The best way to describe Anita Ward is an accidental disco diva. Why? Well, before the release of her disco classic Ring My Bell, Anita hadn’t even been in a disco. Instead, the whole disco craze had passed her by. So, when she released Ring My Bell, Anita became disco’s latest divas. Ring My Bell sold over one-million copies, reaching number one in the US Billboard 100, US R&B Charts and US Disco Charts, while repeating the feat in the UK. Sadly, that was as good as it got for Anita Ward. She’s since become known as a “one hit wonder.” That isn’t exactly fair though. Songs Of Love, which featured Ring My Bell, reached number eight in the US Billboard 200 and number two in the US R&B Charts. Key to the success of Songs Of Love, which will be rereleased by BBR Records on 25th March 2013, was the quality of songs. Eight quality tracks, written by some of the most talented songwriters of the time made Songs Of Love such a successful album. Indeed, there’s far more to Songs Of Love than Ring My Bell, as you’ll soon realize.

Following the financial meltdown of Stax Records, everyone connected with the company had to reconsider their futures. For Fredrick Knight, his post-Stax future was in running his own record label. Given he was a successful artist, songwriter and producer, Fredrick had the background for running his own label. So he set up Juana Records. Soon Fredrick was recording groups like The Controllers, who were in a similar vein to The Temptations. Then when Juana Records signed a distribution deal with Henry Stone’s T.K. Records, this would prove crucial in his nascent label’s future. Eventually, Fredrick moved his label to Jacksonville, so he could take advantage of Malaco Studios. One of Juana Records’ first hits was Fern Kinney’s Groove Me. However, another female singer Juana Records would sign, would surpass the success of Fern Kinney.

By the time Fredrick Knight first heard Anita Ward, she was enrolled at college, where she was studying towards becoming a teacher. Anita’s voice was similar to Deniece Williams, right down to style and range. So when college administrator Chuck Holmes heard Anita audition for a college production of Godspell, he realized here was a star in-waiting. Chuck contacted Fredrick Knight, acting in a managerial role. When Fredrick heard Anita’s voice, he quickly agreed to record a demo.

initially, Fredrick agreed to record just a three song demo. However, when the recording began, he changed his mind, recording eight tracks. Fredrick Knight wrote Ring My Bell, and cowrote Spoiled By Your Love with Sam Dees. They then penned Make Believe Lovers with David Camon and Michael Ward. Sam Dees wrote Sweet Splendor, David Camon penned If I Could Feel That Old Feeling Again and Chuck Holmes contributed I Won’t Stop Loving You, while Joe Shamwell and Tommy Tate cowrote There’s No Doubt About It. Anita Ward cowrote You Lied with Jimmy Lowe and Chuck Jackson. Given the quality of songwriters involved in what became Songs Of Love, this was a collection of songs with huge potential. All that was needed was a crack band of musicians.

At Malaco Studios, Jacksonville, Mississippi, producer Fredrick Knight put together a crack band of musicians for the recording of Songs Of Love. This included a rhythm section of bassists Ray Griffin and Don Barrett, drummer and percussionist James Stroud plus guitarists Michael Toles, Michael Ward, Dino Zimmerman and Fred Knobloch. Carson Whitsett played keyboards and synths, Fredrick Knight synths and syndrums and Carl Marsh played synths. Ex-Hi Records’ backing vocalists Rhodes, Chalmers, Rhodes joined Fredrick Knight, Cheryl Bundy and Valerie Williams in adding harmonies. They were joined by a horn and string section. Once the eight tracks that became Songs Of Love were recorded, the album was set for release in May 1979. By then, Anita Ward’s life would’ve changed.

Before Songs Of Love was released in May 1979, Ring My Bell was released as the lead single. It sold over one-million copies, reaching number one in the US Billboard 100, US R&B Charts and US Disco Charts. Ring My Bell repeated this feat in the UK in May 1979, heading all the way to number one. When Songs Of Love was released in May 1979, it reached number eight in the US Billboard 200 and number two in the US R&B Charts. Strangely, no other singles were released from Songs Of Love in the US. Over in the UK, Make Believe Lovers was released in July 1979, but failed to chart. As this was when disco suddenly sucked, it was a case of any artist who had any connection to disco was affected. ironically, there was much more to Songs Of Love that disco. It was just a case of people having to look below the surface. With tracks penned by Sam Dees, Fredrick Knight and Chuck Jackson, Songs Of Love was a deeply soulful album.

Proving my point that Songs Of Love is a deeply soulful album, are a two tracks which Sam Dees wrote or cowrote. His best contribution is the title-track, Songs Of Love. It’s tailor-made for Anita’s vocal. Her delivery is heartfelt, ethereal and angelic. She breathes life, meaning and emotion into the Sam’s lyrics. Then on Spoiled By Your Love, written by Sam and Fredrick Knight, Anita pays homage to Deniece Williams. Their vocals have similar styles and ranges. Both can inject meaning, beauty and emotion into a track like this, Here, Anita’s vocal is impassioned, filled with hope and longing. I find it somewhat ironic that given how talented a balladeer Anita Ward is, she’s always been perceived as a disco diva.

