Michael Jackson 'This Is It' controversy: So who exactly is Safire?

safire_lA lot of questions got resolved yesterday about the new Michael Jackson single “This Is It” — in particular, exactly who wrote the tune. (The answer apparently being Jackson and veteran singer-songwriter Paul Anka.) But you may still be wondering just who is Safire, the singer who originally recorded the track when it was called “I Never Heard.”

Safire was born Wilma Cosme on the island of San Juan, Puerto Rico, and subsequently moved to New York’s Spanish Harlem. In the late ‘80s, she recorded a clutch of singles for Cutting Records and became a leading light of the on-the-rise Latin hip-hop/freestyle scene (a largely regional phenomenon whose ranks yielded stars like Stevie B, Exposé, and Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam).

After signing with Mercury/Polygram, Safire put out her first, self-titled, album, featuring the Marc Anthony-penned single “Boy I’ve Been Told.” Her big commercial break came with the slow-paced 1989 hit, “Thinking of You,” a song dedicated to her uncle, who had passed away from AIDS complications. Spin magazine put her on their cover (see left), and the singer was also featured in the pages of Vogue. In 1990 Safire released a less successful second album, I Wasn’t Born Yesterday, which featured the Jackson-Anka composition.

According to Safire’s current manager Sal Abbatiello, the song was originally intended as a duet between Safire and Anka, whose writing credits also include the English lyrics for “My Way.” “They thought Safire was going to be the next Gloria Estefan,” says Abatiello. “She had put out three big dance records and she was becoming a very well known artist. And then she put out the ballad ‘Thinking of You,’ which was one of the most played records of the year. But when Michael met her in California at the studio, he saw how young and beautiful she was. He told Paul, ‘You can’t do the record with her, she’s too young.’ And he gave her the song.”

Safire continues to perform, and following Jackson’s death earlier this year, she posted a tribute on her myspace page which concluded, “R.I.P. Michael you will truly be missed but you will live on in every song. Love always SAFIRE.”

Of course, one of the songs Jackson will live on through is “This Is It,” or, if you prefer, “I Never Heard.” Either way, you can hear Safire’s version of the track below as well as her biggest hit, “Thinking of You.”

More on Michael Jackson:
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‘This Is It': Stream it here
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American Music Awards noms announced: Taylor Swift, Eminem, Michael lead the pack
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Comments (97 total) Add your comment
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  • Partylikeapumpkin

    Nice to find out who she was.Nice voice.

  • Phil

    I don’t understand how you could write up such an information filled item about little known Safire without going into her position among the popular artists in the FREESTYLE genre that was huge in the late 80’s in mostly New York and Philadelphia, and of course South Florida where many hispanic & Italian folks from NYC later moved. Most people outside of these denesely populated areas have no clue what the Freestyle genre is, and that most hispanic ‘dance songs’ from the late 80’s/early 90’s fall into this category. Safire is NOT to be considered a Latin hip-hop artist. Please consult with someone who knows what the Freestyle genre is/was. I say was, because there hasn’t been a hit Freestyle song in many years, some considering Rockell to be one of the last few Freestyle artists. Tommy Boy Records has numerous Freestyle;’s Greatest Beats compilations for which you can reference, and that Safire appears on. Your inability to recognize this info. is quite disturbing, as most people today consider the reggaeton genre to be an off shoot of Latin Hip-hop, which clearly Safire was NOT. A popular producer of many Freestyle songs was Tony Moran, who later went on to remix a slew of Michael Jackson hits in the 90’s into dancefloor anthems. God, I hate when people don’t properly research information before trying to educate the masses, especially when they leave out KEY information!!!

    • T

      Whoa dude…

    • Danny

      Dude, calm down. You aren’t the only one familiar with freestyle. To EW’s credit Safire is listed as latin hip-hop/freestyle artist in the article. Furthermore, the purpose of the article is not to educate the “masses” about freestyle, Expose, Sweet Sensation, or any other freestyle star. The point of the article is to describe Safire’s relation to the new MJ single. Also, the cover is from Spin and is well over a decade old.

