While Harry “KC” Wayne Casey pretty much phoned in his performance of KC and the Sunshine Band’s “Get Down Tonight” on Wednesday night’s “American Idol” results show , fellow disco sensation Thelma Houston proved why, more than 30 years after her commercial peak, she still has it.
Houston, 65, born Thelma Jackson in Leland, Mississippi, performed her signature hit, “Don’t Leave Me This Way,” on the “Idol” stage, bringing the same energy and infectious enthusiasm that has sustained a 40-year career in music, movies and television.
Signed to Motown Records in 1971, Houston struggled for years, releasing a self-titled debut album that performed poorly in 1973 (it was actually her second album, following a 1969 disc, Sunshower, that also failed to make a dent) and bouncing around between appearing in TV movies, doing soundtrack work and singing backing vocals for Motown labelmate Jermaine Jackson.
But when she released a cover of Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes’ 1975 hit “Don’t Leave Me This Way” in 1977 on her Any Way You Like It album, the tune hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and R&B charts and won her a Best Female R&B Vocal Performance Grammy at the 1978 awards show. Houston continued to release albums and appear in small movie roles throughout the late 1970s, but never again reached the same peak of success she had with “Don’t Leave Me.”
In the 1980s, she focused on her acting career, appearing as a guest on shows including “Cagney & Lacey” and “Simon & Simon,” and in 1995 her signature song once again climbed up the dance charts.
In 2007, she released her first album in 17 years, A Woman’s Touch, which featured covers of songs made famous by such male singers as Sting, Marvin Gaye, Sylvester, Luther Vandross and Melvin and the Blue Notes.