The Weather Girls
The Weather Girls
The Weather Girls were best known for "It's Raining Men," a dance club and pop hit that became one of the most widely recognized songs of the 1980s. The song brought the outsized vocal duo a brief flash of celebrity after its release in 1982, but the two Weather Girls, both career musicians, could also claim other accomplishments. Working as backup vocalists in the 1970s, they helped shape the sound of the flamboyant Sylvester, one of the most influential performers who worked in the musical genre of disco. The Weather Girls also continued to perform and record, both individually and together, after their proverbial 15 minutes of fame had passed.
The Weather Girls consisted of two women, Izora Rhodes Armstead and Martha Wash. Armstead was born in Texas, perhaps in 1942; she always tried to keep her age a secret. She moved to San Francisco with her family when she was a child. A natural musical talent, she was playing the piano by age four and singing in church at age eight. It was through gospel singing that she met San Francisco native Wash, whose church was next door to her own. Hearing each other sing, the two became friends. Both women had classical vocal training, Armstead at the San Francisco Conservatory. "Anyone who, like me, is from the old school, will practice the basics to improve their all-around mastery," Armstead told London's Independent newspaper. "Perfection can only be reached through practicing."
Armstead heard blues concerts while she was growing up. "When I was a little girl, we used to see B.B. King, Bobby (Blue) Bland, all the great blues singers," she told the Toronto Star. "Even after we moved to California, my father would never let us forget our roots." Wash, on the other hand, was allowed to listen only to gospel music, although she sometimes sneaked recordings by Motown artists like the Temptations into the house. She idolized classic gospel singers Mahalia Jackson and Clara Ward, and it was in the gospel field that Armstead and Wash first worked together, as members of a San Francisco group called NOW (News of the World) in the early 1970s. Both women were actively religious all their lives, and even when they found themselves in the midst of the hedonistic disco scene they refused to use alcohol or other drugs.
Their entry into the secular music business came about when Wash auditioned for Sylvester, an over-the-top transvestite disco singer known for wearing sequined gowns with feather boas. Sylvester asked Wash whether she knew of another plus-sized woman. "I wanted some big bitches who could wail," he was quoted as saying by the Times of London. Wash immediately thought of Armstead, and by the following day the two were in a recording studio with Sylvester's producer Harvey Fuqua, a former Motown-label veteran who had moved to San Francisco and become involved in disco. Armstead and Wash sang backup on Sylvester's disco hits "You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)" and "Dance (Disco Heat)," helping him expand his popularity beyond San Francisco's gay-oriented nightclubs. Several Sylvester albums became top sellers, and disco fans began to notice the background vocals on his hit recordings.
As a result, Fuqua split them off from Sylvester and into a duo of their own called Two Tons o' Fun. The name referred to the pair's plus-sized appearance. "I weighed more than 500 pounds then," Armstead told the Toronto Star. "The only reason I lost weight is I got tired of sewing two sheets together to make a costume." But weight became irrelevant when audiences heard the duo's powerful yet precise vocals—they could effectively trade the lead vocal part several times within the course of the same song. Two Tons o' Fun released a pair of albums on the Fantasy label, Two Tons o' Fun (1979) and Backatcha (1980). Music industry insiders took notice of their talent and began to look for a musical vehicle that would suit them.
That vehicle came along in 1982 in the form of "It's Raining Men," a song composed by veteran disco producer Paul Jabara and future Late Night with David Letterman bandleader Paul Shaffer. Jabara had offered the song to disco diva Donna Summer and to pop chanteuse Barbra Streisand, and had been turned down by both. It was just as well, for the song's humorous quasi-gospel cadences needed the black church backgrounds of Armstead and Wash to make it work: "It's raining men, hallelujah," the pair intoned, tossing the phrase back and forth.
