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Thelma Houston

Thelma Jackson (born May 7, 1946), known professionally as Thelma Houston, is a soul singer-songwriter and actress from Leland, Mississippi. She has released records on Capitol, as well as ABC/Dunhill; It was a chance meeting in the early 1970's with the Motown label which subsequently lead to a deal on the subsidiary Mo-West Records. Like Houston's past work, critics praised it but the lack of promotion held her back from becoming a huge star, even though she was held by some as the next Aretha Franklin.

Constant touring and background vocal work kept the money coming in, but she remained strong. While in California, Houston met with a series of session musicians, which would lead to an album made for the then-new audiophile market. This album, I've Got The Music In Me, was released by the new Sheffield Lab label. The album would become the label's best seller, and everyone wanted to know who that voice belonged to.

This partnership would lead to both her biggest hit and her signature song, a cover of "Don't Leave Me This Way". Houston's cover version would become a disco staple, in the same vein as "Last Dance" and "Stayin' Alive". Houston continued to record long after her biggest hit, and she still performs to this day. Houston won a Grammy award for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance for "Don't Leave Me This Way" in 1976, the same year that many industry insiders believed that Diana Ross would/could/should have won for "Love Hangover". Ironically, both songs were Motown records produced by the same production team.

Also in 1977, Houston teamed up with Jerry Butler to record the duets album, Thelma & Jerry, and in November of the same year, she co-starred in the film Game Show Models. It was announced in February that Houston would star as Bessie Smith in a filming of the play Me and Bessie, to be produced by Motown; after an announcement in December that Houston was set to portray Bessie Smith in a biopic to be produced in 1978 by Columbia Pictures, nothing more was heard of the project.

The second single from Any Way You Like It was Houston's rendition of "If It's the Last Thing I Do", a standard written by Saul Chaplin and Sammy Cahn; the track had been recorded and prepped for release as a single in 1973 but was canceled. The impact of "If It's the Last Thing I Do" was far less than that of "Don't Leave Me This Way". With the lead single from her 1978 album The Devil in Me, titled "I'm Here Again", Houston returned to the previous style of "Don't Leave Me This Way" without recapturing the earlier single's success. Houston did enjoy considerable commercial success in 1978 via the inclusion of her track, "Love Masterpiece", on the Thank God It's Friday soundtrack album which sold double platinum but her own album release that same year, Ready to Roll, again failed to consolidate the stardom augured by "Don't Leave Me This Way". The album's second single: "Saturday Night, Sunday Morning", gradually accrued airplay entering the national charts in March 1979 and ascending as high as #34 (#19 R&B) that June. "Saturday Night, Sunday Morning" was issued on a new album by Houston, Ride to the Rainbow, but the track's relative success was not enough to forestall Houston's planned departure from Motown.

Houston continued recording music into the 1980s, beginning with an album titled Breakwater Cat which reunited her with Jimmy Webb who produced her debut 1969 album, Sunshower, and, like their earlier collaboration, was a commercially overlooked critical success. In the December 22, 1984 Billboard magazine interview, Houston admitted to "no real commercial success" since the single "Don't Leave Me This Way" broke on the Pop charts in 1976, indicating that the disco backlash had left her with "no real base of audience support" and that her current album, Qualifying Heat, executive produced by Houston herself, was a concentrated initiative to restore her as a viable chart presence; the album featured three cuts from Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis - including the single "You Used to Hold Me So Tight" - and production work from Glen Ballard, Dennis Lambert, Cliff Magness and - in his first known recording work - Lenny Kravitz (then billed as Romeo Blue), who each produced a cut apiece. "You Use to Hold Me So Tight" became Houston's most successful post-70s release with a #13 R&B peak, but its parent album was a comparative failure - charting at #41 - and Houston would not cut another album for six years.

The constant ranking of her '80s releases as moderate or minor R&B hits led Houston to concentrate on alternate exposure. After appearing in the independent film The Seventh Dwarf in 1979 Houston made guest-starring appearances into the mid-1980s in several popular television programs including Cagney & Lacey, Simon & Simon - a January 1986 appearance that featured her performing "You Used to Hold Me So Tight" - and Faerie Tale Theatre. Houston also appeared in the 1987 CBS after school special Little Miss Perfect (1987) - as "Prison Singer" - in the 1988 film And God Created Woman.