      • Phil

        First off, I told the writer to consult with someone more familiar with the Freestyle genre, did you not get that? And clearly the writer of this article either Goggled Safire or went to her Wiki page, if she even has one. I ASSUME he referred to her as a Latin hip-hop artist from the dated SPIN cover image that again, was prolly found through Google, and why I then said most younger people today think of reggaeton when they think of Latin hip-hop. Why is it that people always argue but never actually want to think about things after they read them? I stand by my original post & def. think that Clark didn’t properly research Safire or her genre of music, Freestyle before writing this article, which is SAD, since for almost a decade Fresstyle was heard daily on the WKTU 103.5 FM in New York City, where EW has offices.

    • Frank

      Who the F–k cares? You must have something up your butt. The world does not revolve around New York City or WKTU or the freestyle movement.

      • Phil

        I guess everyone has gone bonkers anymore. How can you have an article entitled WHO EXACTLY IS SAFIRE and leave out key information. There’s nothing up my butt dude. Its called proper research and facts. And I only bring up KTU because they were a promiminet supporter of the Freestyle genre, long after the music stopped being made, and artists like Safire were relevant. I hate arguing on blogs, but I also hate stupid people who make comments with no actual thoughts to back them up.

      • Danny

        Phil, I still say you’re missing the point of the whole article. A detailed description of freestyle does nothing to inform EW readers on how Safire ended up recording a song penned by MJ and Paul Anka. Everything I needed to know about Safire is in the article. The brief statement from the manager explains enough for me. When I’m ready to read a history of Freestyle, I’ll be sure to consult your treatise.

    • candy

      Say whatever you want and hate on safire all you want her fans love her and she contribute alot to freestyle music. Let me guess you probably know her and hate the fact that michael and paul did give her the song. Now lets get back to the topic.

    • freestylemaster

      Seriously Phil, maybe you should trade in some of your old records for a grammar book (“everyone has gone bonkers ANYMORE?…”) What the heck does that mean? I think it is you who are bonkers, throwing your weight around about a niche subject that you obviously take pride in knowing everything about, and using this knowledge as a method to feel better than others. Look at the music you’re using… Emotional but Joyful. Now look at your attitude: Preachy and Smug. Why not learn everything about EMO instead? Seems much more your style. Furthermore, if you’re such a freestyle EXPERT then why no mention of The San Francisco Bay Area? (which was a HUGE part of the freestyle scene)
      Hot 97.7 was where it was at in 1988 in the Bay. Plus no mention of Noel, no mention of where you received your PhD in Freestyle from. Oh wait the article wasn’t ABOUT freestyle, it was about Safire (who I love), and you aren’t about educating people about freestlye, you’re about making them feel dumb for not already knowing stuff you think is privileged information. How about starting a blog and teaching ‘stead o’ preachin’?

      • ghyn

        hey now, don’t bring emo music into this…but yeah, honestly, phil is going way out of his (or her?) mind. but everyone who is bothering in sending back long comments about how idiotic what he’s saying is is just fueling the fire. you can’t get anyone to shut up if you’re talking back. he has obviously failed to see that even though the view of a certain genre changes throughout the years, the fact that a certain artist was considered part of that genre at some point makes them still a part of it.

      • freestylemaster

        You are right ghyn. I apologize for the longwinded unnecessary post. :)

    • square

      Freestyle lives on. Good post. Fnck’em if don’t understand that Freestyle was a movement onto itself and part of an important part of history of the Latino music scene. I’m sure this bonehead gets all his facts right about the Beatles.

    • James

      Ok Safire, relax. Nice job posting under the name Phil by the way. But just be glad that someone is even mentioning your obscure name in 2009, mmkay?

      • beb

        Dude, Phil posts on here all the time and, I must say, he knows his s*it.

      • freestylemaster

        Oh awesome… I am laughing out loud!

