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And in that Spirit, we’re taking a break this week, to bring you a story from a different podcast, a fellow Spotify original called crime show.
They cover all sorts of crime stories from the tragic to the infuriating.
But told from the perspective of the people who really lived them.
And today, we’re going to play An episode that I love because it’s about crime and music.
This is a story about what happened to singer Martha Wash.
You may not know her name, but you definitely know her voice.
A voice that was stolen from her literally.
Stay tuned to hear the rest of that story, not passed.
It will be back with a brand new episode next week.
But until then, here’s crime show.
I can’t even remember where we were but I was channel surfing in my hotel room.
This is Martha Wash.
She’s a singer.
It’s 1990 and she’s on the road, getting ready for a gig, but she’s got some time so channel surfing.
And I came across a video channel.
I music video channel.
They’re doing one of those countdowns.
It’s the day type thing.
This was 1990.
So they’ve got Madonna, Janet Jackson in Vogue for Martha. is all background noise until she hears this voice.
It’s rich and vibrant.
The sound is so familiar to Martha.
What she’s doing and walks over to the TV.
There is This Woman, This Very leggy, very skinny woman, all alone on the TV.
She’s dancing and singing to the song and then the verse Hits and The Voice that comes out of her, got the gravitas of a disco house Diva, but mixed with these deep gospel roots.
It’s just incredible.
I stood there and I watched the whole video.
The video is everybody everybody by Black Box in case you didn’t recognize it.
The videos a little silly.
Honestly, the skinny leggy woman is just sort of bouncing around and serving looks, but it’s like, it doesn’t even matter because the gravitas of that voice just eclipses, all of that silliness.
And I said, I can’t believe this blank Martha was pissed because the skinny leggy woman on TV was a model named Katrina canal and the voice the PowerHouse vocals coming through.
Tube fat was Martha.
I think, what it was, it was just the stupidity of it.
How did you think you would be able to get away with it?
Do you remember what you did afterward?
I called my manager and told him who I said, you won’t believe this.
I said black box has got this video of this girl.
My vocals are being heard and she’s lip-synching to it.
At the time for Martha.
What happened to her felt like a crime, but it wasn’t, there would be no trial, no arrests, but it still felt like something had been stolen from her and the craziest thing is it wasn’t the first time this happened.
And the path to address, it was somewhat Uncharted because there weren’t really any explicit rules against stealing vocals that year.
Martha Wash would find herself the involuntary poster, child for an ethical culture Clash.
A reckoning long-overdue between the people who make music and the industry that sells it over credit and money technology and the law.
And Martha’s case would be the one that put a stop to it all.
I’m a Courtland.
This is crunch.
For Martha, Wash that day in the hotel room, when she sat and watched her voice coming out of someone else’s mouth, may have been one of the worst most dehumanizing days of her life, but what she couldn’t yet see, was that that experience was part of something much bigger.
Let me back up.
The music industry’s biggest problem has always been ironically the musicians themselves.
Businesses of all kinds rely on a certain amount of consistency predictability, but people and creative.
People in particular, are neither consistent nor predictable musicians have thoughts and feelings.
They don’t always say, or do what you want them to do.
They get sick, they age they gain weight and for a business that’s trying to sell a product.
What humanity is really just less than ideal lucky for them.
Singers are a dime, a dozen, essentially fungible Goods.
So if an artist Humanity gets in the way, they could replace them like a broken piece of Machinery.
But if you had the goods that Irreplaceable, something special, they may still jerk you around.
I mean, look at what they did to Nina Simone, but you would never be entirely disposable.
This is the world Martha Wash entered as a Young singer in San Francisco in the 70s.
Like a lot of the greatest black female vocalist of the day.
She’d cut her teeth singing gospel in church, but you could sing a bit of everything Rock.
Jazz disco, even some Opera.
And by the time she hit the mainstream, she’d earned a reputation as a rare Talent.
People have started to recognize her voice and she was getting paid for her work.
Oh, it wasn’t a lot.
I mean, look for background singer.
Hey, it could have been look 75 bucks.
You know, we look we’re talking the 70s.
Yeah, it wasn’t it wasn’t a whole bunch of money to be made, but I was gaining experience and sure enough that experience paid off.
