Grammy-winning singer Jody Watley on new band, life lessons and headlining Atlanta Pride

Jody Watley is a name that first emerged with the 1980s band Shalamar. She hit her stride when she began her solo career in 1987 and won a Grammy for Best New Artist. In 2008, she won Billboard Magazine’s Lifetime Achievement Award. Now, with her new band Shalamar Reloaded, she is set to headline Atlanta Pride on October 8. We caught up with Watley to talk to her about her new band, a book that changed her life and her ideas about changing the way we treat each other.

Georgia Voice: You’re now touring with Shalamar Reloaded but you’ve received heat for not reuniting with your old bandmates in Shalamar. In response, you wrote a very empowering open letter explaining why you won’t be reuniting.

Watley: Yes – I wrote it because former members put lies out about me. One of the unfortunate things in our society today is the lack of follow-up or fact-checking. Things can be said on television or radio by one party and the other person isn’t even asked to weigh in on their perspective. That’s why I felt like I had to write the letter and show proof to defend myself.

Now you tour with Shalamar Reloaded?

Shalamar Reloaded started with me and Rosero McCoy, a renowned choreographer for many years. We auditioned hundreds of guys and chose Nate Allen Smith. He came out to Los Angeles to pursue his dream. He’s an incredible vocalist, dancer and all-around performer. We’ve been touring the world.

We’re about to release our third single and video, “The Mood” [see video below], which will come out just before Atlanta Pride. We know that before we play a Pride show, we better be ready to bring it and work it!

You mentioned in your open letter the Don Miguel Ruiz book, “The Four Agreements”. It seems to have impacted your beliefs in a strong way. How has it shaped your journey?

It was first given to me about 20 years ago by a publicist friend of mine. He told me it would change my life. I read it and thought it was so profound. They are simple things and sometimes the simplest can be the most difficult. I give that book as gifts to people and everyone is always so impacted by it.

One of the agreements is “don’t take things personally”. The book taught me that these people who said bad things about me were trying to give me their poison because they don’t feel good about themselves. As a result, I don’t take it personally. I’ve tweeted out quotes from the book – it’s a very positive message to pass along to others.

You wrote that people in the African-American community have said you weren’t a true soul artist or R&B artist or you weren’t black enough or gospel enough or ratchet enough. Sometimes, in the LGBT community, we do the same thing to each other. Why do you think that groups who already feel marginalized tear each other down and what can we do to stop it?

That’s a great question. I’ve had those discussions with friends of mine in the gay community. They’ve said everything you just said and they feel bad about it. I wrote a song in ’95, “Affection”. It went “Doesn’t matter if you’re young or old. Doesn’t matter if you’re straight or gay. Everybody needs to feel loved.”

I know it sounds simplistic but those simple things are often the most difficult for some people. We need to step back and ask why is it that you feel that someone is not (whatever) enough for you? What is that within you that makes you project out on to someone else? Someone who is basically just living their life in their own truth and their own path? Why does this become upsetting for others?

It’s often someone else’s insecurities or resentments. Some people just don’t like to see others happy, secure or embracing themselves no matter what or who they are. They don’t like the joy that comes with that inner freedom because they are, within themselves, miserable. They can’t rise up to living their own truth with confidence. The solution is for people to stop being so judgmental and stop putting people in boxes that they think others should be in.

Your accomplishments are endless. You’ve received awards, accolades, you’ve performed everywhere, you’ve acted, you’ve been a model, a writer, a businesswoman… the list goes on. What accomplishment are you the proudest of?

Being a grounded person that is still enthusiastic about being in this often cutthroat business. I was talking to Rosaro today. He works with the young singer, Keke Palmer, and she just released a video and she was talking to him and said, “This business is a motherfucker!” (laughs)

To be a strong person and to keep it moving and not get beat up or self-destructive and let your insecurities or doubts or public opinion or popularity spikes or dips get to you – I think that this is a great achievement. I’m proud of everything. I just do me. If people love it, great. If not, it’s still cool because I’m still doing me.

What do you want to tell Atlanta’s LGBT community?

My message is all about love. It doesn’t matter who you are. No matter what, let’s love each other a lot more. Touching upon what you said earlier about us being divided sometimes, let’s love each other more and be fabulous while we’re doing it.

Jody Watley with Shalamar Reloaded
Saturday, Oct. 8 a 8:35 p.m.
Coca-Cola Main Stage at Atlanta Pride
Piedmont Park