Revisiting ‘Ring My Bell’ with Anita Ward


Image: Steve Joester/Shutterstock

Ja’Qaylin Harrison, Staff Writer

In the summer of 1979, one of disco’s most successful and memorable songs was released. The lyrics to “Ring My Bell” had made their way onto the breath of Anita Ward, a then 21-year-old college graduate who had no idea that her life was about to change forever, and that her bell would be “ringing” for decades to come.

Born in Memphis, Tennessee, it seems that Anita Ward was destined to have a career in show business. Early on, Ward watched as various members of her family displayed a knack for vocalizing, a talent that she says was “probably in my blood.”

Ward recalled a story in which she and her grandmother were aboard a train, and Ward, at two years old, gave both her grandmother and the other passengers a glimpse of what would later become her signature light, soprano voice.

“The people were just loving me,” Ward recalled. “They called me their little mockingbird.”

A few years later, after performing in a Black history program, a 14-year-old Ward was offered a recording contract, which was rejected by her parents. 

It wasn’t until Ward was a student at Rust College in Mississippi that she was offered another opportunity of that magnitude. After becoming a member of Rust’s famed choir, Ward auditioned for a role in the college’s rendition of the John-Michael Tebelak musical “Godspell.” In the audience was Chuck Holmes, an administrator at Rust and songwriter who would later become Ward’s manager.

“[Holmes] would take me into different studios to get me accustomed to that feel,” Ward said. “He groomed me.”

While being shopped to different labels, Ward released a single titled “Spoiled by Your Love,” which would later be included on her debut album. The song, a modest hit, did not receive much airplay and left Ward unaware of how to support herself financially.

“[Holmes] suggested that I substitute teach because it would allow me flexibility in my schedule just in case something happened,” Ward recalled. “And something did happen.”

As work on her debut album continued, Ward was presented the song “Ring My Bell,” originally written by Frederick Knight, a former Stax Records recording artist for a young Stacy Lattisaw. 

Knight had enjoyed success with his 1972 hit “I’ve Been Lonely for So Long,” and, after Stax’s first closure, had formed his own record label, Juana Records, to which Ward would later sign. 

After being presented “Ring My Bell,” the content of which was originally about teens talking on the phone, Ward was not impressed, preferring ballads over the popular disco music of the time. Knight, however, insisted that Ward release a track that would “captivate the people’s attention,” something “simple.”

“The best songs are also those that are the most simple,” Ward noted. “Even if you sing or you don’t sing, you can sing along with this.”

“Ring My Bell,” after being rewritten and reproduced, was released in the summer of 1979 and reached number one in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Spain, Norway and New Zealand. The song, which was included on Ward’s debut album “Songs of Love,” would also garner Ward a nomination for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance at the 22nd Grammy Awards in 1980. 

Ward recalled hearing the song on the radio for the first time.

“That just really freaked me out,” Ward said. “I just said ‘Oh, my god.’ I couldn’t believe it.”

Following the song’s success, Ward began an international tour, making stops at several popular venues and television programs of the time. The first stop was “The Midnight Special,” a musical variety series hosted by Wolfman Jack.

“[Holmes] told me this on a Thursday, and that Friday they had flown in the choreographer and the two dancers,” Ward said. “By Tuesday, we were taping ‘The Midnight Special.’”

It was on this tour that Ward says she was exposed to “some of the things that happen in this world, some other people of this world.”

“I had to meet a lot of people, I was signing autographs,” Ward said. “But I also had to learn that it doesn’t mean you’re going to become rich unless you own some stuff.”

After “Ring My Bell,” Ward began working on her second studio album, “Sweet Surrender,” which Ward says was recorded out of an effort to fulfill her contractual obligations. The album, which was released a few months after “Songs of Love,” contained the minor hit, “Don’t Drop My Love,” which peaked at No. 87 on the Billboard Hot 100.

“Unfortunately, it wasn’t a lot of money around, and so they didn’t really spiral my songs like they should have,” Ward said.

Ward would subsequently disappear from the public eye, enduring several setbacks and losses, including Holmes’s death in 1981.

“Once he died, it seemed like my career kinda died,” Ward said. “No one was ringing my bell anymore.”

Eventually, Ward would return to teaching, remarry and have a daughter.

In 1991, “Ring My Bell” was sampled hip-hop dup by DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince for their single of the same name. The song would reach the Top 20 on the Billboard Hot 100 and be certified gold by the RIAA.

On New Year’s Eve 2002, Ward performed “Ring My Bell” in Times Square as a part of the city’s annual celebration.

Today, Ward says she is looking forward to resuming her touring schedule and is focusing on family. 

As for “Ring My Bell,” Ward says she’s “grateful for the opportunity to have been the one to record it,” and “isn’t mad one bit.