Let me set the scene for you.
The year was 1982 and Martha had just left singing backup for one of the biggest disco singers of the time Sylvester, her plan was to make music with another background.
Singer from the band named eyes or Armstead as a Duo act, and seemingly out of the blue.
They got a call from a songwriter who loved their voices and had a proposal for them.
Paul jabarut asked us to come to his home in La for lunch.
Jabara was a superstar songwriter of the 70s.
His Include Donna, Summers last dance.
And to do what she did with Barbra Streisand.
No More Tears.
So, then when we got to his home, we found out why he really invited us to lunch.
He said, I need you to record this song.
Now, the song, Paul was asking Martha and I started to sing had already been turned down by both Barbara and Donna, which didn’t seem like a good omen.
But the song basically was already finished.
All it needed was the lead vocalist.
So we went in and recorded the vocals in about 90 minutes and walked out.
See you later.
What Martha didn’t know was that those 90 minutes would soon make her famous for the first time in her own right?
Because that song.
Well, everyone knows that song and everyone knows her voice.
As I have said, many times, I want people to stop and kind of close their eyes and think about Barbra Streisand’s singing, It’s Raining Men and tell me what you tell me what you visualize, you know, that kind of thing.
So I said I couldn’t see her doing it either.
The success of the song earned Martha and I Zora a record contract with Columbia.
They started calling themselves, The Weather Girls and the duo went on to earn a Grammy.
Nation in 1983 for best R&B performance by a group.
And this all came from a song that had been turned down by Cher and Donna Summer.
And Barbra Streisand a song that the biggest female vocalist of the time treated like a joke, seemingly out of nowhere.
Martha’s voice, made it a hit.
Martha and I Zora had just proved themselves on the radio.
But in this moment, a new Proving Ground had just emerged the first 24-hour video music channel in full stereo sound the musical, continue non-stop on MTV Music Television, the newest component of your stereo system will be doing for TV.
What FM did for radio?
You’ll never look at music the same way again.
I’ll be sitting empty becomes the Whether on which the entire industry is based around, that’s Jason Newman.
He’s an editor at Rolling Stone.
He says that when MTV premiered the listening experience became visual, you didn’t have to imagine a performance while listening to Blondie on your Walkman.
Now, you can watch them in your living room and you know things like clothing and choreography just obviously were important before but they just take on like a much much more greater importance than like the overall look in the selling of how of an artist.
Jason wrote a feature story about Martha back in 2014.
And the reason he’s talking about MTV.
Isn’t just because it’s the form for what ultimately happens to Martha according to Jason.
It’s also a big part of the reason it happens.
And so I think MTV did as powerful as it was is, you know, it’s sort of exacerbated this idea that beauty.
If it doesn’t Trump Talent, it at least has to be on an equal footing with it Martha and the Zora had incredible voices.
Nobody doubted their talent, but in this moment vocal Talent, wasn’t a premium on TV the price currency.
He was like hot sexy, young singer and Martha by her.
Mission was not that Martha and a Zora were too curvy black women, which essentially left music industry, Executives looking at Martha.
And I Zorro with the question.
How do we sell them in the age of TV?
And if impossible beauty standards weren’t enough at the time, black artists weren’t even on MTV MTV denies this, but Michael Jackson, the biggest global.
At the time, wasn’t even shown on the channel launched to get the Billie Jean video on MTV the head of his label, said he had to threaten to pull all their music videos from the channel.
And if it took a dire threat to get the King of Pop on the channel, what chance did Martha.
And I saw rest, and she was essentially at the bottom of the hierarchy of what labels and MTV thought an artist should look like at the time, the Columbia had a hit on their hands so they did make a music video for It’s Raining Men.
Oh my God, that video.
It is the most bootleg looking video.
I have ever seen.
Let’s just say that there was a budget.
And it wasn’t a large budget.
And I’ll just leave it at that.
Straight up the set.
Looks like it’s made out of cardboard and Martha was fashioned as a kind of middle aged man eater.
When actually at the time the video was shot.
She was in her 20s.
It’s just so clear that the label didn’t know what to do with to curvy black women, so they didn’t really do anything after a few years Columbia dropped the duo Martha and Lazarus separated soon after.
