Debbie Deb on Being Replaced With a Body Double: "They Didn't Want a Heavy Girl"

Keep New Times Free
I Support
  • Local
  • Community
  • Journalism
  • logo

Support the independent voice of Miami and help keep the future of New Times free.

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.

See also:

-Favorite '80s Freestyle Songs, According to Miami Music Junkies

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."

The singer says she co-wrote "When I Hear Music" and "Lookout Weekend" with Butler but received only $100 for each at the time. Later, she sued, successfully, for a small share of the profits. "I had enough to buy a car," she says. "I was still young and I was happy with that, and I was done with it."

A decade after "When I Hear Music," Bo Crane of Miami label Pandisc tracked her down at an Aventura hair salon. The result, 1995's She's Back album, was too late to capitalize on the freestyle fad (the style peaked in the late '80s and faded by '92), but it gave the genre's die-hard fans a face to match with the voice. "And ever since then, every year I do more and more shows," she says, proudly.

Often, these are package bills with other freestyle singers like Stevie B (with whom she plays Magic City Casino this weekend), Exposé, and fellow Pretty Tony muses Connie and Trinere. These same artists, who competed for airplay as teens, have developed a tight bond since being summarily discarded by labels and radio, as rap and house took over in the '90s.

"We got lost somewhere in the industry, not knowing what to even call it," she says of the freestyle sound, typified by uptempo electro beats and vocals dealing with themes of heartbreak and dancing. "We all get along almost like brothers and sisters."

And these days, though weight may still be an issue for Debbie Deb, confidence certainly is not.

"When I do a show, I try to sing to everybody individually [and] make everybody feel like I'm their friend," she says. "I'm very close with the crowd. I'm kind of known for that now."

Debbie Deb and Stevie B. Saturday, August 3. Magic City Casino, 450 NW 37th Ave., Miami. The show starts at 8 p.m. and admission is free. Ages 21 and up. Call 305-649-3000 or visit magiccitycasino.com.

Follow Crossfade on Facebook and Twitter @Crossfade_SFL.

Keep Miami New Times Free... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Miami with no paywalls.

We use cookies to collect and analyze information on site performance and usage, and to enhance and customize content and advertisements. By clicking 'X' or continuing to use the site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. To find out more, visit our cookies policy and our privacy policy.


Join the New Times community and help support independent local journalism in Miami.


Join the New Times community and help support independent local journalism in Miami.