On the May 19, 1985 NBC broadcast Motown Returns to the Apollo, Houston performed "What a Diff'rence a Day Makes" in the guise of Dinah Washington. Houston continued to contribute to movie soundtracks, recording "Keep It Light" for the 1985 film Into the Night and also remade Bill Withers' "Lean on Me" for the 1989 film entitled Lean on Me. Houston also co-wrote and sang back-up on the song "Be Yourself" for Patti LaBelle's 1989 album of the same title.

The fall of 1990 saw the release of Houston's first album in six years, Throw You Down, a long-planned collaboration with producer Richard Perry which briefly extended Houston's career as a minor R&B chart presence. The title song reached #5 on the U.S. Billboard Hot Dance Club Play chart. A remix of "Don't Leave Me This Way" was released, and once again charted on the Hot Dance Club Play chart at #19 in 1995. Subsequent singles include "I Need Somebody Tonight" and "All of That".

In 1994, Houston participated in an AIDS benefit at New York’s Algonquin Hotel, performing gospel music with Phoebe Snow, Chaka Khan and CeCe Peniston as Sisters of Glory. Intended as a one-off performance troupe, the Sisters of Glory remained together - with the addition of Mavis Staples and Lois Walden, and without Chaka Khan - to perform at Woodstock '94. Houston performed with the Sisters of Glory for the Pope in Vatican City and in 1995, Houston, Phoebe Snow, CeCe Peniston, Lois Walden and Albertina Walker recorded an album titled Good News In Hard Times as the Sisters of Glory.

Houston provided lead vocals on several tracks of guitarist Scott Henderson's 1997 album, Tore Down House, and in 1998 she made cameo appearances in two films: 54, which Houston portrayed herself singing "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" supposedly at Studio 54, and in Beloved, in which Houston played 'One of The Thirty Women'.

In 2000, Houston toured successfully throughout Australia in the stage musical version of Fame. In 2002, she once again guest-starred on a Scott Henderson album, providing lead vocals for two of the tracks on Well to the Bone. Upon returning to the U.S., Houston toured with Nile Rodgers and Chic, and was among the opening acts of the originally intended finale of Cher's Farewell Tour in Toronto on October 31, 2003. Houston regularly performs at Teatro ZinZanni in Seattle and San Francisco.

Her version of "Don't Leave Me This Way" continues to be popular today. In recent years, Houston has been invited to sing this song on dozens of TV shows and specials including NBC's Today Show, ABC's Motown 45 and The Disco Ball...A 30-Year Celebration, and PBS' specials American Soundtrack: Rhythm, Love and Soul, Soul Superstars, and Old School Superstars. "Don't Leave Me This Way" was mentioned by VH1 as being among the greatest dance songs in 2000, and was ranked number eighty-six on the channel's countdown of The 100 Greatest One-Hit Wonders. She won an episode of the NBC show Hit Me, Baby, One More Time with her renditions of her own hit and "Fallin'" by Alicia Keys. On September 20, 2004, Houston's rendition of "Don't Leave Me This Way" was inducted into the Dance Music Hall of Fame in New York City.

On August 14, 2007, Houston released her first studio album in seventeen years, titled A Woman's Touch. The album was produced by Peitor Angell and features cover versions of songs by male artists such as Luther Vandross, Marvin Gaye, and Sting that Houston had been inspired by. The first single from the album was "Brand New Day". On August 20, 2007, Houston's 1984 album, Qualifying Heat, was reissued as an import title in the U.S. with a bonus track.

Houston sang "Don't Leave Me This Way" on American Idol on April 22, 2009, and on America's Got Talent on September 16, 2009. On July 29, 2013, a collaboration between Houston and Los Angeles-based producer Janitor, entitled "Enemy", premiered on Soundcloud. Several tracks followed, culminating in the release of an EP, Forty-Two, in September. This is the first new material from Houston in six years. User-contributed text is available under the Creative Commons By-SA License; additional terms may apply.