Dancing Queen

’90s house-music diva Ultra Naté returns to the club scene — this time, behind the decks

August 2, 2012

Dance diva Ultra Naté

If you spent time in dance clubs in the ’90s, you know the name Ultra Naté. The singer’s big-voiced house-music anthems — including such classics as 1994’s “Show Me” and 1997’s “Free” — fueled many an all-night party and inspired dozens of worshipful DJ remixes.

Ultra Naté (born Ultra Naté Wyche) didn’t set out to be a dance-music icon. The Baltimore-area native was on her way to becoming a pre-med student when a friend brought her by Odell’s nightclub in Baltimore in the mid ’80s. The club, which closed in 1987, was the place to be to hear DJs spin the latest house, R&B and new wave records.

“That first time I walked in Odell’s, it was a wrap,” she says. “It was like I found myself in that space, on that dance floor.”

Things happened fast after that. She met legendary Baltimore producers the Basement Boys — who would go on to work with and remix Paula Abdul, Erykah Badu and Crystal Waters — and they encouraged her to make a demo. They recorded Ultra Naté’s first single, the soulful 1989 anthem “It’s Over Now.” The track worked its way into heavy club rotation and ended up in the hands of a Warner Bros. A&R executive who snapped up the budding vocalist for a record deal.

“I ended up on a major label fresh out of high school, never having written a song before that moment,” she says. “I had no official education or training in songwriting or singing. I was just following the path that was in front of me.”

That path would take Ultra Naté across the globe. She racked up a string of dance-chart hits in Europe and the U.S. in the ’90s, including “Turn Me Loose” (featured in the 1995 Parker Posey film “Party Girl”) and “Automatic,” which hit No. 1 on the U.S. dance charts.

Ultra Naté is still recording: Her long-awaited next full-length, “Hero Worship,” will feature the already-released high-energy single “Waiting On You,” with guest vocals by former Destiny’s Child Michelle Williams.

These days, she can also be found inside the DJ booth, holding down the floor at her monthly Deep Sugar party at Baltimore’s Paradox club, where she spins house, techno and disco.

“I started DJing out of the necessity,” she says, “to keep the music and that underground scene alive.”

U Street Music Hall, 1115A U St. NW; with Lisa Moody and Chris Burns, Fri., 10 p.m., $5; 202-588-1880. (U Street)
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