For Stone, and many house vocalists, major label success proved creatively restrictive, as the corporate world expected them to reprise the same hit formula (“when I wanted to spread my wings, I was stuffed back into a box,” she says). The generic term “diva” also seemed to eclipse the distinct splendor of individual artists. “I’ve never identified with the term ‘diva’,” says Stone. “I had three little kids at home when Show Me Love came out; after getting onstage, I’d come back to feed my kids and change diapers.” She remains humble, adding that she’s now in her element as an independent artist: “To be standing before audiences at 60 years old is truly a blessing.”
While the lack of industry credit for club vocalists remains an issue (as Jumi Akinfenwa noted in a 2021 Guardian feature), the digital age makes it easier to highlight innovators and share inspirations. “It’s a massively positive thing, because it shows record labels that you don’t have to just put a squeaky young voice on a house track,” says Paulette. “It’s really down to people being as open-minded as they can be with music.”
Voices of club culture
The fantastically far-ranging Mancunian singer-songwriter Rowetta has brought her powerhouse vocals to multi-genre projects, including her work with the Happy Mondays since 1990. She is categorically not a backing singer. She also remains a prominent voice of club culture; a 2008 version of Robin S’s Show Me Love (mixed by Steve Angello and Laidback Luke) opens with Rowetta’s voice (and lyrics) from her 1990 track with Sweet Mercy, Reach Out. It’s a sample she’s now recognized, and rightly paid, for.
Rowetta also recalls clubbing at the Hacienda in the early 90s, and being surprised to hear her voice on hot new dance tracks (which transpired to be Eterna by Slam, and Baby Can You Reach by Limelife). “At the time, I didn’t know you could sample people, or that there was an a capella version of Reach Out circulating,” says Rowetta. “Back then, you couldn’t Google tracks. I later told Todd Terry [the superstar DJ/producer behind Limelife] off, and I’ve done a few tracks with him now. I’ll speak my mind; you can be in awe of someone, but don’t ever lose your true self. I love my work; I don’t care about the famous thing, but I want to be respected for my voice. People that I’ve always wanted to work with are approaching me now.” Rowetta has proven that she can sing pretty much any style, but she retains an emotional connection with house music, because “You can sing as a woman with attitude, whether you’re shouting it out, or singing softly”.