Vocalist Taana Gardner was one of the leading lights of West End Records, a New York label that released some of the finest and most influential disco and post-disco recordings of the late '70s and early '80s. The Newark, New Jersey-born Gardner knew that she wanted to act and sing at an early age. When she was only five years old, she took vocal lessons from grandmother, a former opera singer. Before she hit her teens, Gardner was already a playwright whose work was featured at the Lincoln Center and at the Apollo.
It was something of a fluke that Gardner became involved with the disco scene. Producer and songwriter Kenton Nix had a song, "Work That Body," in need of vocals. An early instrumental version had been auditioned and approved by Paradise Garage DJ Larry Levan, who introduced Nix to West End owner Mel Cheren. Cheren set Nix up, but the singer who was slated to record the vocals fell ill. Nix's brother, who worked for Gardner's father, called up the Gardner household -- on Thanksgiving Day 1978 -- and invited her. Gardner obliged and gained another gig that day when members of Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band overheard her and asked her to contribute to a record on which they were working, which turned out to be the Aural Exciters' Spooks in Space.
"Work That Body," remixed by Levan, was an instant hit at the Paradise Garage and went on to reach number 10 on Billboard's club chart. It sparked a succession of West End classics helmed by Nix, sung by Gardner, and tweaked for maximum dancefloor effect by Levan. A self-titled album, featuring the theatrical Top Ten club hit "When You Touch Me," came later in 1979. Nix and Gardner returned in 1981 with "Heartbeat," their biggest hit, which peaked at number six club and crossed into the R&B Top Ten. The Treacherous Three's "Feel the Heartbeat" (1981) and Ini Kamoze's "Here Comes the Hotstepper" (1995) are two of many songs that have sampled or referenced it.
After her 1979-1981 activity, Gardner took a several-year break from music to devote time to her children and recorded sporadically. Among her few releases through the remainder of the '80s and '90s were the self-produced "You Can't Keep Coming in and Out of My Life" (Next Plateau, 1988), a cover of LaBelle's "What Can I Do for You?" (E-Legal, 1992), and "I'm Comin'" (a Nix-West End reunion, 1998). During the 2000s, she appeared as featured vocalist on a handful of 12" singles, including the Joey Negro production "Sweet Magic" (Z, 2002). In 2013, the Big Break label expanded and remastered her 1979 album for release on compact disc. ~ Andy Kellman