*On June 30, 1979, Anita Ward began her two-week run at No. 1 on the U.S. singles chart with “Ring My Bell,” a disco anthem that made her a household name for decades to come. But the tune was not originally written for Ward.
Then a 21-year-old graduate of Mississippi’s Rust College with a degree in psychology, Ward was teaching school when she signed her first record deal. She had come from a family of vocalists, and once told a reporter that singing was “probably in my blood.” She was first offered a deal at age 14, after singing in a Black history program. But her parents thought she was too young to sign and passed on the opportunity.
In college, the Memphis native joined Rust’s famed choir and nabbed a role in the school’s presentation of “Godspell.” School administrator and songwriter, Chuck Holmes, was in the audience for one of the performances. Impressed by the young talent, he soon became her manager and began shopping her to different labels.
Meanwhile, around the same time in Southeast D.C., 11-year-old singer Stacy Lattisaw was performing at Dupont Park for a National Park Service event headlined by Ramsey Lewis. A tape of the performance was given to Frederick Knight, a writer/producer who had a label deal with TK Records. Knight had been an artist on Stax Records and had success with the 1972 single “I’ve Been Lonely for So Long.”
When Stax was forced to shut down in 1975, Knight launched his Juana Records imprint the same year, distributed by TK Records, the home of George McCrae’s “Rock Your Baby,” and a string of KC & the Sunshine Band hits, including “Get Down Tonight”, “That’s the Way (I Like It)”, “(Shake, Shake, Shake) Shake Your Booty” and “I’m Your Boogie Man.” Knight offered Lattisaw a contract, and had written “Ring My Bell,” a song about teens talking on the phone, to be her first single.
But Lattisaw would never sign that contract. A family lawyer familiar with the record business advised her against it. The pre-teen singer instead signed with Atlantic’s Cotillion Records in 1979 and released the album “Young and in Love,” with the ballad “When You’re Young And In Love” (and this Van McCoy-produced disco version) as her first single.
Suddenly, Knight was left with no one to sing his teenybopper ditty. The following year, Knight pitched the song to his newest artist on Juana Records, Anita Ward.
Holmes had brought Ward to Knight and she was immediately signed. To test the waters, she released a single in 1978 called “Spoiled by Your Love.”
“Spoiled by Your Love” went nowhere. The song did nothing to line Ward’s pockets, so Holmes suggested that she make money substitute teaching while working on her album because the schedule allowed flexibility to hit the studio when necessary.
Having just lost Lattisaw to Atlantic/Cotillion, Knight gave his song about teens talking on the phone to Ward, believing it should lead off her debut. But the schoolteacher was not impressed by the song’s disco feel, as she preferred taking her time with R&B ballads. But Knight insisted that the album needed an uptempo number rooted in music’s hottest genre at the time.
So, “Ring My Bell” was rewritten with more adult lyrics, about a woman encouraging her man to relax together after a hard day’s work. The track was reproduced, recorded by Ward and released in 1979 as the first single from her debut album, “Songs of Love.”
Unlike “Spoiled By Your Love,” everyone and their mama’s bell was rung with this jam during the summer of ’79. “Ring My Bell” would be Ward’s only hit record, having topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart 43 years ago on June 30. It also reached No. 1 on the Disco Top 80 chart and the Soul Singles chart. Globally, it topped charts in the UK, Canada, Norway, Spain and New Zealand, not to mention reaching the top 5 in dozens of other countries. The following year, the song earned Ward a Grammy nomination for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance.
Ward lost the Grammy that year to “Deja Vu,” this Isaac Hayes-penned/Barry Manilow-produced masterpiece from Dionne Warwick.
But “Ring My Bell” continues its resonance.
Here’s Ward performing the song some two decades later…
And three decades later … at 63 years young.