parents were both big jazz lovers. So I grew up being surrounded by all of that. Nancy Wilson was also a friend of my parents. Aretha Franklin. I guess you could say my dad was very liberal. He definitely wasn’t a buttoned-up Pentecostal minister, by any means.

EBONY: I have a sensitive question that—

JW: Nothing about my family! (laughs)

EBONY: Are you serious?

JW: Nothing about ex-relatives, supposed relatives.

EBONY: Your sister, the adult film star Michele “Midori” Watley, has musical ambitions. She’s done tracks with Oran “Juice” Jones and Kid Rock. You won’t discuss any musical advice you’ve given her…?

JW: Mm-mm.

EBONY: How big is your family?

JW: I have an older brother who lives in Japan. And there’s probably others, maybe other siblings around, I don’t know. I don’t really talk about my family.

EBONY: In terms of tackling difficult questions, you posed for Playboy back in 1998. Do you have any thoughts to share about the experience?

JW: No. I really don’t want to discuss that. I was in the middle of a divorce [to producer André Cymone], and I was actually trying to… Let’s see, feeling really… How do I put it? That’s such a complex thing. It really was a by-product of how I was feeling about myself going through the middle of a difficult divorce. At that point I was in my 30s, so I was old enough. It wasn’t like, “oh, let me do some big marketing thing.” It was really more of what I was trying to work through with myself at that particular time, and that’s a completely different interview. So I’d rather not.

EBONY: How did you feel about TV One’s Unsung episode on Shalamar?

JW: I didn’t really care for it because they had a lot of inaccuracies. For instance, they said that I was in Shalamar for 10 years. I was in Shalamar for six years. And just the back story about what I wanted to be. I always wanted to sing and dance and everything since I was a little girl. They didn’t mention the thing about Jackie Wilson; that’s a pretty big deal. I did an Unfiltered on my YouTube channel, to fill in some of the blanks and perceptions created by Unsung.

I am very involved and present in new media and social networking. So many people had thoughts and questions, or had an impression of me somehow angry at the group. I never really understood that. “Oh, who does she think she is? She doesn’t appreciate…” I do! I totally do. At the same time, I never would have known the rest of what was meant for me if I hadn’t stepped out of that. I always say I represent being fearless and believing in yourself when no one else does. We’re all here to do our thing and you can’t be afraid to do that no matter what. As long as it’s something positive and you’re not hurting anyone, you should do that.

Most R&B groups don’t really last unless they were childhood friends or they have a different bond. On the business side, it was never going to last because the contract was bad.

EBONY: Shalamar in 2012 wouldn’t be “living in the Now,” so to speak.

JW: I’ll get the “all the groups do it.” I’ve never been one that does what everybody else does. What does that have to do with me? The last time I had a conversation with Howard Hewett or Jeffrey [Daniels] about a reunion was when we did reunite with Babyface

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