10. Martha Wash
Known for her distinctive and powerful voice, Wash first achieved fame as one half of the successful act Two Tons O’ Fun who sang backing for American disco singer Sylvester. After gaining their own record deal, they released three consecutive commercially successful songs which all peaked at number 2 in the dance charts. The duo was renamed The Weather Girls in 1982 after they released the top-selling single “It’s Raining Men“, which brought the duo to mainstream pop attention. As a duo, The Weather Girls released five albums and were heavily featured on Sylvester’s albums.
After disbanding in 1988, Wash made a successful transition into house music as a featured artist on several successful songs.
Wash is also noted for sparking legislation in the early 1990s that made vocal credits mandatory on CDs and music videos after being denied proper credit and royalties for many of the songs she recorded including the platinum-selling number-one song “Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)” after she had been labeled “unmarketable” due to her weight. In December 2016, Billboard magazine ranked her as the 58th most successful dance artist of all-time.
9. Jill Jones
Jones met Prince in 1980 at age 18, when Teena Marie was the opening act during his Dirty Mind tour. Prince loved her voice, encouraged her to sing, and stayed in touch with Jones. She became a backup vocalist for Prince when he invited her to the Sunset Sound recording studios in 1982, to sing backing vocals for several tracks on the album 1999. She was credited under just her initials J.J. She also was featured in music videos for the songs “1999” and “Little Red Corvette“, as well as extended rarely aired music video for “Automatic“, and then joined the tour for 1999 to sing backing vocals with the Prince side-project Vanity 6. After the tour, she moved to Minneapolis and became Prince’s on-and-off again girlfriend. She had a bit part as a waitress in the film Purple Rain (1984) and had an appearance in the sequel Graffiti Bridge (1990), where she takes off an undergarment to end a conflicting scene with Prince.
Her debut album was the self-titled Jill Jones (1987), released on Prince’s Paisley Park Records. Prince was credited as a co-writer with Jones, but wrote all of the songs himself. Upon its release, the album received positive reviews from critics, but was not a commercial success. As of 2007, the album has been out of print for many years.
Jill recorded numerous demo tracks in London in the late 1980s, including the tracks “Deep Kiss”, “Unattainable Love”, “Long Time”, “Red”, “White Dogs” & “Tango”, among others. In 1989, she contributed a song (“The Ground You Walk On”) to the soundtrack for the film Earth Girls Are Easy.
Several demos were recorded for a second album on Paisley Park, and a video was filmed for the track “Boom Boom”, but an album never surfaced. In 1993, she released the dance single “Bald” on Flying Records.
Jones also did backing vocals for Apollonia 6 and recorded the Prince-written single “G-Spot”. She also sang lead vocals on Japanese artist Ryuichi Sakamoto‘s single “You Do Me” from his 1990 album Beauty, and contributed a version of Blondie‘s “Call Me” to a Giorgio Moroder tribute album. In addition, Jones wrote and co-produced the song “The Great Pretender” for Lisa Lisa. She was also lead vocalist for the band Baby Mother, who recorded an album in 1995 for London Records, which remains unreleased. In 1996, she toured performing co-lead vocals as part of Chic with Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards before his death, and can be heard on the 1999 Chic release “Live at the Budokan”.
Though Prince aided in the production of her first album, there was no input from Prince on the second one, which was more pop-rock oriented. From 2001 to the present, Jones has been performing acoustic rock as well as producing edgy and modern dance tracks.
She is also featured in the unreleased Vanity 6 song “Vibrator”. In this song, she does a skit in a department store where Vanity goes to get batteries for her vibrator. Prince is also in the skit.
8. Claudia Lennear
Claudia Lennear was fronting a soul group called the Superbs when she was approached by Ike Turner to audition for a position as an Ikette. “He was a terrific business person, very disciplined, and he was a visionary,” she said. Lennear was with Ike & Tina Turner for three years until she had a spat with Tina Turner.
