Photo by Fabian Otto

Snap! Crackle! Pop!

iinta mini-series 2/3 | Penny Ford’s Claim to Fame

Author/Editor: Jennifer J. Lacelle
May 10, 2021

The musical world is full of steep mountains to climb: some people manage to reach the top, others turn back, and some perish along the way… just like climbing literal mountains. How many musicians quit when the going gets tough?

Musical legend, Penny Ford, is not the type to climb down that mountain. Though, she realizes now that there were times in Hollywood when she could have perished had she made different decisions. Afterall, the choices we make create our lives.

Following the release of her first album with Total Experience Records, Penny Ford moved on to replace the lead singer in all-female band, Klymaxx in 1986. Ford was nervous to join a group that was all women, however, she was pleasantly surprised.

“It was a wonderful experience,” says Ford. “I didn’t think I would have so much fun with an all-female band, I thought it would be a nightmare.”

She travelled with the band for a year before things turned south. Ford says the bassist was beginning to take gigs outside of the group, which caused another member to lash out with jealousy. This began creating rifts in the team, and the other members began to feel they deserved higher recognition for their work individually. This led to the group splitting apart.

Ford believes many artists think that performing in a band somehow diminishes them. While they may hold onto that belief, Ford was of a different opinion.

“You get to paid to sing with somebody who’s iconic,” Ford says, shrugging lightly. “It’s a different kind of euphoria being on stage with an idol.”

So, when she received a call that S.O.S.’s lead singer was breaking off to go solo, despite the group’s iconic status, Ford decided to begin working with them. One of the reasons she received the call was her ability to sound like the former singer, making her an indelible asset for the group.

Having already been a solo artist, some may have thought Ford was taking a step backward in her career. But because of that different notion and thought process of hers, Ford didn’t watch herself diminish as a performer.

She only played with the group for a few months as the dynamics weren’t any better than the previous band. In fact, she says it was worse. Though, things began looking up when she met the man who she thought was the love of her life.

It all happened when the S.O.S. band was on stage, and Ford glanced offstage to see a very handsome, Italian man watching. Turns out the band was using sound equipment from his company, explaining the reason for his appearance.a

It only took a couple months thereafter for her to become an item with him, quit the band, and move back to Cincinnati. She was ecstatic, to say the least, about being engaged to a fiery, attractive man who had been the most eligible bachelor around.

“Every day was beautiful,” she says.

His family was also quite prominent in Cincinnati, which makes sense as his father was the founder of many jazz festivals across the country. This meant when his father passed away, shortly after returning to her home town, the news coverage was substantial. Their relationship turned upside down as their lives became messy fast.

Because there was substantial money involved, and he was the first-born son, Ford was forced to handle the brunt of his stress. Their lifestyle went from beautiful each day to a dark, overcast relationship as it turned abusive.

“I’d never been in an abusive relationship,” says Ford. “I didn’t know what was going on.”

Rather than stay in the situation, she decided she would head back to Los Angeles and begin working again. Which is what she told him, however, her attempt to conceal the actual time frame went awry. She had said it would be a couple weeks, only to do one gig, but her intuition screamed that he didn’t believe her. While it was true, there was no specific job for Ford in L.A., she had hoped there would be no muss and fuss over her departure.

Photo by Fabian Otto

Instead, he planned a very expensive and romantic dinner. But the plot thickens… the steaming hot Italian dish of spaghetti found it’s way onto Ford’s lap, leaving her in the hospital for a month with both second and third-degree burns.

Naturally, it was played off as an accident but Ford’s sneaking suspicion was that it was by design. He nursed her back to health, it was at least a month-long recovery, until she could finally walk again. At which point, she made her quick getaway to L.A.

Though, the freedom was short lived when he too made his way to the giant city and purchased a house.

“Things were supposed to be beautiful again,” says Ford of the new arrangement, though she says it wasn’t long before it reverted back to the abusive situation.

It was around this time that she finally met the woman who inspired her to become a singer: Chaka Khan. Ford says the more experienced musician became her protector.

“My life took a whole other lane,” says Ford. “I started working with my idol. We became thick as thieves.”

She recalls watching Khan put him up against a wall. She told him that if Ford was “stupid” enough to go back to him when she wasn’t touring with Khan, then that was her decision. But said to him, “when she’s with me, she’s mine.”

It was also around this time that Ford started doing drugs, a normal aspect of the music industry, especially in L.A.

Finally, after time had passed, they needed to clean their systems through a sort of self-rehab. Khan’s family sent her to London and within two weeks she had invited to join her, worried about leaving her in that messy situation.

Within four months she had signed on with Zomba, London division, and began writing. Simultaneously, Khan received a phone call from some German producers who were interested in having her sing in a new group. However, she wasn’t interested and suggested Ford take the gig.

She spent three days singing music she hoped she would never hear again, saying, “I literally hated it. I was a music purist.”

However, over those few days, she recorded several songs for the German group, Snap! These songs, and album, would later create world-wide hits, including The Power and Ooops Up.

At that point, Ford believed in the traditional styles of music: jazz, soul, rhythm and blues. She liked the smooth melodies that are associated with such genres. So, to walk into a studio and hear electronic dance music was a mind-boggling experience.

After returning to London, she was relieved to be back to writing and singing in her typical genres, not giving much thought to the EDM songs she had just created. Ford found her way to working with Massive Attack, Soul II Soul — a hugely popular British band that specialized in soul and R&B, — and Mick Jagger.

Ford soon found herself living with a keyboard player while deciding whether or not to head back over to America. It was at that point she heard her one of the songs that she had performed in Germany!

The Power appeared on the widely popular television show Top of the Pops. But here’s the kicker: the video didn’t have Penny Ford! There was a random girl miming Ford for the official video that was being globally aired.

Let’s take a step back in time for a brief second. This was occurring at the same time of the Milli Vanilli incident. Anyone under the age of thirty probably doesn’t know the significance of that though, so here’s a brief history.

Penny Ford with Soul II Soul

Music was taking a turning point in the later 1980s and early 1990s wherein music videos were beginning to form, and subsequently appear on television. Also, it was quite common in Europe for companies to use “lookalikes” instead of the actual musicians for these videos and performances.

That’s what happened with Milli Vanilli. The men who became famous received Grammy awards, and appeared on the videos despite not being the actual singers. When this became public knowledge a massive uproar ensued, and the two front-men were forced to return the Grammys. Subsequently, their careers flopped.

Ford was in a similar predicament, except on the other side.

When she saw the video, Ford recognized the song, but the person who was performing was somebody else. They had taken another girl and put her on the video to mime the vocals. To make matters worse, The Power also happened to be the number one song in the UK, and she wasn’t receiving the credit due to her.

Being on the same record label as Milli Vanilli, Ford had some leverage as the incident escalated to such magnitude. By the time they connected, the company not only wanted her, but needed her in order to prevent another incident from occurring.

“They knew America would find out that the chick on the TV wasn’t me,” Ford laughs heartily. “They had to work me into the group.”

Thus, began her “first act” with the German Europop group, Snap! whose worldwide success cannot be understated. The group’s single, The Power, sold over 1 million copies in the United States — over 7 million globally — after it’s release in 1990. The album (World Power) quickly became one of the highest selling dance records to date!

World Power also received gold certifications in Australia, Austria, Sweden, United Kingdom, and United States. They furthermore received platinum certification in Germany and Switzerland.

Being the absolutely lovely person she is, Ford enjoys having fun and laughing. So, be sure to check out her TikTok Challenge with iinta magazine and boutique; let’s see if you can keep up!

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