C&C Music Factory’s Robert Clivillés, Zelma Davis, Freedom Williams, and David Cole
Sing the line “Everybody dance now!” to anyone and there’s only one song that pops into the brain: the blockbuster 1991 hit “Gonna Make You Sweat,” an infection electro-funk dance floor jammer by C+C Music Factory, consisting of two DJs, a singer and a rapper. And as much as the Weather Girls’ Martha Wash sang the tune, Zelma Davis is the face & body people associate with the timeless song & video. Although Zelma Davis — along with band members DJs David Cole and Robert Clivilles and rapper Freedom Williams — appears in the music video, she was later credited as “visualizing” the song rather than singing it, after a lawsuit by Wash sought to straighten that out.
Davis sang on C+C’s follow up hits, including “Here We Go (Rock & Roll)” and the Arsenio Hall-inspired “Things That Make You Go Hmmm”, but after international success, the Factory shut down after the death of David Cole due to complications from spinal meningitis brought on by AIDS. Attempts to revive the group with another DJ occurred, but later success eludes C+C, unlike “Gonna Make You Sweat,” which continues its streak of popularity in movies and television, sometimes as a dancefloor reference, other times as a 90s punch line, but always to the delight of audiences, regardless of the intent.
Zelma Davis continues to record and perform, most recently with the holiday supergroup Band of Merrymakers, who performed just last week on the Today Show. She stopped to answer our email questions about C+C Music Factory, the Martha Wash controversy, and the “Gonna Make You Sweat” video.
What do you recall from shooting the “Gonna Make You Sweat” video? It was really the first chance that the world got to see the group, and you and Freedom were the big stars of that video.
I recall being very excited at the shoot. I had been performing live with the band for a month before we shot the video. It was my very first experience filming a music video. It was new to me and a lot of fun.
Do you remember the first time you saw the video broadcast? It was pretty much an MTV blockbuster hit right away.
I don’t remember the first time I saw the video, but I do recall my first impression which was that it seemed very different than other music videos of the time, somewhat groundbreaking.
“Here We Go, Let’s Rock and Roll” was the next big hit, but the video set for that one was much more elaborate, set inside a factory. What do you recall from that shoot? You had those giant wings, but were those attached to you?
“Here We Go, Let’s Rock and Roll” was shot in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. It was shot in the month of February, so it was very cold. The giant wings were attached to me but at some point someone had to hold them and move them up and down. I was in pointe shoes the entire time. It was a very intense shoot.
“Things That Make You Go Hmmm” was a very strong third release, but what was the video shoot for that one like? You guys were full blown superstars by then.
The video shoot for “Things That Make You Go Hmmm” was a personal breakthrough because the label finally allowed me to select my own image. I asked the hair and make up team to fashion my look after a Guess ad.
Was the whole Martha Wash controversy tough on you, even though you were the vocalist credited on the follow-up hits and throughout the album? Do you feel you were treated unfairly?
Despite singing on most of the album, the controversy had a negative impact on my career. Unfortunately, I was branded a model even though I have always been a vocalist.
“Gonna Make You Sweat” became a dance club anthem, so it has continued to live on with placement in films and TV. Is there a “Gonna Make You Sweat” moment from TV or film that really made you laugh?
I can’t pinpoint one that stands out. It’s always a nice surprise when I’m watching a movie and unexpectedly hear “Gonna Make You Sweat” or a reference to C+C Music Factory.
Is it somewhat bittersweet to watch those videos since David Cole is always a part of those videos, and he is no longer with us?
Watching our old videos is bittersweet. When I see David in videos and photos I remember the great times that we shared.
Zelma Davis (far left) on the Today Show with Band of Merrymakers