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Jody Watley Dishes on Her Career, Fashion & Upcoming Memoir

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Jody Watley ESSENCE Cover
Jody Watley's May 1988 ESSENCE cover.

When you think of Jody Watley, her ability to produce songs that combine elements of everything from electronica to soul comes to mind. But that's not all the Grammy Award-winning artist is known for. If you take a look at just about any of her music videos or photos, you'll also note her brilliant fashion sense.

ESSENCE.com caught up with Watley to chat about her achievements in both music and fashion, and find out what to expect from her ESSENCE Festival performance on Saturday, July 6.

ESSENCE.com: What’s in store for fans attending your ESSENCE Festival performance?

Jody Watley: My live show always surprises people who haven’t seen me perform. It’s dynamic, it’s funky, it’s stylish, it’s hits, it’s surprises, and it’s some rare grooves. I’m also previewing two new songs from a forthcoming project. I intend to turn it out.

ESSENCE.com: Can you elaborate on your two new singles?

Watley: The first single is called “Nightlife.” It's a nod to my disco funk past, but it's totally current and modern. The second song is called “The Don,” which is another funky dance jam.

ESSENCE.com: Since you’ve had such a great music career, what have you learned about your craft over the years?

Watley: What I have learned is to have my priorities straight in life. My career and pursuit of achieving my goals should never get in the way of living life as a human being. I’m a person that believes in the fact that life is short. Whatever I’m doing has to come from the heart. Though I have accomplished and achieved a lot, I am always a believer in new dreams, new goals and new plans. It doesn’t stop.

ESSENCE.com: Are you enjoying the process of writing your memoir?

Watley: I’ve always enjoyed writing since I was in junior high school. I wrote poetry, short stories and novels, which led to my songwriting. I am trying to write my memoir myself and not use a ghostwriter, so it is definitely a process. I am also working on a fictional novel. The character is a go-getter.

ESSENCE.com: You’re known for mixing high and low brands when it comes to fashion. Why does this work for you?

Watley: It stems from my mom. My mom taught me the first thing I knew about dolman sleeves, Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. I always liked to look nice. Sometimes it was off the beaten path of what other people were doing, but that is authentically me. One of the things about me is I have always been self-styled. With my videos, I never had anyone telling me what was cool. I like that mix of high-low like throwing on a Chanel jacket with some ripped-up jeans. I still see a lot of that in younger artists today.

ESSENCE.com: Share some of the artists you believe have great style.

Watley: One of my favorites is Erykah Badu because she just does her own thing. Rihanna keeps people surprised by her. She changes it up a lot and she reminds me of myself in that way, too. She can do high-low or be totally chic with a gown, but it always has a bit of an edge to it.

Janelle Monáe is very much authentic and has her own vibe. Someone tweeted me the other day that Janelle’s new song “Q.U.E.E.N.” is very much like a Jodi Watley joint. I hear that a lot about Solange as well. Her music makes people think of me, and I take that as a tremendous compliment.

ESSENCE.com: What fashion trends are you enjoying at the moment?

Watley: I love black clothes because they are classic. I also love the recent trend of pops of color, patterns and being bold. I still love vintage, which probably started when I danced on Soul Train. I am always discovering new designers. Through my blog, I discovered ChiChia London, who works great with African prints.

Check out the other artists on the ESSENCE Festival lineup this year. And stay tuned for the July 1st launch of our "Fashion Closet," your ultimate personal online styling tool to find the right outfit for your size.

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