Lennear’s meetings with Mick Jagger and David Bowie are often cited as inspiration for The Rolling Stones‘ “Brown Sugar” (1971) and Bowie’s “Lady Grinning Soul” (1973). NME editors Roy Carr and Charles Shaar Murray noted in 1981 that she was “yet to reply in song to either Mick or David”. However, in a 1973 article in Rolling Stone, she was quoted as saying that she wrote the song “Not At All” “to inform Mick Jagger of his dispensability”.
Claudia Lennear was one of Leon Russell‘s Shelter People. She sang back-up vocals on Joe Cocker‘s 1970 Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour and live album, on Leon Russell and the Shelter People, released in 1971 and on George Harrison‘s The Concert for Bangla Desh. Her lead vocal live recording of “Let It Be” from the Mad Dogs and Englishmen movie was the B side of Leon Russell’s “Mad Dogs and Englishmen” single on A&M Records in 1971.
In 1973, Lennear recorded a solo album of her own (her one and only) entitled Phew!
Lennear had a bit part in the 1974 film Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, playing the secretary who asks Clint Eastwood‘s character for his Social Security number. She appeared in the August 1974 issue of Playboymagazine in a pictorial entitled “Brown Sugar”.
She left the music industry to become a teacher of French and Spanish.
7. The Sweet Inspirations
The original backup group, that was so in demand among producers, publishers, artists, and songwriters in the early 1960s, included Doris Troy and the two Warwick sisters. Both Troy and Dionne Warwick enjoyed solo careers with hits in 1963, “Just One Look” and “Don’t Make Me Over” respectively, on which the Sweet Inspirations can be heard. At that time, Sylvia Shemwell (sister of Judy Clay) replaced Troy, while Cissy Houston took over from Dionne, with Dee Dee Warwick as the group’s official leader. The group sang backup for many stars, including Solomon Burke, Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, and Esther Phillips. Dee Dee left in 1965, when her solo career began to take off. She was replaced by Myrna Smith. Estelle Brown joined the team soon after, and the line-up that was to become an Atlantic recording group was set.
On March 30, 1968, the group scored their first and only top forty hit on the Billboard Top 40 Pop Chart with the song “Sweet Inspiration” on Atlantic Records. The record was on the chart for ten weeks and peaked at number 18. The group at this point was composed of Houston, Brown, Shemwell, and Smith.
In 1967, the group did backing vocals for the Jimi Hendrix single “Burning of the Midnight Lamp” which was later featured on the album Electric Ladyland in 1968. They also backed Dusty Springfield on her album Dusty in Memphis.
6. Luther Vandross
Vandross added backing vocals to Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway in 1972, and worked on Delores Hall’s Hall-Mark album (1973). He sang with her on the song “Who’s Gonna Make It Easier for Me”, which he wrote, and he contributed another song, “In This Lonely Hour”. Having co-written “Fascination” for David Bowie‘s Young Americans (1975), he went on to tour with him as a back-up vocalist in September 1974. Vandross wrote “Everybody Rejoice” for the 1975 Broadway musical The Wiz.
Vandross also sang backing vocals for artists including Roberta Flack, Chaka Khan, Ben E. King, Bette Midler, Diana Ross, Carly Simon, Barbra Streisand, and Donna Summer, and for the bands Chic and Todd Rundgren‘s Utopia.
Before his solo breakthrough, Vandross was part of a singing quintet in the late 1970s named Luther, consisting of former Shades of Jade members Anthony Hinton and Diane Sumler, as well as Theresa V. Reed, and Christine Wiltshire, signed to Cotillion Records. Although the singles “It’s Good for the Soul”, “Funky Music (Is a Part of Me)”, and “The Second Time Around” were relatively successful, their two albums, the self-titled Luther (1976) and This Close to You (1977), which Vandross produced, did not sell enough to make the charts. Vandross bought back the rights to those albums after Cotillion dropped the group, preventing them from being re-released.
