dirty martini

old music for new people

the woman behind the ‘superwoman’ April 27, 2007

sometimes, you discover artists that no one else seems to know about. one day, in my german class at school, we had to name our favourite artist. it was 1990 so the most popular answers, and most acceptable if you wanted to escape the scorn of your peers, were ‘soul ii soul‘ or ‘de la soul‘. and so it went, all around the room. it must have been riveting for the teacher, although he used to play a banjo, so its likely every response was alien to him.

several brave souls ventured ‘new kids on the block‘ (shouldn’t admit to that one) and ‘madonna‘ (so passe by 1990) and a couple of geeks, keen to display ‘underground’ music knowledge, smugly named some obscure 60s bands and impressed no one. then someone said ‘karyn white‘ and the room fell silent. i didn’t have the inclination to let the rest of the class know that i also knew and liked karyn white, i just listened to the person’s explanation with interest. ‘you know, she did that song ‘superwoman’ but the rest of her stuff is nothing like that. oh, i don’t know…she’s kind of like janet jackson‘. fair enough.

karyn, was a young vocalist in the powerhouse tradition who worked with la and babyface and also jam and lewis over the course of her career, and married terry lewis in 1992. she was a session singer discovered by jazz fusion artist jeff lorber in 1986. he asked her to sing lead on two tracks for his new project ‘private passion’ that was to feature soul vocalists singing over his jazz-funk compositions. ‘facts of love’ and ‘true confessions’ proved the perfect showcase for karyn‘s talent and paved the way for a solo deal.

my classmate was right. karyn‘s eponymous debut in 1988 in a way, did fill the gap between janet‘s ‘control’ and ‘rhythm nation 1814’ albums. most people remember it for enduring ballad, ‘superwoman‘, a staple of easy listening radio playlists to this day. but the truth is that the album was far less pop and more classic r&b than that song would suggest, or that janet would have attempted herself.

the singles released from ‘karyn white’ were far more ubiquitous in the US, who were switched on to r&b far earlier than the UK where it remained a specialist genre, or subgenre of dance, until the late 90s. nevertheless, they did ok over here and I can remember her second album and lead single ‘romantic’ being greeted enthusiastically on tv-am. both a blessing and a curse.
‘ritual of love’ was handily split into a ‘dance me’ side and ‘romance me’ side, if you bought the cassette. which a lot of people still did in those days. this concept has been nicked by many other artists, especially for their greatest hits albums. with her third album ‘make him do right’, karyn continued to have moderate success but never really broke through.

over the years, sharing flats and cd collections, precious few people have ever heard of karyn white. but they all remember ‘superwoman’. aaargh! don’t get me wrong, i love the song but it was an obvious hit and a calculated move, not what she should be remembered for.

ten karyn white songs that I prefer to ‘superwoman’download here

facts of love
music by jeff lorber, vocals by karyn white. this track introduced the world to her talents, at the age of 20.

the way you love me
listen about halfway through – did karyn pioneer the speed-singing style destiny’s child and wyclef claimed to invent on ‘no no no’? beyonce….you never learn do you?

secret rendezvous
should have been much bigger than it was, this was late 80s syncopated r&b at its best. one for the bedroom and the dancefloor.

don’t mess with me
out-sassing control-era janet was always going to be tricky, but karyn has the vocals and attitude to pull it off.

family man
karyn finds out her man has a wife and kids at home. she won’t be the last…and this is the way to deal with it.

not thru being with you
in between her first two albums, karyn hooked up with michael jeffries for this uptempo club smash.

romantic
remix of one of her biggest hits, the first single from second album ‘ritual of love’. less percussion, more bass.

the way i feel about you
remix of the other big hit from ‘ritual of love’. should have been the start of bigger things.

how i want you
one of many great slow jams from ‘ritual of love’. worthy of a place on any 90s ‘do me baby’ playlist.
one heart
sweet ballad that stays just the right side of saccharine. probably written with terry lewis in mind…shame it didn’t work out.
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One Response to “the woman behind the ‘superwoman’”

  1. Elly Says:

    Karyn White is getting more recognition now. I’m not sure if you know this, but a Malaysian singer called “Gary Cao” rewrote the song “Superwoman” as a reply to Kayrn White’s original song. I know you might be frustrated that it’s basically the only song people really know from her, but it’s a start, right? =)


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