Signed to the Columbia label, Two Tons o' Fun changed their name to the Weather Girls, taking the name from a phrase in the song's introduction ("Hi, we're your weather girls"). "It's Raining Men" appealed both to gay audiences and to a wide cross-section of women who wanted to hear sexy lyrics from female singers who weren't matchstick thin. The song became a solid dance hit in the United States and later rose to the number two position on Britain's pop top 40.
Initially released on an album called Paul Jabara and Friends, "It's Raining Men" became the centerpiece of an all-Weather Girls album, Success (1983), which also included a cover version of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair." That extended the duo's spotlight for a time, but disco was in full decline by then. The Weather Girls turned to 1960s sounds for their 1985 album Big Girls Don't Cry, but it was less successful than their debut outing. After releasing the dance-oriented album The Weather Girls (1988), the duo split up but remained on good terms.
For the Record . . .
Members include Izora Rhodes Armstead (born c. 1942 in Texas; died on September 16, 2004, in San Leandro, CA), vocals; Martha Wash (born in San Francisco, CA), vocals.
Originated as backup vocal duo for disco singer Sylvester, mid-1970s; formed Two Tons o' Fun, 1979; released two albums as Two Tons o' Fun; changed name to Weather Girls and recorded hit "It's Raining Men," included on album Paul Jabara and Friends, 1983; released three albums as Weather Girls, 1980s; dissolved Weather Girls act, 1988, but both members continued to perform, sometimes in re-formed Weather Girls duos.
Both Weather Girls continued to make music after the act dissolved. Wash contributed vocals to several major hits as dance pop experienced a resurgence in popularity. She had to undertake legal action to obtain the royalties that were owed her for her work on the C&C Music Factory hit "Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)," and she was sometimes replaced in videos by lip-synching performers with more conventional model builds. She released a solo album, Martha Wash, on the RCA label in 1993. Armstead moved to West Germany in 1988 with her husband and manager Frank Armstead. Three years later she re-formed the Weather Girls, with her daughter Dynell Rhodes taking Wash's place. Armstead went on to raise seven children.
The new Weather Girls had some success touring European dance clubs, and they released several albums, including Double Tons of Fun (1994) for the German division of the WEA recording conglomerate. Wash also continued to mine the Weather Girls' material, performing "It's Raining Men" at the Sarasota, Florida, PrideFest in 2004, and criticizing British pop singer Geri Halliwell's hit cover of the song. Hopes of a Weather Girls reunion came to a sad end, however, when Izora Rhodes Armstead died of heart failure in San Leandro, California, on September 16, 2004.
(As Two Tons o' Fun) Two Tons o' Fun, Fantasy, 1979.
(As Two Tons o' Fun) Backatcha, Fantasy, 1980.
Success, Columbia, 1983.
Big Girls Don't Cry, Columbia, 1985.
Weather Girls, Columbia, 1988.
(Duo of Izora Rhodes Armstead and Dynell Rhodes) DoubleTons of Fun, WEA Germany, 1994.
Guardian (London, England), October 6, 2004, p. 27.
Houston Chronicle, March 25, 1986, p. 1.
Independent (London, England), September 27, 2004, p. 35.
Jet, October 11, 2004, p. 56.
New York Amsterdam News, August 6, 1994, p. 23.
New York Times, February 28, 1993, section 9, p. 4; September 28, 2004, p. A23.
People, August 12, 1985, p.23.
San Francisco Chronicle, September 24, 2004, p. B6.
Sarasota Herald Tribune, May 7, 2004, p. 25.
Sunday Mirror (London, England), April 22, 2001, p. 15.
Times (London, England), October 4, 2004, p. Features-52.
Toronto Star, March 5, 1986, p. F1.
"The Weather Girls," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (October 29, 2004).
"Two Tons o' Fun," http://www.soulwalking.co.uk/Two%20Tons%20Of%20Fun.html (October 29, 2004).
—James M. Manheim
"The Weather Girls." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (March 21, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/weather-girls
"The Weather Girls." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved March 21, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/weather-girls
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