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Black History Month: Martha Wash

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Black History Month: Martha Wash

Tamesha Derico

Today for Black History Month‬, I salute Martha Wash, a Grammy-nominated dance and R&B singer best known for "It's Raining Men" (as part of the Weather Girls), and as the featured vocalist on "Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)."

She suffered discrimination because of her size throughout her career, and famously sued Black Box and C&C Music Factory in the early 1990s for refusing to properly credit her on songs and pay royalties. Wash was also curiously left out of all the music videos she made with these groups, presumably because she didn't have the right "image."

Wash is a music industry pioneer because as a result of her lawsuits, record labels are now required to assign proper vocal credit for albums and videos.

(Click here for source and further reading.)

The video above is for one of her more recent smash dance hits, 2014's "I'm Not Coming Down" (#2, Billboard Dance Club Songs).

I was introduced to Ms. Wash's story recently via a one-hour documentary of her career on an episode of TV One's Unsung, a series which chronicles legendary yet underappreciated music artists. I was incredibly inspired not only by her raw talent, but by her refusal to let others diminish her worth. She never let others' narrow view of what a pop singer should look like prevent her from sharing her awesome gift with the world. She also forced people to acknowledge the worth of her contributions by demanding proper crediting and compensation. 

This story resonates with me, not only as a plus-sized black woman, but as a young professional. Many millennials began our careers with unpaid (or underpaid) internships while in school, and because of this "internship culture," some older professionals have become accustomed to viewing young people as free labor, and are eager to offer "opportunities" to "gain experience" or "skills" - which really means doing large amounts of (often important) work for which they are unwilling to compensate. I'm all for paying one's dues when starting out, but at what point does it equal exploitation? If our expertise is valuable enough to be requested, then it should be properly compensated. 

This phenomenon may be more common in certain fields. I've seen other bloggers who work in communications or creative industries discuss similar challenges.  

In any case, Martha Wash has inspired me to have more faith in my own talents and to remember to assert myself when I am feeling undervalued.  

What about you? Have you ever felt undervalued in your professional or personal life, and how did you refocus the situation? I'd love to continue the conversation in the comments.