Vandross also wrote and sang commercial jingles from 1977 until the early 1980s, for companies including NBC, Mountain Dew, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Burger King, and Juicy Fruit. He continued his successful career as a popular session singer during the late 1970s. He also played Jamison in the 1993 film The Meteor Man.
In 1978, Vandross sang lead vocals for Greg Diamond’s disco band, Bionic Boogie, on the song titled “Hot Butterfly”. Also in 1978, he appeared on Quincy Jones‘s Sounds…and Stuff Like That!!, most notably on the song “I’m Gonna Miss You in the Morning” along with Patti Austin. Vandross also sang with the band Soirée and was the lead vocalist on the track “You Are the Sunshine of My Life”; he also contributed background vocals to the album along with Jocelyn Brown and Sharon Redd, each of whom also saw solo success.
5. Cissy Houston
Houston’s versatile cross-genre singing style has kept her highly in demand as a session musician with some of the world’s most successful recording artists. Houston, along with Dionne Warwick and Dee Dee Warwick, sang the background vocals on the original recording of Time Is On My Side by Kai Winding, released by Verve Records in October 1963. She was one of the backup singers on the Paul Simon song “Mother and Child Reunion” (1972)
Houston sang back-up on Bette Midler‘s 1972 debut album, The Divine Miss M. In 1974, Houston sang back-up on Linda Ronstadt‘s multi-Platinum Heart Like A Wheel, a seminal album that topped Billboard′s Pop and Country Album Charts in early 1975. In 1971, Houston was featured on three tracks of Burt Bacharach‘s self-titled solo album: “Mexican Divorce”, “All Kinds of People” and “One Less Bell to Answer”. During 1975 and 1976, she worked with jazz flautist Herbie Mann on three Atlantic albums, Discothèque, Waterbed and Surprises, featuring on three tracks, “Violet Don’t Be Blue”, JJ Cale‘s “Cajun Moon” and “Easter Rising”. In addition to her work as choirmaster at New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, NJ, Cissy performed frequently at clubs in NYC including Mikell’s, Sweetwaters, Seventh Avenue South, and Fat Tuesday from the late 1970s through the 1980s. Whitney Houston, her daughter and backup singer, increasingly sang solos with Cissy’s band, including the Barbra Streisand hit “Evergreen“. They would collaborate on “Ain’t No Way” (originally a Cissy Houston and Aretha Franklin vehicle), on which Cissy sang “Cissy” and Whitney “Aretha”.
4. The Blossoms
Darlene Wright (later known as Darlene Love) replaced Nanette and was selected to be the lead, which the ensemble-based Blossoms had not previously had. The addition of Wright would change the style of the group but chart success was still elusive, despite Darlene’s unique presence as lead, on songs like “No Other Love” for Capitol in 1958, “Sugarbeat” for RCA (as the Playgirls) in 1960 and “Write Me A Letter” for Challenge in 1961.
During the summer of 1962, the Blossoms finally emerged successful on the charts, although their biggest hit song, “He’s a Rebel“, would not be credited to them.
Then-unknown producer Phil Spector had learned that Vikki Carr was soon to record “He’s a Rebel” for Liberty Records as her debut single, and decided he had to rush his own version to stores. Since the Crystals (his biggest girl group at the time) were touring on the east coast at the time, the Blossoms were instead brought in to record the track. Prior to this, Spector had been using the Blossoms to contribute backing vocals behind many of his artists’ tracks including the Crystals’ “Da Doo Ron Ron”.
However, when Spector released the record, the song was instead credited to the Crystals (much to the dismay of the actual Crystals). The Blossoms in turn only received a meager session fee (Darlene Love states they were paid “triple scale”) and are not credited for contributing to the record. The song peaked at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and firmly established Spector as a force to be reckoned with in the music industry. Over the next three years, the Blossoms, with Darlene as lead, would be the favored singers on all of Spector’s sessions recorded in California.
