as a kid in the early half of the the 1980′s, i’d watch as my mother and her gay friends shuffle through a crate of vinyl records to choose a song to dance to. one of those songs was “let the music play” any shannon. her friend, Josie, a black gay man who looked very similar to “leroy” from the 1980 film, “fame.” he would dance and lip-sync as we watched. i remember being so captivated by his presence and in complete awe by the sound of percussions and the hypnotic hook (which was sung by a white dude named jimi tunnell) of the song. i am sure that my musical pallet and my incessant need to lip-sync songs was and still is informed by these memories.
on february 1, 1984, shannon’s debut album “let the music play” was released. the success of the title track and the follow-up “give me tonight” were critical in the evolution of both dance and pop music. today we celebrate the unsung dance icon, shannon!
by 1982, after the homophobic and racist driven disco backlash of 1979, dance music still struggled to garner play at pop radio. many uptempo songs, in an effort to not to be confused with “disco”, leaned more pop and r&b. high energy dance songs like sylvester’s “do you wanna funk” were regulated to dance clubs. particularly, black, latinx and queers clubs. mainstream audiences were still afraid of dance music. that would soon change with the release of afrika bambaataa’s “planet rock.”
released in 1982, “planet rock” was sonically unlike anything on heard on radio or the clubs. it was accompanied by songs electro-pop songs like jenny burton’s “one more shot” and “i remember what i like” and freeze’s “IOU.” while these songs brought a more melodic yet harder sound to pop music, they did not crack the pop top 40.
in 1983, shannon auditioned for chris barbosa, a bronx raised Puerto rican who was experimenting with pop, dance and latin sounds. shannon landed the opportunity to sing the barbosa penned song entitled, “let the music play.” upon it’s release, the song became a massive cross-over hit peaking at #8 pop, #2 r&b and #1 dance. the song would also go on to become an international smash reaching top 20 in several countries.
shannon’s follow-up single was the equally slammin’, and in my opinion one of the greatest pop songs in history, “give me tonight.” the song would reach top spot on both the r&b and dance charts. while many consider “let the music play” as the song that gave birth to the freestyle genre, and in many ways that is true. however, there are elements in “give me tonight”, the glitchy iconic breaks, that many subsequent freestyle songs would successfully and unsuccessfully duplicate. i just think “give me tonight” is just a far superior song.
by the time shannon released “my heart’s divided”, her third consecutive #1 dance record in the spring of 1984, no one knew what to call her sound. was it r&b? was it pop? was it dance? many in the industry just began to call it the “shannon” sound. i remember being a music loving kid calling songs by nolan thomas “yo little brother” and chaka khan’s “my love is alive” the “shannon” sound. it was this sound that fellow dance legends lisa lisa and nayobe would build on to create the sound that we now officially call freestyle.
shannon quickly followed up here debut album with the release of “do you wanna get away”, her 1985 sophomore album. by this time radio was now saturated with other “shannon” sounding songs and in an effort to separate herself from the pack, songs on “do you wanna get away” were a bit more poppy and not as dance oriented as her previous singles. the the title track, however, did give her another #1 on the dance/club chart and another top 20 r&b hit.
after the release of a few more singles and one more album, shannon asked to be released from her contract and took an extended break from performing.
in 1997, the dance music landscape had shifted. freestyle had long fallen out of favor and giving way to the house music dominance. but with shannon was still able to notch herself another #1 dance song with the release the todd terry produced “it’s over love.”
shannon is still out here doing her damn thing in 2019! i saw her perform live once as part of a freestyle ensemble concert. she was the opening act. she greeted the crowd w/, “look at what i helped to create. i did this!” she got a standing ovation. yes, you created this miss shannon!
shannon’s “give me tonight” impact is still felt. miss aja kills this gawd damn performance by lip-syncing the best part of the song – the glitchy vocal break! lawd! this is how you honor a legend!