Sam Dees’ other contribution was Make Believe Lovers, an uptempo dance track he cowrote with David Camon and Michael Ward. It’s a seven-minute epic, remixed by Robbie Riviera, as was the fashion back in 1979. With its stabs of synths and myriad of percussion, the song soon reveals a soulful, dance-floor friendly sound. Anita’s delivers the lyrics sweetly, subtly and soulfully. Harmonies envelop her, while Rhodes, Chalmers, Rhodes are the perfect accompaniment. They provide the perfect foil for Anita, on a track that although a dance track, is laden with soulfulness.

Ring My Bell was the track that transformed Anita Ward into a disco diva. In some ways, it proved a poisoned chalice. Granted the success and money that came with it was welcome, but sadly, it pigeonholed Anita as a disco singer. She wasn’t. Instead, she was a soul singer with bags of talent and potential. However, for eight minutes, Anita and her career were transformed. For eight minutes, Anita Ward becomes disco diva, strutting her way through the arrangement bells, percussion and synths providing the backdrop. Add into the equation Rhodes, Chalmers, Rhodes’ delicious harmonies, and the result was a memorable, hook-laden disco classic. For eight minutes, Anita Ward becomes disco diva, strutting her way through a track that would forever become synonymous with her.

Just like Sam Dees, Chuck Holmes is a talented singer and songwriter. Chuck’s contribution to Songs Of Love was I Won’t Stop Loving You. This is a slow, heartbreakingly sad ballad, where Anita’s deliver a vocal that’s laden with emotion, heartache and hurt. Rhodes, Chalmers, Rhodes dramatic, soaring harmonies add to the sheer sadness and emotion. Quite simply, this is a stunningly soulful track. Equally soulful, moving and beautiful is Sweet Splendor, written by David Camon. It’s another of Songs Of Love slow ballads, that allows Anita showcase her vocal prowess. This is what she does so well, and could’ve prolonged her career, providing her with a career after disco.

The two tracks that close Songs Of Love are Anita doing what she does so well, singing ballads. This was how she saw her career as progressing. Maybe she realized that disco was merely a passing musical trend. What she needed was music with longevity and music that was suited to her voice. There’s No Doubt About It was perfect for Anita, allowing her angelic voice to transform the lyrics her breathy, joyous delivery. Upbeat and positive, it set Songs Of Love up for its closing track You Lied. It was co-written by Anita. Immediately, the combination of meandering, understated arrangement and Anita’s tender, heartbroken vocal stops you in your tracks. It’s as if Anita has lived the lyrics, but survived the hurt and lived to survive, and tell the tale, eloquently, soulfully and with dignity.

The commercial success and critical acclaim that came with the million-selling Ring My Bell, proved to be a double-edged sword for Anita. It resulted in Anita Ward being perceived as a disco diva. She wasn’t. If anything, Anita was an accidental disco star. She’d never even been in a disco before Ring My Bell was released. Anita never foresaw her career as heading down that road. Why should she? After all, there were far better tracks on Songs Of Love than Ring My Bell. Perm any one from Songs Of Love, Spoiled By Your Love, I Won’t Stop Loving You, Sweet Splendor and You Lied. In some ways, it was lucky Anita didn’t see herself as a disco singer.

There was no future to disco. The events of Disco Demolition Night at Comiskey Park on 12th July 1979 in Chicago saw to that. After that, disco artists, records and labels weren’t popular. So it was lucky Anita Ward wasn’t wanting to build her career on the success of Ring My Bell. She’d enjoyed number one singles in the US and UK, and sold over a million copies of Ring My Bell. Now she could continue her chosen musical career path.

All along Anita was more comfortable with ballads. Indeed, she was at her very best on the six ballads on Songs Of Love. This was where Anita Ward was at her best and where she saw her career heading. Sadly, after her sophomore album, Sweet Surrender was released, Anita Ward split with Juana Records. So 1980 found Anita  

Ward without a record label. Worse was to come. Anita Ward was in a car crash, where she suffered horrendous injuries, including a fractured skull. Thankfully, she pulled though and released her third album Wherever There’s Love in 1989. Maybe if tragedy hadn’t touched her life, then Anita Ward would’ve enjoyed a long and illustrious career. Her debut album Songs Of Love, which will be rereleased by BBR Records on 25th March 2013, demonstrates just how much potential and talent Anita Ward had. Given her talent, Anita Ward should’ve enjoyed critical acclaim and commercial success aplenty. Anita Ward isn’t a disco singer. Instead, she’s a singer who released a disco single. There was much more to Anita Ward’s music than disco. Songs Of Love demonstrates this perfectly. Standout Tracks: Spoiled By Your Love, I Won’t Stop Loving You, Sweet Splendor and You Lied.




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