So in like 88 89, you know, Martha kind of finds herself at a weird point in her career before all of this nonsense happened, you know, the nonsense, he’s referring to is the subject of this episode, The lip-synching scandal.
Okay, so Martha’s in this post Raining Men phase, the Grammy Buzz is long gone.
She’s back to singing backup just like at the beginning of her career.
Now she is landing some pretty good gigs like per week the Franklin.
But she’s essentially getting paid to be this disembodied voice and it turns out there’s a business for that demos.
So, typically, you know, a producer or someone at a label typically an A&R person will, you know, contract someone for a flat fee?
To record demos for a song, you know, there is no intention to release them.
They’re more kind of guiding tracks essentially for whoever ends up being the finished vocalist.
So Martha’s doing a lot of this demo work.
She’s getting calls to come into Studios belt out these Hooks and then if the Studio’s like the song, her temp tracks will get replaced pretty straightforward.
If you can find a voice to replace Martha’s.
So, one day she gets a call from an old friend named David Cole.
David was Martha’s pianist during her Raining Men Days.
David’s like, hey, I’m starting my own group.
Would you come down and record some demos for us at the?
But then she gets to the studio and their song is so high.
It is, it really was past my range.
My high range.
The song was called.
It felt like I was literally hanging by my hands on the ceiling.
Trying to get that note out seriously.
And it’s like I’m just singing at the top of my lungs, trying to get the know that everybody dance out.
You know that part you know, that part.
And just so, you know, how difficult it is, when the average person tries to sing this, everybody dance.
Now, you probably sound like me, kinda in that falsetto breathy, tone, or maybe you can get it out.
But how’s your vocal quality?
Does your voice resonate?
Do you make it sound effortless?
And then, she kept singing at the same energy level and it was about more than the big notes you can.
All her musical influences in that song, Gospel Rock, even the Jazz scatting at the end.
It was really a culmination of Decades of vocal training and experience.
And after about an hour in the studio.
The recording is done.
Martha gets paid a flat fee of about a thousand dollars.
She goes on with her life until about a year later.
The song hits the airwaves under the banner of her friend, David calls, new group, C&C Music, Factory with Martha’s Voice singing lead on the track.
When Martha heard it, she was kind of baffled in this moment.
She experienced the full weight of the music industry in a way that she never saw coming.
Did I need this business?
It’s a bitch.
It’s a bitch and this wasn’t the only time it happened.
And then there was a third time.
And if you listen to these side by side, even with all the filters being used to disguise her voice, even to the untrained ear.
It is so clear that these are all the same person.
It’s all Martha, fueling these chart-topping, radio bangers, but you never got a lead vocal credit.
And again, legally speaking.
These are all in a bit of a gray area since she was paid for her vocal work, but then the labels got really fucking brazen.
They started making music videos.
All more or less the same as that one.
Martha saw in the hotel room in 1990 with Martha’s singular voice coming out of the mouths of all of these different skinny leggy, women and these videos were golden the eyes of MTV attractive, thin women and power vocals.
The video for everybody dance, now was constantly playing on the music video channel.
How did you feel about it Martha lit?
A cigarette and took a drag before answering?
It felt like you don’t want me but you want my voice.
That’s what it felt like.
It was an injury that anybody should be able to understand.
Was it a crime by the measure of the law?
No, it wasn’t throughout the industry.
Sampling was just starting to become popular, new technology allowed producers to take pieces of the songs.
They liked and reassemble them into new songs.
And in 1998, the courts were just beginning to review, cases that examine to the ethics and laws around these works.
But what happened to Martha?
When a step past that be on digital, Awesome producer.
Magic, the misconstrued, her contributions.
So Martha would never be famous for her work.
Nor would she reaped the rewards for talent instead?
Someone else would the industry had always found new ways to cleave artist from their art, but this was so new.
There wasn’t even an explicit rule to break.
Maybe that’s why this was also hard to see coming and also why it was hard to know if this thing was happening to other artists as well.
We still don’t know that.
What we do know is that it happened to this one very established artist.
That is to Martha and at least three completely separate occasions.
The question was, what was you gonna do about it?
