Martha Wash: The Once-Hidden Woman Who Made “Everybody” Famous

Most music fans—or even followers of pop culture—know the story of Milli Vanilli, the German-French R&B duo who tricked audiences with handsome frontmen Fabrice Morvan and Rob Pilatus who were not really musicians at all.

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The two were riding high as the decade of the ’90s dawned. Their debut album, Girl You Know It’s True and hit single of the same name, had catapulted them into the international spotlight. However, that success also cast a light on their biggest secret: lip-syncing. As such the duo fell quickly back to Earth and were basically never heard from again—at least not in the way they once were held.

But Milli Vanilli isn’t the only fake front musical performer. It’s happened other times before, in fact multiple times to the same woman, Martha Wash.

Let’s dive into her story here.

“Queen” Martha Wash

Born on December 28. 1953, Martha Wash grew up to become a powerful singer with a big, booming, electric voice. Wash first earned attention as a backing singer on the 1978 hit song by Sylvester, “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real).”

In 1982 Wash’s singing group, Two Tons O’ Fun changed its name to the Weather Girls upon releasing the still-popular song, “It’s Raining Men.” The duo, while successful, broke up in 1988 and Wash found herself in a new career: a singer on dance songs and house music. Wash, who has been part of 15 No. 1 songs, was even called “the Queen of Clubland.”


Wash’s success wasn’t all peaches and cream, per se. Indeed, in the ’90s, Wash helped bring about legislation in the early part of the decade making vocal credits mandatory on albums and music videos. Why? Because, like Milli Vanilli, she was part of a front. Or, better said, she was pushed to the side for other, perhaps more traditionally photogenic people.

Wash, whose voice can be heard on popular singles like “Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)” by C+C Music Factory and “Everybody Everybody” by Black Box, is not in the music videos, and for her work, she sadly went uncredited. In her place, models lip-synced her vocals, marginalizing her. Wash, who is described as “full figured” was shut out of the limelight in the ’90s in place of others.

But it didn’t stop there—Wash was also not given credit for her work or royalties for the song, including for the C+C Music Factory track. Since then, Wash has earned the title of “The Most Famous Unknown Singer of the ’90s.”


Today, the 69-year-old San Francisco-born singer is better known for her work. She has received at least a portion of the praise and adulation she deserves. Wash released her self-titled album in 1993 and it charted on the Billboard 200 at No. 169. Since then, she’s continued to release new music, including Something Good in 2013 and Love & Conflict in 2020.

In 2014, a Broadway musical about the band Sylvester hit the stage, and Wash was played by actress Jacqueline B. Arnold. Two years later in 2016, Washington D.C. declared an official Martha Wash Day. So has San Francisco. Wash also got a key to the city of Miami.


Wash, who also started her own record label in 2004, Purple Rose, remains known for her voice as much as for her pushback against the record industry and groups like Black Box and C+C Music Factory. She is also actively involved in LGBTQ+ activism.

In an open letter to the LGBTQ+ community, Wash once wrote, “It means the world to me when fans tell me they’ve followed me through the Sylvester years, or they came out to my music, or someone decided not to take their life. These are the people I sing for. So to all you beautiful people out there, I say: stand strong, don’t give in, and carry on.”

In other words, Martha Wash is a hero.

Photo by Larry Marano/Getty Images

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