*Jody Watley personifies the word “diva”…but not in any of the more negative ways in which we’ve come to associate the word. I spoke with her for the first time earlier this year, as she prepared for a series of concerts with her group, Shalamar Reloaded, which she founded last year with Nate Allen Smith and Rosero McCoy. I was delighted to find her open, accessible, friendly, very funny, and extremely positive about moving forward.
I had to ask Watley about some of the controversy I’d been reading about regarding the prospect of her reuniting with two of her former Shalamar bandmates, Howard Hewett and Jeffrey Daniel. Together, the three of them released some of the greatest R&B classics ever recorded, remarkably over the span of just four years. After Watley left the group in 1983, she took a brief pause before launching her solo career with her defiant, Grammy winning “Looking For A New Love.” After her smash self-titled debut solo album, Watley hasn’t looked back…
…but many of her fans have. Incessantly. They repeatedly have clamored for a reunion with Hewett and Daniel, and often fans — along with her former bandmates — blamed Watley for the reunion never taking place. Earlier this year, Watley told me that while she has remained cordial with Hewitt and Daniel, and that she occasionally looks back at her early years with Shalamar, she wasn’t interested in revisiting it.
“I’m always stepping out of my own shoes,” Watley reflected, “and I try not to get tangled up in my own history. That’s what keeps it fresh for me.”
“When people say they want a reunion, they’re really saying they want to relive a moment in their own lives,” the legend continued. They’re not really thinking about anything else. They want to go back in the Wayback Machine, and I think that’s so uninspired and boring. Shalamar Reloaded is not trying to erase or compete with the past. I wanted to create a new group, and that’s what I’ve done with Nate and Rosero.”
As we live in a world where almost everyone carries a keyboard in their pocket and thinks they have an opinion that matters, I shouldn’t have been surprised to read about the vitriol that Watley routinely faces on social media. She’s been called a little bit of everything, and until recently, Watley remained positive and took it all with class and in stride.
Late last week, however, Watley posted an “open letter” on her (Jodywatley.net) website refuting many allegations that have been made about her over the years, calling out a handful of her haters (including Hewett, Daniel, others in the music industry, and specific media outlets), and directly addressing the misconception that she’s the reason a Shalamar reunion hasn’t happened.
“It’s no secret that Black women are generally the most marginalized, disrespected, diminished, and dissected across social media and in society,” Watley wrote. “It makes no difference if you’re the First Lady of the United States, an Olympic gymnast, the greatest women in tennis, pop stars, actresses like Leslie Jones attacked for taking a role some thought she shouldn’t be in…or you could be working mothers or students who take heat for wearing cornrows or natural styles, welfare recipients, “baby mamas”, too loud, too spirited, too quiet, too reserved – and so on when so many of us are working our asses off to make things happen and hold things together.”
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“We get demeaned constantly – it’s our hair, our weight, our looks, never good enough for some – doesn’t matter the socioeconomic background or level of intelligence either,” Watley continued. “Often some of the negativity and hate sadly comes directly from other black women and men.”
Having read the whole post on Watley’s page, I think that she’s been maligned and very unfairly attacked, primarily by people — “fans” — who have no direct knowledge of who she is as a person or the events they’re tweeting about. Pour yourself a cup of your favorite beverage, pull up a chair, and read the post for yourself — and draw your own conclusions. You may be as shocked as I was to read the actual emails that went back and forth between Watley, Hewett, and Daniel, and the ones regarding who actually controls the use of the name “Shalamar.”
After reading Watley’s open letter, I was left wondering what, after decades of dealing with the negativity regarding her exit from Shalamar, prompted Watley to finally address her haters. When Watley called me last weekend, I had to get into THAT.
“It was the Unsung on Howard Hewett,” Watley shared, “and the whole notion that Jody Watley is the problem, she’s the holdout, she’s angry. I generally ignore it, because people are going to think what they want. But I’ve learned that if someone who’s been lied on never addresses the lies, those lies will become the truth to some people. Looking at the emails between Howard, Jeffrey and I, I don’t understand why they’d continue to spread these lies. So, I just thought I needed to address it.”
“The Unsung was the last straw,” the legend continued. “TVOne doesn’t fact check — and most media outlets these days don’t. They just run things, and sometimes they wind up ruining lives because they’ve told lies.”
In addition to the sting of the Unsung episode, Watley confided that the social media vitriol from “fans” had been painful to read. One reader, according to Watley’s open letter, called her a “gold-digging bitch” on Twitter.
“That one in particular stood out for me,” Watley confided. “I have men on my payroll. I’ve been a renaissance woman who’s doing it all! I even wrote a song called “I’m The One You Need” and the lyrics are ‘I buy my own clothes and I pay my own rent / All I want from you is love and affection.’ People take one thing that one person says and believe it, even if it’s totally untrue.”
One of the points Watley made really struck home with me. When I asked her about the prospect of a reunion with Hewett and Daniel, she asked me a poignant question that I’ll never forget: “How many people that you worked with 30 years ago are you still in touch with?” I honestly can barely remember the names of former colleagues of mine. That said, Watley’s open letter asserts — and it includes copies of emails to back it up — that she pitched a reunion to Hewett and Daniel as recently as 2011 and years before she formed Shalamar Reloaded. Both artists, she says, declined her offer.
“I’m probably the least nostalgic of the three of us,” Watley told me, “but I told them that our fans in America would love it and I pitched the idea to them. Every time it was discussed, over the years, it hasn’t happened. And if the universe or God is trying to keep you from doing something, you shouldn’t do it. When we recorded together in 1996, it didn’t sound good. You can’t go back in time. Sometimes, the magic can’t be recreated.”
One would think that type of definitive statement would be the end of the discussion for Watley’s fans. It was for me, and I was one of the privileged to see Shalamar Reloaded live earlier this year. I was never lucky enough to see Watley, Hewett, and Daniel perform live, and I’m a huge fan of the group’s classic lineup, but I will say they would have had a hard time rocking crowds like Shalamar Reloaded did earlier this summer. Any fan who questions whether Watley has chemistry with Rosero and McCoy should get a ticket to see Shalamar Reloaded.
Watley’s clearly moving forward, finishing work on a new album with the group, Bridges, that’s due in early 2017 and preparing to release a new single and video, “In The Mood,” at the end of this month. And just in case fans need a final word about the prospect of Watley reuniting with Hewett and Daniel:
“It’s been over 30 years,” Watley declared. “Move on!”