Martha knew it would be safer to let the whole thing go to keep her head down or just look away as she’d been doing for years.
But with this, with these chart-topping hits not just back by Martha’s talent, but built on it and then attributed to other people.
Martha, couldn’t look away anymore.
It was just too much.
Too close to each other.
And it was just something that I had to say something about.
She was willing to stake her reputation on this and she had a secret weapon.
One of Martha’s oldest friends, was a veteran, music attorney named Steven Brown.
I’ve known Steven my Lord since the 70s.
He said, he hates record company.
So that kind of gives some fuel to you know, what?
He’s been doing this a long time and he knows.
Stephen had represented some of the greatest singers to ever get screwed over by the industry Nina.
Simone Liza Minnelli Dionne Warwick.
So when Martha called Stephen and told him about the music videos, this is what he said.
I said, not only, we going to get them, but you’re going to be famous because I’m going to do this very publicly.
Okay, so, in 1990, when all the stuff was happening with Martha, the music industry was also reeling from a different lip syncing Scandal, people were still talking about the Milli Vanilli Scandal, that it happened.
It had not died down when my situation started happening.
Milli Vanilli, the European R&B duo with the locks and the aggressive shoulder pads.
They had just been caught lip-syncing during a live televised outdoor concert when they’re recording skipped.
They didn’t sing live.
And then they discovered Milli, Vanilli, didn’t sing their songs at all.
Once people realized Milli Vanilli were just pretty frontmen their careers ended swiftly.
I was just six years old, when the group got stripped of their Grammy for Best New Artist, but even after me, Many hours of VH1 coverage that I watched in the following decade.
My memory of what happened with Milli.
Vanilli is still essentially people found out.
These guys didn’t actually sing on their album lister’s got mad.
The group got humiliated and was stripped of their accolades.
What I didn’t realize was that their fans filed a class action civil suit against the group for fraud.
It was a big deal.
So when Martha songs were first released and began to climb the charts, music reporters producers friends and family.
They saw what happened and instantly compared it to Milli Vanilli and they wanted answers.
I start getting phone calls.
Wait a minute.
What’s going on?
She’s singing to you.
What is the lip sync it to your vocals.
Why at the time?
Martha was still grappling with her own, take on the situation and she was trying to deal with the producers privately.
They’d offered Martha one percent of the royalties and the backing vocal credit for one of the songs.
She recorded in the studio, but Martha felt she deserved more.
She was the lead vocal on that track, a hit track and the going rate for a lead.
Singer was 10 times that amount, but the producers didn’t see the situation in the same way.
A negotiations, eventually went silent, Martha had the world knocking on her front door.
Looking for her to explain why her voice was on TV, coming out of another woman’s mouth.
Someone had to answer.
And that’s when Steven stepped in.
He knew what she was experiencing in a way.
She wouldn’t communicate to anyone but her closest friends.
Remember the emotional tenor of the conversation more than specific words, but it was basically that’s not right.
You would never hear her say, they hurt me.
You would hear her say that’s not right.
And I could tell from the tone of her voice because I knew her, I could hear the hurt.
And what was ultimately, a pain Stephen took that pain and anger and got out in front of the story on her behalf.
I drafted up and incendiary lawsuit.
It was true.
I mean, there was this no hyperbole in it.
But I knew how to write it in a way that it would read like a press release.
What’s a lawsuit to a record company would really hurt.
Them was embarrassment, Milli Vanilli.
So Stephen also drafted up an actual press release stating that Martha was the singer of everybody dance now and not the woman featured in the C&C Music Factory video, Selma Davis, and then he added.
One more thing that Martha challenged has Elma to Alive, Sing-Off, and the loser had to pay the winners.
Favorite charity, $10,000.
Martha, didn’t have $10,000 to throw around, but Stephen with that.
At certain that Martha would win.
Guess who wouldn’t take the challenge.
CNC never actually turned down the challenge and when we talked to Zelma recently, she said she doesn’t even remember there being a challenge.
It wasn’t really even her fight to begin with.
She joined the group way.
After the producers recorded the song and she did sing on the bulk of the tracks on their Hit.
Album these days CNC maintains that they never intended to deceive anybody.
