Gwen Guthrie (July 14 (some sources say July 9) 1950 – February 3, 1999) was an American singer and songwriter, who also sang backing vocals for Aretha Franklin, Billy Joel, Stevie Wonder, and Madonna, among others, and who wrote songs made famous by Ben E. King, Gary Glitter and Roberta Flack.
Guthrie was born in Okemah, Oklahoma and raised in Newark, New Jersey. In school, she studied classical music, and her father began teaching her piano when she was eight years old. By the early 1970s, she had joined vocal groups such as the Ebonettes and the Matchmakers, meanwhile working as an elementary school teacher. When a backup singer scheduled to sing on Aretha Franklin's 1974 single "I'm in Love" fell ill, Guthrie took the vocalist's place beside Cissy Houston; thus Guthrie would happily state that her career on record began "at the top".
Guthrie soon began moonlighting as a singer of commercial jingles, sometimes with her friend Valerie Simpson (of Ashford & Simpson fame). A songwriting partnership with Patrick Grant resulted in Ben E. King's comeback single, "Supernatural Thing", and "This Time I'll Be Sweeter", covered by numerous artists. Together they wrote seven tracks on the Sister Sledge's 1975 album Circle Of Love: Cross My Heart, Protect Our Love, Love Don't You Go Through No Changes On Me, Don't You Miss Him Now, Pain Reliever, You're Much Better Off Loving Me, and Fireman. She was also the writer of Roberta Flack's "God Don't Like Ugly".
As Guthrie's solo career developed, she worked extensively with Sly and Robbie on dub-influenced club cuts, and began racking up dance hits. She was dubbed "The First Lady of the Paradise Garage" as several of her songs became anthems at the venue, helped by the frequent and dynamic performances she gave there. She soon teamed musically with famed Paradise Garage DJ Larry Levan.
Guthrie is probably best known for her 1986 dance anthem "Ain't Nothin' Goin' on But the Rent", a self-written and -produced track which garnered some controversy for lyrics such as: "No romance without finance/You've got to have a j-o-b if you want to be with me". (and "…Rent" was later sampled by numerous dance and hip hop artists, notably by Foxy Brown in 1998 "Job").
She also had a hit with a cover of "(They Long to Be) Close to You", which reached #25 in the UK charts the same year.
Her single "Can't Love You Tonight" boldly addressed AIDS at a time when the disease was a taboo subject, and she was an ally to the gay community, and people with AIDS long before the masses caught up. Proceeds from the single went to the AIDS Coalition.
Other club hits of hers include "Padlock", "Peanut Butter", and "Peek-a-Boo".
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