Spector also used The Blossoms as the prime backing group for the Righteous Brothers‘ “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’, which was a No 1 hit in 1964 in the US and the UK. Helping out too with the crescendo was Cher, who had previously sung for Spector on recordings by The Ronettes, including “Be My Baby“, which also featured The Blossoms.
Although The Blossoms were attempting to establish themselves as primary artists, they still contributed backing vocals behind many of the biggest hits of the 1960s including “Monster Mash” by Bobby “Boris” Pickett and Shelley Fabares’ “Johnny Angel“, and the Blossoms lead singer Darlene Love’s solo efforts (which included “He’s Sure the Boy I Love” although again Spector credited the song to the Crystals).Fabares stated in an interview quoted in The Billboard Book of #1 Hits that her strongest memory of that recording session was the “beautiful voices of the backup singers”.
In 1964, the group was reduced to a trio of Darlene, Fanita, and newcomer Jean King and were a featured part of a relatively successful weekly rock’ n’ roll television program called Shindig! The Blossoms used their vocal versatility to their advantage, singing in various styles behind a cross-section of artists, including; Patty Duke, Shelley Fabares, Jackie Wilson, Aretha Franklin and Marvin Gaye.
3. Patti Austin
When Austin was four years old, she made her debut at the Apollo Theater and the next year had a contract with RCA Records. During the 1960s, she was a session musician who sang background vocals and commercial jingles. She was known as “Queen of the Jingles,” appearing on commercials for Almay, Avon, Burger King, Impulse, KFC, Maxwell House, McDonald’s, Meow Mix, Stouffer’s, and the United States Army.
In 1969, Austin made the R&B Top 50 with the single “Family Tree”. Her debut album, End of a Rainbow, appeared in 1976 on the jazz label CTI Records. Two years later, she sang on the song “Love Light” by Japanese musician Yutaka Yokokura. She and Michael Jackson performed a duet on “It’s the Falling in Love”, which appeared on his album Off the Wall, and in 1980 she and jazz guitarist George Bensonperformed a duet on “Moody’s Mood for Love”. She provided vocals for Roberta Flack, Angela Bofill, and Noel Pointer.
In 1981, Austin sang on the album The Dude by Quincy Jones and on the hit single “Razzmatazz”. Jones signed her to his record label, Qwest Records. Her album Every Home Should Have One (Qwest, 1981) contained the chart-topping song “Baby, Come to Me“, her duet with James Ingram, which reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, boosted by its appearance on the television soap opera General Hospital. A second duet with Ingram, “How Do You Keep the Music Playing”, was used on the soundtrack for the movie Best Friends (1982).
2. Darlene Love
Into the 1970s Love continued to work as a backup singer, before taking a break in order to raise a family. In 1973, she recorded vocals as a cheerleader along with Michelle Phillips, for the Cheech & Chong single “Basketball Jones“, which peaked at No. 15 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart.
Love returned to music in the early 1980s and to an appreciative audience she thought might have long since forgotten her. She had been performing at venues like the Roxy in Los Angeles, and it was a conversation with Steven Van Zandt that greased the wheels for her to go to New York and begin performing there in 1982, at places like The Bottom Line. She also sang “OOO Wee Baby” in the 1980 movie The Idolmaker. Along with performing in small venues, Love worked as a maid in Beverly Hills. One day while she was cleaning one of these homes, she heard her song “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” on the radio. She took this as a sign that she needed to change her life and go back to singing.
In the mid-1980s she portrayed herself in the Tony Award-nominated jukebox musical Leader of the Pack, which featured the iconic rock and roll songs written by Ellie Greenwich, many of them for the young Love. The showstopping number of that show, “River Deep – Mountain High“, had been recorded by Phil Spector with Ike & Tina Turner and had been less than the success they had expected.
In 1986, Love’s second chance came when she was asked to sing “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” on David Letterman‘s Christmas show, that became a yearly tradition.
