Thelma Houston  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Thelma Houston (born Thelma Jackson on May 7, 1946) is an American singer-songwriter and actress. She scored a number-one hit in 1977 with her cover version of the song "Don't Leave Me This Way", which won the 1978 Grammy Award for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance.


Early life

Houston was in Leland, Mississippi, the daughter of a cotton picker mother. She and her three sisters grew up primarily in Long Beach, California. After marrying and having two children, she joined the Art Reynolds Singers gospel group and was subsequently signed as a recording artist with Dunhill Records.


In 1969, Houston released her debut album, entitled Sunshower. In 1971, she signed with Motown Records, but her early recordings with them were largely unsuccessful. Her most notable single during that period was "You've Been Doing Wrong for So Long" which peaked at number sixty-four on the R&B chart in 1974. In April of that same year she joined the cast of The Marty Feldman Comedy Machine, playing various characters during the shows skits. The show was canceled in August and for the next several years her work was limited to demo recordings and performing at small venues.

Houston took acting classes and received her first role in the 1975 made-for-television film Death Scream. The following year she recorded songs for the soundtrack to the film The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings starring Billy Dee Williams and James Earl Jones. She was then invited to sing backing vocals for Motown labelmate Jermaine Jackson on his 1976 album My Name Is Jermaine.

Houston released her third album Any Way You Like It in 1976. The first single released was her version of Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes' 1975 song "Don't Leave Me This Way". In February 1977 it hit number one in the U.S. on both the Billboard Pop and Black Singles charts as well as on the Club Play Singles chart. The song won for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance at the 1978 Grammy Awards. Later on that year she teamed up with Jerry Butler to record the album Thelma & Jerry. In November 1977 she co-starred in the film Game Show Models. The following year she recorded the single "Love Masterpiece" for the disco/comedy film Thank God It's Friday.

In 1979, Houston released the single, "Saturday Night, Sunday Morning", which became her second—and final—top forty hit in the United States (number nineteen R&B, number thirty-four Pop), from the Ride to the Rainbow album. She briefly returned to acting that same year, appearing in the independent film The Seventh Dwarf.

The 1980s

Although Houston recorded other albums throughout the '80s, none of the singles from those albums matched the success of "Don't Leave Me This Way". Most of the releases became either moderate or minor R&B chart hits. She decided to concentrate on her acting career, and during the early-to-mid-'80s she guest starred in several popular TV series including Cagney & Lacey, Simon & Simon, Faerie Tale Theatre, and the CBS after school special Little Miss Perfect (1987). In 1988 she appeared as a prison singer in the romantic comedy film And God Created Woman.

Houston decided to return to music in 1989, when she recorded a new version of Bill Withers' 1972 song "Lean on Me" for the film of the same name. She also co-wrote and sang back-up on the song "Be Yourself" for Patti LaBelle's album of the same title.

The 1990s

In the fall of 1990 she released her first album in over five years, entitled Throw You Down. The title song reached number five on Billboard's dance chart. A remix of "Don't Leave Me This Way" was released and once again charted on Billboard's Hot Dance Club Play chart at number nineteen in 1995. Subsequent singles include "I Need Somebody Tonight" and "All of That". She briefly returned to acting in 1998 with small roles in the films 54 (about the famed nightclub Studio 54) and Oprah Winfrey's Beloved.

Recent times

In 2000, Houston toured successfully throughout Australia in the stage musical version of Fame. Upon returning to the U.S. Houston toured with Nile Rodgers and Chic, and with Cher on her Living Proof: The Farewell Tour. Houston regularly performs at Teatro ZinZanni in Seattle and San Francisco.

Her version of "Don't Leave Me This Way" continues to be popular today. In recent years she has been invited to sing this song on dozens of TV shows and specials including NBC's Today Show, ABC's Motown 45 and The Disco Ball...A 30-Year Celebration, and PBS' specials American Soundtrack: Rhythm, Love and Soul, Soul Superstars, and Old School Superstars. "Don't Leave Me This Way" was mentioned by VH1 as being among the greatest dance songs in 2000, and was ranked number eighty-six on the channel's countdown of The 100 Greatest One-Hit Wonders. She won an episode of the NBC show Hit Me, Baby, One More Time with her renditions of her own hit and "Fallin'" by Alicia Keys. On September 20, 2004, Houston's rendition of "Don't Leave Me This Way" was inducted into the Dance Music Hall of Fame in New York City.

On August 14, 2007, Houston released her first studio album in seventeen years, A Woman's Touch. The album features cover versions of songs by male artists such as Luther Vandross, Marvin Gaye, and Sting that Houston had been inspired by. The first single from the album was "Brand New Day". On August 20, 2007, Houston's 1984 album Qualifying Heat was reissued as an import title in the U.S. with a bonus track.



Dunhill release
Motown releases
Sheffield Lab release
RCA releases
MCA releases
Reprise release
Italian-only release (Fonit Cetra CDL378)
  • 1994: Thelma Houston (1994)
Shout Factory release


Year Single Chart positions
U.S. U.S. R&B U.S. dance U.S. dance airplay UK
1966 "Baby Mine"
1967 "Don't Cry, My Soldier Boy"
1969 "Everybody Gets to Go to the Moon"
"Jumpin' Jack Flash"
1970 "Save the Country" 74
"The Good Earth"
1972 "I Want to Go Back There Again"
"Me and Bobby McGee"
"Piano Man"
"What If?"
"I'm Just a Part of Yesterday"
1974 "You've Been Doing Wrong for So Long" 64
1976 "Don't Leave Me This Way" 1 1 1 13
"Any Way You Like It" 1
"If It's the Last Thing I Do" 47
1977 "I'm Here Again" 21 18
"I Can't Go on Living Without Your Love"
"It's a Lifetime Thing" 84
"Don't Pity Me" (with Jerry Butler)
1978 "I'm Not Strong Enough (To Love You)"
1979 "Love Masterpiece" (from Thank God It's Friday)
"Saturday Night, Sunday Morning" 34 19 33
"Love Machine"
1980 "Suspicious Minds"
1981 "If You Feel It" 6 48
"96 Tears" 76 22
1983 "Working Girl" 46
"Just Like All the Rest" 80
1984 "You Used to Hold Me So Tight" 13 7 49
"What a Woman Feels Inside"/"Fantasy and Heartbreak"
1985 "I'd Rather Spend the Bad Times with You, Than the Good Times with Someone New" 4
"(I Guess) It Must Be Love" 59 80
"Why Do People Fall in Love" (with Dennis Edwards)
"Moonlight Serenade"
"In the Mood" (from Into the Night)
"My Lucille" (with B. B. King)/"Keep It Light"
1989 "Lean on Me" 73
1990 "Hold On"
"Out of My Hands" 82
"Throw You Down"/"What He Was"
1991 "High" 66
"Throw You Down" 6
1996 "Don't Leave Me This Way" (Junior Vasquez '96 Version) 19 35
"I Need Somebody Tonight"
1998 "All of That"
1999 "Let It Be" (with Roger Daltrey)
2004 "Don't Leave Me This Way" (Soultans Mix)
2007 "Brand New Day" 20 30



  • 1975: Death Scream — Lady Wing Ding
  • 1977: Game Show Models — Dana Sheridan
  • 1979: The Seventh Dwarf
  • 1988: And God Created Woman — prison singer
  • 1998: 54 — herself
  • 1998: Beloved — one of The Thirty Women

Television (guest)


Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Thelma Houston" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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