It's raining Oscars at Herbst Pavilion 

Ask disco royalty Martha Wash who she thinks will take home the Oscar gold on Sunday and she'll make references to a queen of another kind.

"Helen Mirren … oh, she's going to get it," Wash says from her home in New York City.

Wash returns to San Francisco (her hometown) to liven up an already lively affair — The 27th Annual Academy of Friends Gala — at Herbst Pavilion. Touted as one of the biggest Oscar parties outside of Hollywood, the event raises funds allocated to a diverse set of HIV/AIDS agencies — 15 in all — in the Bay Area.

The singer hits the grand stage immediately following the Oscar telecast.

Dubbed "the Queen of Clubland," Wash's commanding, knock-your-socks-off vocals made her celebrity soar back in the '70s as the second half of the group, Two Tons O' Fun. She also sang with Sylvester. But in the early '80s, Two Tons laid down something heavy: They morphed into the Weather Girls and released "It's Raining Men."

The creative forecast was stellar after that.

"I'd like to say that it was because of the music and because of our voices," Wash says of that sudden fame, "but it was just that time. That music was more fun. People really dogged what the disco era was, but the people in the disco era have kids now and I think a lot of them still miss that music. If you were to get those people out on the dance floor and put that music back on, the dance floor would just be crowded, with their kids as well."

Wash, who still performs around the country, is currently working on a gospel album. She has some thoughts about the state of the music industry today.

"I would like to see more airplay for artists that are not on record labels, major labels. Give them their shot and airplay."

About the one unique spot in the universe where that's already happening — "American Idol" — Wash laughs.

"I watched the auditions, OK? What I usually do is watch the auditions and wait until the very end. Because I can't deal. I'm sorry."

Would she ever be a guest judge on the Fox show?

"Interesting. Yeah, I would do it. Somebody asked me if they thought I could be on 'American Idol' today and I said no. First of all, I am too old. Second of all, the way they judge people nowadays, they want the total package. Looks only go so far. If you don't have anything to back it up with, what's the point?"

As for AOF's Oscar bash, Wash is happy to perform.

"I have been doing [fundraising] events like this for more than 20 years," she says. "When we first started doing these things, we were just grassroots projects. You would raise the money and it stayed in the community, which I always liked doing. I have always said, and I still believe this, that there is already a cure [for AIDS] out there. But when people ask me to do something like this, I wish I didn't have to do it. I wish we didn't have to do it."


IF YOU GO

27th Annual Academy of Friends Gala

Where: Herbst Pavilion, Fort Mason Center, Buchanan Street and Marina Boulevard, San Francisco

When: 4:30 p.m. Feb. 25

Tickets: $250

Contact: (415) 995-9890 or www.AcademyofFriends.org

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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