The word “diva” is often bandied about these days to describe any female pop star with a bit of flash, a bit of success and, it seems, only a bit of talent. That term used to be reserved and revered for grand dames of music: first opera, then into the pop field. Divas used to be harsh but beautiful characters, comprising mystique and charisma, larger than life not only in their careers, but in their persons and personas. They made grand sweeping gestures, became muses for artists and were emblematic of an era.
If there would be one woman who could truly reclaim the title of a musical diva, it would be Grace Jones.
This weekend Grace Jones celebrated her 64th birthday. In honour of that, a small bit of herstory is in order.
Born in Jamaica, Jones moved to Syracuse, New York, as a teenager. Not long afterward, she found work as a model. She could often be seen dancing and cavorting at Studio 54, which is where Andy Warhol spotted her and asked her to pose for him. Jones would go on to work with all sorts of artists, including Richard Bernstein (who would design many of her early album covers) and Keith Haring. She has also worked as an actress, with featured roles in Conan the Destroyer, View to a Kill and Vamp. She even did a car commercial for Citroen.
But Jones would be better known as a musician than muse, or rather, a singer.
Her first album, Portfolio, was released in 1977; it included the single “La Vie en Rose,” a disco cover of a Piaf classic. The album was produced by disco wunderkind Tom Moulton — the man who is credited with creating the extended mix or edit — who would go on to produce her next two albums. Jones would then go on to change her musical style, recording her albums in the Bahamas at Compass Point Studios, arguably one of the greatest studios of the early ‘80s. The sound was dubby and dirty and brought her such hits as her cover of Iggy Pop’s “Nightclubbing,” "My Jamaican Guy" and “Pull Up to the Bumper.” Jones would change her style (and her look) once again with the recording of "Slave to the Rhythm," produced by Trevor Horn, of Art of Noise fame.
In 2008, Jones released her first album in nine years, Hurricane, which featured many of the musicians who had worked with her at Compass Point, including Sly & Robbie. She toured to promote the album, garnering good reviews as well as a lot of attention from fans and the media for her fashion statements during her performances.
Happy birthday, Miss Jones. Keep turning it out.