've never bought a disco record in my life," Amii Stewart told Paul Sexton in a 1985 Record Mirror interview. "And I don't want to buy one. When I go home and close that door I don't want my brains to be blown out. I go home and listen to Donald Fagen, Nik Kershaw, Phil Collins..."
She was born Amy Paulette Stewart in Washington, D.C., on January 29, 1956, the fifth of six children. Her father, who worked at the Pentagon and couldn't discuss his top secret work with his family, taught Amii to play music. At nine she took dance lessons, but her guidance counselors in junior high school tried to steer her away from a show business career. Her high school principal came to the rescue -- he was her uncle -- and arranged her class schedule so she could study dance in the afternoons.
There already was an Amy Stewart registered with Actor's Equity, so she changed the spelling of her first name to Amii. She attended Howard University in Washington, but left to work with the D.C. Repertory Dance Company, studying ballet and modern dance.
In 1975, she joined the touring company of "Bubbling Brown Sugar" in Florida, then joined the show on Broadway. A twist of fate brought her to London where she not only appeared in the show, but was assistant director.
While living in London, Amii met record producer Barry Leng. She was suffering from a cold when she auditioned for him, but he liked her singing anyway and produced "Knock on Wood" for her. Floyd's original recording, released on Memphis-based Stax Records, only went to number 28 in late 1966. Amii's updated version entered the Billboard Hot 100 on January 27, 1979, and went to number one 12 weeks later. The follow-up, a medley of the Doors' "Light My Fire" and "137 Disco Heaven," stalled at number 69, but was a top five hit in Britain. In 1980, Amii recorded a duet of Mary Wells' "My Guy" and the Temptations' "My Girl" with Johnny Bristol. That single peaked at 63 in America and 39 in Britain.
Amii's most recent success was "Friends," which went to number 12 in Britain in early 1985. "'Friends' is total different from anything I've ever done, thank God," she said in Record Mirror. "You can't spend your life singing songs like 'Knock on Wood.' There's more melody now, you can dance as well as sit down.... The disco era was a very good era for me, but it just wasn't geared for melody."
- Fred Bronson, The Billboard Book of Number One Hits, Billboard, 1988.
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