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Grace Jones – Androgyny, Artistry and Attitude Will Be on Display at South Facing Festival

At age 75, Grace Jones defines what it is to be courageous in the face of authority.

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The legendary Grace Jones, provocateur of fashion, high priestess of the dance clubs and Idol of the Year at the 2008 Q Awards. As the person who opened the iconic Studio 54 in April 1977 to the New York glitterati in a blinding snowstorm, Jones at the time was emerging from her early '70s modeling career, readying to take on both the city then most certainly the world. Today, at 75, Jones has been celebrated for her genre-bending styles as a trendsetter on the dance floor and off, which should be on full display when she takes over the stage at South Facing Festival at Crystal Palace Park in London on July 26 for a new all-day event entitled Love In Motion.

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Source: © Barclaycard/Talent Republic/YouTube

Barclaycard | Grace Jones - 60" | Droga5

Jones has never been one to back down from a cultural challenge or fade into the distance, a relic from the golden age of disco. What then has given this chameleon of cross-dressing, an outlier among outsiders who eventually righted the angles of conformity? From her history, one can clearly see a not-unfamiliar tale: born in Jamaica, her parents moved to the U.S. on the vision of her clergyman father to become a Pentecostal minister. Jones and her siblings were left in the care of a mentally and physically abusive step-grandfather.

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When she finally moved to be with her family in Syracuse, New York at age 13, it was the classic rebellion era. Freed from the repressive and abusive toll in her homeland, in college she took a theatre class and was able to move to Philadelphia for a summer stock tour. Naturally, leading the hippie lifestyle meant drugs as well as earning money as a go-go dancer.

She moved to New York City at 18 and signed with a modeling agency and then, in 1970, moved to Paris. Jones' gender-fluid looks and dark skin appealed to the high fashion crowd and she took to runway modeling and cover shoots for magazines such as Elle and Stern. Her friendship with model Jerry Hall led to her frequenting gay nighclubs, meeting Karl Lagerfeld and Giorgio Armani and posing for the 1973 reissue album cover for singer Billy Paul ("Me and Mrs. Jones") entitled Ebony Woman.

Source: Philadelphia International Records

Billy Paul - Ebony Woman (1973 reissue)

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Her music career began with Portfolio, a 1977 release that saw her paired with disco maestro Tom Moulton. Broadway standards, an Edith Piaf reinterpretation and her dance hit "I Need A Man" — and an iconic album cover portrait by Interview magazine artist Richard Bernstein — signified not only Jones as a club music presence then, but in hindsight would catapult her into a new era that was brewing on the horizon, circa 1980: new wave.

qgrace jones private life totp
Source: Top Of The Pops Redubbed/YouTube

Grace Jones - Private Life (Top Of The Pops 1980)

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Released in May 1980, Warm Leatherette was Jones' reinventing herself, breaking out of the disco box and embracing the influence of reggae and funk with the help of fellow Jamaican production team Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare. The departure of the Studio 54 mindset freed Jones to project a heavier bass sound and with her look, the beginnings of what would become her signature style: hard flatop haircut, piercing eyeliner and full lipstick mouth that helped enunciate the covers of The Pretenders "Private Life" and Roxy Music's "Love Is The Drug."

Her follow-up, 1981's Nighclubbing, breached the bank of Jones' club appeal, putting her over into the mainstream. The overt leanings into the pop genre were a significant factor in the appeal of standout tracks such as "Demolition Man" (written by Sting and recorded by Jones before The Police version was recorded for Ghost In The Machine) "Pull Up To The Bumper," that in essence summed up Jones' full emersion into it's conception and execution. Wally Badour, part of the team at Compass Point Studios in the Bahamas that worked with Jones said to Fact Magazine in 2014, "It took 'Pull Up To The Bumper''s success for most of us to realize something special was happening."

What Jones didn't expect was at a performance at New York City's Savoy Lounge in August 1981, while performing "Pull Up To The Bumper," a man with a bondage mask leaped onto the stage and handcuffed his hand to her ankle. Such was the chaos with Jones slapping and kicking at him, accounts varied when police arrived if a key or hacksaw was used to remove the cuffs. After an intermission, Jones returned shaken, but not stirred.

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Source: UPI Archives

Jones at The Savoy, not pleased to be cuffed. August 1981.

1982's Living My Life was the final album in the trilogy that began at Compass Point Studios. While not a complete success as the previous two, her interest in furthering another avenue of creativity placed music on hold. In 1984, Jones took on the role of Zula the Amazonian in Arnold Schwarzenegger's Conan The Barbarian and played the villain May Day in the 1985 James Bond film A View To A Kill. And — why not? — posed nude with her then-boyfriend Dolph Lungren for Playboy.

With the release of the concept album Slave To The Rhythm (1985), Jones switched up production to New York City and synth-pop producer Trevor Horn. Originally intended to be a follow-up for Frankie Goes To Hollywood's "Relax," the project was given over to Jones. It proved popular chart-wise, despite a disparate style of one song becoming the focal point, mixed into different versions with spoken word interludes, some read by actor Ian McShane.

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Island Life, a greatest hits compilation, followed in December 1985. Inside Story, her 1986 co-production with Nile Rodgers of Chic, was sometimes fraught with heated discussions. However, this album was her high watermark commercially and remains to this day her last entry into the U.S. Billboard 200.

Source: ℗ © BMG Rights Management, Universal Music Publishing Group/Grace Jones/The Boy Club/YouTube

Grace Jones - I'm Not Perfect (But I'm Perfect For You)

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Since those halycon days of funk and beats, Jones has never disappeared from the public eye. Her chart success cannot be measured in numbers, nor can her influence. She released Bulletproof Heart in 1989 and despite news saying she would never release an album after that, she did in November 2008 with Hurricane. She has done numerous collaborations and dozens of live stage appearances, including her memorable June 2012 performance of "Slave To The Rhythm" at the Diamond Jubilee of Elizabeth II.

Source: ℗ © Unforgettable Songs, Sony/atv Music Publishing Allegro (uk), Unforgettable Songs Ltd., Perfect Songs Ltd/Grace Jones/YouTube

The Queens Diamond Jubilee Concert - Grace Jones (Slave To The Rhythm)

In October 2018, Jones was bestowed the Order of Jamaica from the Jamaican government, which in essence, is the equivalent of a knighthood. Her festival appearances are in the new order of how Jones is presenting herself: understanding her legacy, imparting on other artists how they can influence a generation, guesting on Beyonce's "Move" and causing a tsunami-like wave across an audience that can relate — no matter her or their age — to timeless moments in the Jones' canon.


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