As we rapidly approach the 10-year anniversary of Jheri Curl June, one of the most exciting things for me is the thrill of “discovering” an artist who I frankly should have known about already. This year, that artist is Gwen Guthrie: a former back-up vocalist, elementary school teacher (!), and commercial jingle singer from Newark, New Jersey, whose series of 1980s club hits led to her being dubbed the “First Lady” of New York City‘s legendary Paradise Garage.
Listening to “Peanut Butter,” the opening track from Guthrie’s 1983 album Portrait, it’s easy to see why she earned the title. Like the rest of her first two albums, it’s produced by Sly (Dunbar) and Robbie (Shakespeare)–also known for their work with previous JCJ inductee and all-around badass Grace Jones–and it’s funky as hell, with the Jamaican production duo’s dub influences showing through in the highly percussive groove. Likewise, Guthrie’s sultry vocal and exhortations to “spread yourself over me like peanut butter” feel precision-engineered for the dance floor–particularly in the even dubbier extended club mix by Paradise Garage house DJ Larry Levan.
I’m not gonna lie–sometimes I worry that we’ve scraped the bottom of the barrel, and that we’ll run out of exciting music to spotlight for Jheri Curl June sooner rather than later. But if after nine years I can still randomly stumble across somebody like Gwen Guthrie, it’s a reminder that there’s still a lot left to learn about and explore.
Speaking of exploring, remember to check out our playlists! We’ll be back for the second full week of Jheri Curl June 2023 on Monday.