For a long time, Grace Jones wasn’t given her full due as a trailblazer and iconoclast in the music industry. The model-turned-singer/actress started her singing career at the height of the disco craze, and no one better exemplified the glitter & cocaine excesses of the era. For a while her success was a small but gilded cage. She was largely a cult figure for her first three albums (Portfolio, 1977; Fame, 1978; Muse, 1979,) with her dance covers of standards and show tunes shoring up a still-loyal gay fan base. At the end of this brief career overview are ten clips to celebrate the wonder of Grace.
Teaming with Chris Blackwell and the legendary Sly & Robbie for her 1980 album Warm Leatherette, she shifted her style and persona considerably, bringing in dub and reggae soundscapes to really illuminate the graceness of Grace. Leatherette included inspired covers (“Private Life,” “The Hunter Gets Captured by the Game,” and “Breakdown”) and set the stage for her massive 1981 crossover album Nightclubbing. That classic featured the iconic, much sampled “Pull Up to the Bumper” and the cult favorite “Feel Up,” as well as a cover of Bill Wither’s “Use Me” that transformed the lover’s lament into a scalding S&M anthem. 1985’s Slave to the Rhythm, produced by Trevor Horn, solidified her cred as the premier art-pop diva (truthfully still unrivaled,) willing to dive into experimental grooves and concepts that find her straddling club accessibility and culture theorist wet dreams. The groundbreaking video for the title track is one of the most influential music clips ever.
Cultural visionary, Keith Haring muse, template for more than a few of Rihanna’s jaw-dropping looks, a unique synthesis of glamor and raunchiness, earthiness and extraterrestrial cool, a totem for both Afro Futurism and Afro Surrealism, mother and grandmother, Grace Jones is a truly singular talent whose influence and importance cannot be overstated.
Fun fact: Grace Jones, Malcolm X, and the late literary giant Lorraine Hansberry were all born today.
Here is Fader’s “14 Reasons Grace Jones Will Live Forever” tribute article.
“La Vie En Rose” Music Video 1977
Grace, Princess of Disco…
This 1993 track, produced by the now defunct San Francisco-based industrial hip-hop outfit Consolidated, is a cover of one of that group’s original tracks. A blistering condemnation of capitalism, patriarchy, misogyny and the place where they all meet, it was intended to be part of a full album the group produced on Grace, but they never got beyond this one track on the project.
“She’s Lost Control”
Grace is a master at covers, and this remake of the Joy Division classic, from the Warm Leatherette album, is turned into an autobiographical tour de force that combines defiance with a whiff of melancholy & madness. This is an audio-only clip.
“My Jamaican Guy”
Sublime… from the masterful 1982 album Living My Life, one of the top two or three albums of her career.
“Slave to the Rhythm”
“Slave to the Rhythm” (Hollywood Bowl concert footage 2015)
This is someone’s grandmother. Lucky kid…
Grace has only made a handful of films. Unsurprisingly, Hollywood had no idea what to do with her. Her role as Strangé in Eddie Murphy’s classic 1992 film Boomerang gives you some idea of what could have been. From Wikipedia: Grace Jones was cast in a role that was essentially written as a parody of herself. Of her work ethic, [director Reggie] Hudlin said that “she was always 100% committed, and would do the absolute craziest thing at any given time. She was absolutely perfect for the role. It was written for her, and she came in very humble, very sweet.” Also worth checking out: Vamp.
Grace came back in a big way with the critically acclaimed 2008 album, an autobiographical work that also included this blistering political commentary. Brooding, dark and menacing, it’s vintage Grace.
Grace Smacks a Rude Talkshow Host
La Vie En Rose Live 2015
Top photo courtesy Jean-Paul Goude.