They’ve said that they wanted Martha to be in the group, but that she turned them down to pursue her solo career and Martha doesn’t dispute this.
The back in 1992 CNC were singing, a very different song that year.
They used whatever platform they had to deny that there was lip-syncing involved in this at all at the American Music Awards that year.
See nc15 trophies, including favorite new dance artist and favorite dance single for everybody dance now and during their acceptance speech, Martha’s old friend, David Cole.
Said this, the real thing I want to say is I really am deeply grateful to you.
You all for believing in us and not falling, prey to this whole lip sync and thing because we are not a lipstick group in later, interviews, David Cole, the same man who used to play piano for her said, Martha was trying to ride the coattails of the group’s success, but one of the nastiest blows came from the rapper of the group Freedom Williams, this is him talking about Martha in a TV interview on a current affair.
I think this, I don’t mean to be rude.
A line of the But I’d rather look at them on stage.
You heard that right?
He said, he’d rather look in Selma.
He actually said that and that made my blood boil.
I was going to fry him.
Metaphorically, of course for that.
And I did because that was disgusting.
It was a vile thing to say and I thought it’s true that he believed that, you know, that and I thought it was true that the labels had that in mind as well.
They didn’t have to pay her the Amount of money she was worth and they could have an image.
They thought was more salable.
I’ve always had weight fluctuations over the years and stuff.
But I knew I was not going to be a small woman.
So, the thing is, you either accept me or reject me.
You know, I’m, I am who I am, who I am.
I’m a large woman.
Take me as I am.
Never gave a public response to those remarks, but Stephen Brown was seething.
And when they went low, he dropped it to the floor.
Stephen booked Martha on an even bigger stage.
Martha went on Arsenio Hall Show at the time, The Arsenio Hall Show was considered, the late night talk show of the MTV generation.
It pulled millions of young hip viewers every episode.
So when Martha was a guest on the show, she was essentially in.
The same demographic of people who had seen the music videos with her stolen vocals, and in the interview Arsenio is sitting across from her beaming, in his loud purple suit with his shit eating grin.
Like he’s about to ask her something controversial.
And there is really only one thing to ask, who sang lead on everybody dance now.
And when Arsenio asks this, what he’s really saying is prove it was you I was saying I’m hope I can hit those notes because I was sitting down sigh.
Wait a minute.
Can I hit those notes standing up?
Yeah sitting down and it was a low seat on top of that.
Get my diaphragm together.
Would you just say everybody thing apart?
So they’ll know it was undeniable evidence on National Television that Martha sang.
The song CNC could refute it if they wanted to, but in the court of public opinion, Martha had won her case.
Now all this public feuding was no doubt deeply entertaining, especially if you are a Martha Wash fan, but it was also distracting because what was happening to Martha was not merely a matter of a couple bad apples.
CNC and black box had stolen her vocals.
They garnered Fame and Fortune and some awards at her expense.
There was someone further up the food chain.
That was profiting.
Remember Martha’s vocals had been stolen by at least three different groups, which meant that somewhere out there.
Producers were getting the idea that this was an okay thing to do.
Maybe even a good thing to do a profitable thing to do.
Here’s Jason Newman, the Rolling Stone editor.
I think it is a stretch of the imagination to think that.
No one at the label.
Had any idea and that C and C were just these guys who went rogue and and didn’t tell anyone at the label.
I think what’s trickier is getting to the nuts and bolts of who knew.
I think that’s something.
That has very conscientiously, not come out, Jason pointed out that Selma Davis, the singer and C&C Music Factory didn’t want to lip-sync in the video.
I told people on set when it happened and it was people from the label who allegedly told her to keep quiet.
So, while all these Executives were shielded from the public embarrassment, Stephen made sure they shared in the financial sting by naming the labels in his lawsuit.
He summarized the case, to one point.
It happened to Martha for financial reasons, because Martha wouldn’t let their username Martha.
Said, if I listen, if I’m not getting a full artist royalty and this record is not about me.
I can create these recordings, but these are going to be Studio recordings, but you’re not going to make money off of me and they thought that one meant that they could just create somebody else.
Even was certain he was going to get Martha a big payout.