In 1987, Love sang backup for U2‘s remake of “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)“. In 1990, Love released the album Paint Another Picture, which included an update of her old hit “He’s Sure the Man I Love”, by Mann and Weill, as well as a ballad written especially for her, “I’ve Never Been the Same,” by Judy Wieder. The album did not make the US charts. In 1990, Cher invited Love and her sister Edna Wright as her background vocalists for the Heart of Stone tour. Love released a minor single in 1992 with “All Alone on Christmas“, written and composed by Steven Van Zandt, which can be found on the Home Alone 2: Lost in New York soundtrack. Love also contributed vocals to the soundtrack of the film Jingle All the Way.
She continues to do a Christmas show every year in New York City, which is always capped by “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)”.
1. Lisa Fischer
In 1983, under the stage name “Xēna”, Fischer released the freestyle single, the b-boy classic “On the Upside”. In 1984, a club track she recorded titled “Only Love (Shadows)” was briefly featured in the motion picture Beat Street and was later released in 1995 as part of the Hot Productions’ The Best of Criminal Records compilation. However, Fischer began her music career supporting other artists providing backing vocals for artists including Melba Moore and Billy Ocean. She worked with many other famous singers, both as a session vocalist and sideman. She accompanied Luther Vandross whom she met through the mutual acquaintance of choreographer Bruce Wallace, who asked her to come to his agency for an audition. Fischer then traveled as a backup singer on his tours and sang on his albums until his death, in addition to other famous musicians, including Chaka Khan, Teddy Pendergrass, and Roberta Flack.
Lisa Fischer maintained her career as a session singer and continues to accompany The Rolling Stones on every one of their tours since 1989. She worked as a backup vocalist during the same period for Luther Vandross for the 22 years prior to his death, having to juggle her time between his concert tours and those of The Rolling Stones, with whom she has a growing audience as she plays the foil to Mick Jagger onstage more and more frequently. There are songs that have become staples during tours with the Rolling Stones where she shares lead vocals, including “Monkey Man, and “Gimme Shelter“, which showcase her vocal talents and are frequently on the set lists during their live concerts.
Lisa Fischer continued to work on music doing background vocals and she also is a songwriter for artist such as Anane Vega. Fischer toured with Tina Turner on her Twenty Four Seven Tour. It was the worldwide top-grossing tour of 2000. She continued to sing backup for Tina Turner and The Rolling Stones as well as composesongs for herself and up-and-coming artists. Lisa was featured in an April 14, 2008 issue of Jet Magazine′s “Where Are They Now?” column. In 2009, Fischer completed touring with Tina Turner on her Tina!: 50th Anniversary Tour and she is featured on Turner’s new live DVD-CD titled Tina Live. In the performance of Tina!: 50th Anniversary Tour, in 2009, Fischer and Turner sing “It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll (But I Like It)” together and after Turner leaves the stage, Fischer completes the song solo.
Fischer sang on Sting‘s album If on a Winter’s Night… as a backing vocalist. In September 2009, Sting and his band, plus Fischer, performed the songs live in Durham Cathedral. The rehearsals as well as the concert were filmed and were released as a DVD. The behind the scenes documentary surrounding the event was produced jointly by the BBC and was screened on December 29 that year. She appeared at the 2010 CareFusion Newport Jazz Festival in Newport, Rhode Island, where she was featured with jazz trumpeter Chris Botti. She continued to tour with Botti through 2010, including appearing nightly as guest vocalist during the trumpeter’s annual holiday engagement at the Blue Note Jazz Club in New York City. She remained a guest artist with Botti’s band in 2011 and continued to appear at their 2012 concerts.
In 2012, she joined the Rolling Stones for their 50 & Counting Tour that began in October 2012 and toured internationally until July 2013. The band have announced that there will be a follow-up tour 14 ON FIRE. That was scheduled to start in February and they would be visiting the Middle East, Asia, and Europe in summer 2014, and Australia in the fall 2014.