No, they are not svelte young things who prattle on about the wind-chill factor and extended forecast on the 6 o’clock news. But Izora Armstead and Martha Wash call themselves the Weather Girls nonetheless. Between them, these lusty ladies weigh more than 500 pounds and sing up a storm, as proved by their first single, It’s Raining Men, which made a splash on the pop charts this past winter.
The fact that Armstead and Wash came to be musical meteorologists, while not quite a freak of nature, is certainly a stroke of luck. In the spring of 1982 Paul Jabara, co-writer of No More Tears (Enough Is Enough), was looking for someone to record a song he had co-written called It’s Raining Men. Barbra Streisand, Diana Ross and Donna Summer all declined before Jabara remembered Armstead and Wash. “Loads of people turned it down,” says Izora with a grin, “and we would like to thank them all.” The duo cut the disc in three takes, and when no record company made an offer to distribute it, Jabara dispatched tapes to four New York deejays. Before long Armstead and Wash were performing three songs on Jabara’s new LP on CBS Records. CBS also financed a video clip in which the husky songbirds literally rip off a rooftop and recline in bed, while men seem to tumble from the sky. “There are a lot of people who still object to the song,” says Jabara. “They want to know what does it mean, ‘It’s raining men’? What happened to people’s sense of humor?”
The Weather Girls have always had a sense of humor, as evidenced by the way they first billed themselves: Two Tons of Fun. “I knew we were two large, beautiful women,” recalls Armstead, who thought of the name, “and I wanted something catchy.”
Wash and Armstead both have backgrounds in gospel music. Martha, the daughter of a janitor, and Izora, born to a longshoreman, grew up within a block of each other in San Francisco’s Pacific Heights area. Both sang in church choirs. Martha toured Europe with her high school choir, majored in business at San Francisco City College, and worked as a bank teller while waiting for her break. Izora earned her teaching credentials at San Francisco’s Conservatory of Music and made ends meet by working as a cabdriver and bartender.
The two first met in 1958 and in 1974 they both joined the NOW (News of the World) gospel singers and performed at church fund raisers. In 1978 Wash auditioned for an R&B singer named Sylvester. “After five minutes,” she remembers, “he asked me if I knew anybody as large as I was who could sing.” Martha, who weighed “a lot,” immediately collared Izora, who says she tipped the scales at 450 pounds at the time. The three of them squashed into Sylvester’s orange VW and headed for a recording studio. After three years, a tour of Europe and South Africa and one gold single, Dance (Disco Heat), Martha and Izora stepped out on their own with the LP Two Tons of Fun, which also went gold.
Off the road, the two live in modest apartments six blocks from each other near San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. “I’m happily single,” says Martha, who claims to be 27. Izora, who admits to 40, is wed to her co-manager, Frank Armstead, whom she met at a gas station 14 years ago. “For some reason I gave him my real phone number,” she remembers. They share an apartment with six of Izora’s seven children from a previous marriage.
The Weather Girls’ professional forecast is sunny—there’s a second single due shortly and an album and a nationwide tour expected this summer. The partnership remains remarkably free of stormy weather. “We’ve been together so long that we don’t even have to say what’s on our mind,” says Izora. “The other will just know. Even if we do our own things in the future, we’ll always be close. We’ll always be together.”