‘The narrative is we don’t sell records’: the black female singers uncredited by the UK industry
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Their vocals and songwriting feature on some of the biggest hits, but black women are often not credited, leaving their solo careers stunted and causing them to lose out financially.
Through soul, funk, disco and beyond, black female vocalists stood proudly on the front of record sleeves and on stages. Then, in 1989, Italian dance group Black Box released their No 1 hit Ride on Time. Its powerhouse vocal hook was sampled from Loleatta Holloway’s 1980 hit Love Sensation, but in the credits, video and artwork, neither Holloway, nor the vocalist they later had re-record the sample, was anywhere to be found, while a different woman entirely mimed to the song on Top of the Pops.
The following year, US outfit C+C Music Factory released Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now), again with a strong soul vocal, courtesy of Martha Wash of the Weather Girls. Her name was also absent.
This damaging trend has persisted and examples are numerous. Finally by Kings of Tomorrow, At Night by Shakedown, 17 by MK – pop-dance anthems such as these are played constantly and the vocals are the core of their success, but you wouldn’t know the black women who sing them.
House producer Funk Butcher recently tweeted: “Shall we talk about black female vocalists on house music tracks used for authenticity but never making the visuals for the marketed video or worse yet credited as the featuring act?!”, the ensuing thread was retweeted by BBC Radio 1’s Annie Mac and caught the attention of singer-songwriter Kelli-Leigh. “When I saw that tweet, I started speaking about my experiences,” she says, “and other black and mixed-race women thanked me for speaking out. It’s happened for so many years.”
Kelli-Leigh sang vocals on two UK No 1 singles, both uncredited: I Got U by Duke Dumont and Jax Jones, and I Wanna Feel by Secondcity. “It’s strange when your voice is on the record but you’re not revered in the same way as the producer,” she says. She spoke to Michelle Escoffery, co-writer and credited vocalist for Think About Me by Artful Dodger, who also wrote the Ivor Novello-winning No 1 single Just a Little by Liberty X. The pair have assembled a group of uncredited singers who say it’s time that their contributions are acknowledged – and paid for. A mix tape featuring new versions of their songs is being released this month.