First Ladies of Disco to shine with the Picnic with the Pops
HUNTINGTON — Ladies and gentlemen, don your metallic wrap dress, your polyester suit — and don’t forget your platform boogie shoes because Huntington is getting ready to party like it’s 1979.
The 50-member-strong Huntington Symphony Orchestra and conductor Kimo Furumoto have contracted a bad case of disco fever. They will welcome special guests, The First Ladies of Disco, to put a little disco ball shine on the final Picnic With the Pops concert this season on Saturday, Aug. 18, The “First Ladies of Disco” include Linda Clifford (“Red Light”), Martha Wash (“It’s Raining Men”) and Norma Jean Wright, from the disco band Chic.
Gates open at 5 p.m., followed by pre-concert entertainment from 6–7 p.m., with the orchestra performing at 8 p.m. Saturday at Harris Riverfront Park.
Tickets are $20 for general admission or $45 for reserved seating. Table reservation packages are available.
The symphony is running a special on general admission (GA) tickets. Buy one $20 GA ticket in advance and get the second for $10. Get advance tickets by stopping by the HSO office at 763 3rd Ave., Huntington, calling 304-781-8343 or going online at huntingtonsymphony.org.
Huntington Symphony Orchestra executive director Hogan Haas said putting a retro club spin on the season’s final Picnic With the Pops seemed like a fun way to close out the riverside concert series.
“Our theme is (that) it’s a family thing, and no family is complete without variety, so we try to hit upon every aspect of the family’s music tastes from the older to the young and truly make it a family thing,” Haas said. “We did a disco theme a few years ago with some local artists and it went over big time so we thought it was a good idea to bring in some hardcore divas who were the original artists.”
The First Ladies of Disco Show was inspired by author/speaker/host James Arena’s 2013 tribute book “First Ladies of Disco: 32 Stars Discuss the Era and Their Singing Careers,” a best-seller in the United States, Canada and Europe.
Since then, multiple vocalists have joined forces to go out together on tour — like the one featuring Clifford, Wash and Wright that plans to visit Huntington.
Clifford is a five - time Grammy nominee. She scored numerous hits from the 1970s through the 1980s, most notably “If My Friends Could See Me Now” and “Runaway Love.” In 1980, she released a duet album with R&B legend Curtis Mayfield, “The Right Combination.” She recorded the popular “Shoot Your Best Shot,” produced by Isaac Hayes and the song “Red Light” for the soundtrack of the smash hit movie “Fame.” Both songs reached No. 1 on the American dance chart and enjoyed pop crossover success.
A two-time Grammy nominee, Wash is dubbed “The Queen of Clubland” due to her ongoing success in the dance music genre. Martha’s fame would have made her mentor, the late disco pioneer Sylvester, proud. As a member of The Weather Girls (previously known as Two Tons of Fun), Wash achieved success with the immortal “It’s Raining Men,” one of dance music’s alltime greatest hits. Wash also performed lead vocals on C+C Music Factory’s “Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now),” which hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Wright was the lead vocalist on Chic, a soul, R&B and disco band in 1977. She sang lead on Chic’s debut album, “Chic” (1978), which includes the hits “Dance, Dance, Dance (Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah)” and “Everybody Dance.” She left Chic in 1978 to begin a solo career, billed as “Norma Jean.” In July 1978, she scored her first R&B Top 20 hit, “Saturday,” from her debut album, “Norma Jean.” In January 1980, she scored her second as well as last R&B Top 20 hit, “High Society.” Wright also has ung as a backing vocalist with the following artists: Constina, Randy Crawford, Will Downing, Aretha Franklin, Fantasy, Debbie Gibson, Nelson Rangell, Luther Vandross, Madonna, Sister Sledge, Nick Scotti & Freddie Jackson. She frequently appears in a duo with another former Chic vocalist, Luci Martin.
Haas said the symphony has had another successful Pops season with ticket sales up over last year, as well as the number of sponsors, too.
“I think we have 67 tables, so it will be a madhouse, but it will be a good madhouse, and there will be dancing,” Haas said. “It’s been a great summer. Our attendance is up, our sponsors are up and we, of course, would love to have more, but more and more companies are starting to join us because they are seeing the importance of having an orchestra is for the whole community.”
Haas said the organization is thankful for a recent award of $8,000 in grant money from the West Virginia Department of Arts, Culture and History and the National Endowment for the Arts, with approval from the West Virginia Commission on the Arts.
“At our last concert the symphony was playing songs from the hit musical ‘Hamilton,’ and we are trying to expand our music more, and as we get more grant money, we can get new music,” Haas said.
Speaking of new, the symphony also has a new board of recently appointed directors. Lisa Chamberlin is the past president, which is like an adviser to the new group that includes Gordon Waters, the new president; Sharon Dennings, first vice president; Larry Tweel, second vice president; Jeff Porter, treasurer; and Lenora Sutphin, secretary.
Haas said the board will help the symphony continue on a good fiscal path so that it can continue to provide symphonic programming year-round in a current climate where many cities’ orchestras have folded or gone bankrupt.
“Right now, we are planning a winter season,” Haas said. “We are definitely having our Christmas concert, and as we finalize more dates, we will announce it. Right now we are above water but we can still see the edge of it.”
Go online at www.facebook.com/firstladiesofdiscoshow and firstladiesofdiscoshow.com to find out more about The First Ladies of Disco. More information on ticket purchases can be found at huntington symphony.org and by calling 304-781-8343.