Debbie Deb on Being Replaced With a Body Double: "They Didn't Want a Heavy Girl"
Deborah Wesoff Lopez's music career got off to a brilliant start.
As Debbie Deb, her first single, "When I Hear Music," recorded with Miami electro legend "Pretty" Tony Butler when she was just 17, helped define the aesthetic of the burgeoning freestyle genre in the mid '80s. And her dreamy 1985 follow-up, "Lookout Weekend," became an even more seminal dance anthem.
But just as quickly as she made her name, it was snatched from her.
Concerned about Debbie's weight and image, her label Jam Packed (an alias of infamous Miami-based company Music Specialists, funded and ran by Sherman Nealy, a well-known Miami drug dealer) hired stand-ins to perform her twin hits.
Another "Debbie Deb" was even recruited to record subsequent singles. "They didn't want a heavy girl, they wanted a Madonna type," she recalls. "There was no picture of me so nobody knew the difference."
Crushed by the experience, the real Debbie Deb ditched music, became a hairstylist, got married, and left Miami for Pennsylvania. But thanks to a resurgence of interest in her music (Janet Jackson, the Black Eyed Peas, and Jason Mraz have covered "Lookout Weekend" in recent years) and freestyle in general, the genuine article, now in her late 40s and performing regularly, has been able to claim her place as one of the oft-forgotten, teen-driven dance genre's original queens. "It's funny how things change," she says. "I'm so busy now, and I'm still heavy. It's more accepted now."
Back in 1984, though, Debbie was a North Miami Beach High School senior when Butler, already renowned for seminal electro singles like "Fix It in the Mix," introduced himself at her job at Peaches Records on 163rd Street. "When I Hear Music" was recorded the next day. "To me, it was just a fun thing to do," she says. "I was never looking to be a singer. My own family didn't even know I sang."
Debbie admits she was ill-prepared at the time for a music career. "I had no training, I didn't know how to perform for people," she says. "And they saw that, obviously. The voice was good for them, but the rest of the package wasn't."