Izora Rhodes-Armstead

Singer with the Weather Girls

Monday 27 September 2004 00:00

Izora Rhodes (Izora Rhodes-Armstead), singer and songwriter: born 1942; twice married (seven children); died Oakland, California 16 September 2004.

It took nearly two years for "It's Raining Men", by the Weather Girls, to cross over from the gay clubs of New York and San Francisco and eventually, in March 1984, to reach No 2 in the UK charts. But the song, with its dramatic intro, synthesized backing, frenetic tempo, ludicrous chorus and over-the-top vocal performances, went on to become a pop classic and the record that defined the Hi-NRG genre.

Although the Weather Girls, Izora Rhodes-Armstead and Martha Wash, had their roots in gospel music, they didn't bat an eyelid when they found themselves showered with hunks in the video for their infectious dance hit. They had previously sung backing vocals for the gay disco star Sylvester and had seen it all before.

Izora Rhodes, born in Texas (she would never reveal her age, but was thought to have been born in 1942), was something of a musical prodigy and began playing the piano at an early age. Her mother and various teachers encouraged her natural ability and, by her teens, she was studying classical music at the San Francisco Conservatory. "Anyone who, like me, is from the old school, will practise the basics to improve their all-round mastery," she maintained. "Perfection can only be reached through practising."

In the mid-Seventies, Izora Rhodes met Martha Wash when they both joined the San Francisco gospel group NOW (News of the World). They soon came to the attention of the producer Harvey Fuqua, former mentor to Marvin Gaye at Motown, who had moved to the West Coast and was now producing the flamboyant Sylvester for the Fantasy label.

Rhodes and Wash sang back-up on most of the transvestite star's hits including "You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)" and "Dance (Disco Heat)". Rhodes and Wash proved such a smash with club and television audiences that Fuqua decided to launch them as a separate entity called Two Tons O' Fun, in obvious reference to their voluptuousness. The duo issued a début album, Two Tons O' Fun, in 1979 and a follow-up entitled Backatcha on Fuqua's Honey label in 1980 but tracks like "Do You Wanna Boogie, hunh?", "Taking Away Your Space", "I Got the Feeling" and "Earth Can Be Just Like Heaven" failed to cross over from the dancefloors to the mainstream charts.

Switching to the Columbia label and renaming themselves the Weather Girls, they worked with the actor turned songwriter and disco producer Paul Jabara who suggested they record "It's Raining Men", a composition he had co-written with Paul Shaffer (now the leader of the house band on Late Show With David Letterman). Donna Summer and Barbra Streisand had both turned down the track. Rhodes and Wash's impromptu repartee and gospel-flavoured vocals lifted the song and made it an instant smash in gay clubs in 1982. The track earned a Grammy nomination and first charted in Britain the following year before achieving its popular breakthrough in 1984.

The Weather Girls cut an impressive cover of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "I'm Gonna Wash that Man Right Out of My Hair" for the album Success, their 1983 début on Columbia, but "Dear Santa (Bring Me a Man This Christmas)" - again written by Jabara and Shaffer, in a blatant attempt to repeat the "It's Raining Men" formula - couldn't raise more than a festive titter. In 1985, the Weather Girls covered the Four Seasons' "Big Girls Don't Cry" on their album of the same name, but to little avail. The production team Full Force couldn't lift the next album, The Weather Girls, out of the doldrums either in 1988.

Martha Wash left and subsequently lent her voice to dance smashes by Black Box, C+C Music Factory and Todd Terry. By now married to her second husband, Izora Rhodes-Armstead, as she had become, concentrated on raising her large family but, in the early Nineties, she relaunched the Weather Girls with her daughter Dynelle Rhodes.

The new duo based themselves in Germany, signed to the local subsidiary of WEA Records and recorded two albums entitled Double Ton of Fun and Think Big! (1995) in collaboration with the Rapino Brothers and a host of other dance producers. Izora Rhodes-Armstead even blossomed as a songwriter, penning several tracks, including the rather daring "The Sound of Sex (Ooh Gitchie Olala)". "I wrote this with my daughter," she said. "It's not really as dirty as it sounds." The mother-daughter team also covered Rod Stewart's "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy" and Rhodes-Armstead brought her career full circle when she duetted with Jimmy Somerville on a reworking of Sylvester's 1979 disco hit "Stars".

Famous for her joie de vivre, her love of bingo and her cooking skills, which she often displayed backstage, since she insisted on taking her cooking utensils on tour in a big trunk, Rhodes-Armstead always argued her belief that "every being is, in its own way, sexy and beautiful. Our audiences expect our music to be gay and positive. Reality for many people is grim and depressing and, for this reason, we want to pass on our energy and drive and to bring pleasure through our music."

"It's Raining Men" has endured better than most of the Eighties Hi-NRG records, such as Divine's "You Think You're a Man", "Searchin' " by Hazell Dean and even "High Energy" by Evelyn Thomas. In 2001, the former Spice Girl Geri Halliwell topped the British charts with a cover version of "It's Raining Men", which was included on the soundtrack to the film Bridget Jones's Diary, but she couldn't better the Weather Girls' exuberant original.

Pierre Perrone

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