Money is the language that the labels could understand.
They could look at contracts by other top artists and pay Martha what her Talent was worth.
And that’s what they did in all three cases, Martha reached Financial settlements with the record companies though.
The exact number still hasn’t been disclosed publicly.
She was also properly credited on all the works as well as given credit on all the music videos after this, go Google the videos on YouTube, you’ll see.
A disclaimer in all of the descriptions.
And in the process of finding a settlement, something crazy happened.
One of the executives at RCA reached out to Stephen mid.
Negotiations and said this, they said honestly the more we listened to these tracks of all realize how really wonderful she is.
Why don’t you make two records for us?
And I said sure as long as you know that as soon as we finish making a deal, I’m going to go back to court and kick your butt.
I mean, we’re not we’re not done.
What you did was unspeakable.
You got to A big check Martha came out on top.
She got that money.
She got that credit and she got a record deal.
Not long after.
There was also a wave of legislation that aimed to seal the door on Stolen vocals.
For good legislators in New York and New Jersey passed laws, requiring musical performances to disclose.
If a performer is lip-syncing, many artists and journalists Trace all this rulemaking, back to Martha and her courage in speaking up it for Sony to sort of make this unprecedented.
Closure to MTV, by giving her credit at the end of the C&C Music Factory video and it really is like it’s incredible.
Like how many doors she kicked down that?
I think people just don’t even realize.
We’re just take for granted.
Maybe the important.
Takeaway for anybody listening to this who can hear what I’m saying is is you can eat lunch in this town again.
You can stand up for yourself.
If you have talent.
She says that she still gets praised.
Oh, I’ve had a lot of people.
Come up to me.
People in the business people that I know and others in the business that have have have told me.
I’m glad you did what you did.
It wasn’t right, you know?
And the thing is it could possibly still be going on.
Now, you know, you kind of never know what goes on behind closed doors and what kind of deals and things are made.
But it could still be going on.
We asked Jason about this and he admitted that it’s hard to know for sure.
People are still sampling vocals, of course, and they’re still getting sued when they do it without permission.
But Martha’s case, really seems to have put the kibosh on that kind of straight-up theft / misattribution that Martha experienced there.
Have, however, just recently been cases, of a new kind of musical misattribution to be, or not to be.
That is the question.
Whether tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous.
Talk to him, but it’s true.
That that is not Jay-Z rapping Hamlet’s Soliloquy.
It’s a computer program trained to mimic Jay’s speech, patterns.
Now, this wasn’t created by a record label.
It was created by an anonymous YouTuber called vocal synthesis.
Their page has these samples of voice-to-text deep fakes for Frank, Sinatra Kanye, Tupac even mr.
Just to be clear.
The Creator isn’t passing these off as the real artist or trying to make radio hits from these videos, but it does present a new tool for voices to be stolen without regard for the artist.
Ironically, the thing that ultimately protected Martha, The Singularity of her voice is the same thing that’s making all of these other artists susceptible to impersonation.
As long as there’s enough, recorded material for the program to learn from and their speech patterns are distinct enough.
These can be created from essentially anyone’s voice.
And when I say they can, I mean not just technically Legally, there is no rule against what they’re doing.
Jay-Z filed a request to get this recording taken down saying the video, violated his rights to his voice, but the video is still up YouTube.
Essentially wipe their hands of the situation and ask Jay-Z to make a stronger case because the gray area in the law.
Makes it hard to prove how the video violated the Moguls rights.
And with no explicit rules against this type of deep fake, many artists will have to wait for a big Court decision to shake things up.
And when that day comes Martha, said she could help put Jay-Z in touch with Stephen, what?
I can give him his number, you know, he’ll he’ll argue something.
I just know he would.
Crime show is a Spotify original podcast and gimlet production.
This episode was produced by Jerome.
Campbell along with me.
I’m a Courtland crime.
Show is produced by Jerome, Campbell catch-up necked and Jade.
Our senior producer is Mitch Hansen editing by Devon Taylor production, oversight by Colin, Campbell fact-checking by Nicole, bazooka theme song by so Wily mixing and sound design by Daniel Ramirez, original music by so Wily and dr.
Thanks to Rachel Strom.