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The Okayplayer Interview: Jody Watley Speaks On Rakim, Soul Train + Reclaiming The Name ‘Shalamar’

The Okayplayer Interview: Jody Watley Speaks On Rakim, Soul Train + Reclaiming The Name ‘Shalamar’

Jody Watley in the Soul Train tunnel

Jody Watley with Gerald Brown and Jeffrey daniel perform on Soul Train as Shalamar
Jody Watley with Gerald Brown and Jeffrey Daniel, performing as Shalamar on Soul Train

JW: Yes. Many, many moons ago! [laughs]

OKP: Well, I’m sure you’re aware the founder of Okayplayer is pretty obsessed with Soul Train. So we’re going to have to talk about Soul Train. I know this is taking you back…has he already picked your brain about all this stuff?

JW: Yes, I first got in contact with Questlove during the Myspace days, and he messaged me and he had all these questions about Soul Train. He wanted to know about [dances on] certain Soul Train lines and so we connected and bonded over Soul Train. I actually got on his case because he had some inaccuracies in his book. But I messaged him on Facebook and said “Well done! However…” and I busted his chops a little bit. But I would like to be able to get some of his archives, which I know he has!

OKP: There was a bit of a Soul Train book battle, at the time, given that Nelson George did a Soul Train book as well. Did you talk to him for that?

JW: I did, yeah. They’re also working on a Soul Train musical for Broadway and I just think it’s really cool. The Soul Train documentary was great, the one that they did on Vh-1 a few years ago, The Hippest Trip In America. And I think that the great thing—again, it’s like the people that own the brand now are finding new ways to reach new audiences and help a younger generation to discover what was and will always be such pivotal cultural phenomenon in television and music and dance and style. I think it’s really great that it continues to be rejuvenated in that way.

OKP: There has always been that thread of dance and dance culture and choreography throughout your career. Did you think of yourself as a dancer first? I know you were very young, but did you always harbor an interest in singing and just happen to get on television by dancing on Soul Train? What came first in terms of artistic love?

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JW: I always wanted to be an entertainer; a performer and a writer and a model and a business owner. My mom, she says at three I was making proclamations! I wanted to do it all and am so fortunate and blessed to get to be able to do it all. When our family moved to Los Angeles, I wanted to be on Soul Train. It was my goal. But I did hope that it would lead to other things. Even now, I have a dancer’s spirit in that freestyle dancers are hustlers. We’re always making things happen. There’s a spontaneity in that culture where nothing is given to you, you really have to work for it and bring it all the time And so that spirit is still very much a part of me but I think I’m pretty well-rounded as a singer, songwriter, producer. For myself, I usually put dancer last at this point.

It’s interesting, because for a while that seemed to be a negative connotation. Like, “Oh, she’s just a dancer” as if that’s less credible. But everyone starts from somewhere and that just ended up being the vehicle that got me to be in Shalamar and started my professional singing career. I was a Soul Train dancer for three years and I’ve been a recording artist for decades now. So I’m more of a singer than a dancer.

OKP: Do you still get excited about or stay current with dance and choreography? Here in Brooklyn the Flex scene has gotten a lot of people excited. Do you keep up with that kind of thing?

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