    • Ivan J. Carpio

      HELLO! Where the F@#K have you been “MR.SUCCESFULL DUDE IN THE MUSIC BUISNESS OF LATIN HIP HOP/FREESTYLE!!!!” GET IT THROUGH YOUR THICK SKULL : SAFIRE’ IS QUEEN OF LATIN HIP HOP !!!! She made her marks in the dance music world as well as pop like Micheal Jackson. She does what you call LATIN (which she definatley is) HIP HOP (which was the original name New York producers gave to artist such as Safire’,Cynthia,Nayobe,Latin Rascals,Noel,The Original Cover Girls and of course Mr. Stevie B himself who happens to be KING OF LATIN HIP HOP!!!! And Freestyle and so on!!!!Dude! I lived through this actual time. And you need to go put your stupid comments of YOU TUBE because all people do on that site is talk stupid trash. Especially some of the younger generation. Are you one of them ? !!!! Because there is a confussion of what the old school of LATIN HIP HOP vs. the new school which is really latino rappers not doing any dance material at all!!!!!

    • Vikki Sixx

      I wouldn’t agree that people outside of those areas don’t know freestyle. I come from Massachusetts and I am not latino and I was only a child back in the late 80s but I was listening to freestyle back then and still do. In addition, many others from the same area did and do listen to freestyle.

  • Josh

    Add another to to Jacksons name thief.

    • pustollio

      Jackson sang a song he wrote. How does that make him a thief? Add another name to Josh, idiot.

      • Josh

        Fool he did not write it all he failed to give credit to another he took it from

    • Dana

      JOSH !! Michael is not a thief, – Michael is dead and not Michael released the song. Sony, who released the song could be blamed.But, you believe that Paul Anka, 68 year old pensioner, is so honest about the story of this song? Anf finally, the song sounds much better with the voice of Michael, than the voice of Sa-Fire.The song version of Michael is better that the version of Sa-Fire. And Mr.Anka is co-writer of the song many years ago, and the song was not finalized.Sony finalized the song. After 26 years Mr.Anka, claims his 50% ..poor Mr.pensioner Anka, that never in his muzical career didn`t win no Gramy Awards. JOSH Take a look on Wikipedia site abot Paul Anka, and youwill see ” Anka stated that Michael Jackson’s new release titled “This Is It” was a collaborative effort between the two musicians, and that it was co-written by Anka in 1983. According to Anka, after recording the song, Michael Jackson decided not to use it, and the tune was then recorded and released by singer Sa-Fire.” Michael is not a thief….he`s dead, please respect it!!!

      • Rock Golf

        Anka a pensioner? Dana, do you have the vaguest idea who Paul Anka is? He was rock’s first teen idol in the late 1950’s, but unlike virtually every teen idol since, he wrote his own songs. Diana. Puppy Love. Put Your Head On My Shoulders. Lonely Boy. Even as a teen, his songs were covered by other artists. The last track Buddy Holly recorded was Anka’s “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore”.
        By the mid-60’s the pop hits stopped (for a while), but he was in demand as a songwriter. He wrote the theme song to the Tonight Show that was used throughout the nearly 30 years Johnny Carson hosted the show. He could have retired off the royalties to that song alone. He wrote Tom Jones’ “She’s A Lady”.
        Then in the mid-70’s he made a comeback as a pop singer. His song (You’re) Having My Baby went to #1 on charts around the world, and he followed up with hits like One Man Woman, I Don’t Like To Sleep Alone, and Times Of Your Life.
        He co-wrote the song with Jackson in 1983, before Thriller came out. And Jackson would have been delighted to work with a man who had contributed so much to pop history, who, like himself had a childhood robbed by stardom, and a comeback after several years when he was considered a faded artist.
        Anka was the first artist to have top 40 hits in the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. He can still draw big audiences in Vegas. He appeared on the first American Idol finale to a standing ovation.
        Hardly a pensioner.

      • Dana

        Rock Golf, I know very well who who Paul Anka is. Paul Anka was born in 1946 and I was bor in 1954,and I can say that I know all the period .Paul Anka wasn`t the first rock`s idol ,Elvis Presley who was born in January 8,1935 was the idol of rock music, ..sorry, but you must look for the rock artists of `50`s’,60`s.Paul Anka was a good singer and composer, but no more. there are other rock`s “maestro” names before Paul Anka.

  • e4ia

    I remember hearing “Thinking of You” when it was first released. But completely forgot about it till I heard it again today in this article. It’s kind of a nice song but, obviously, not very memorable.

  • The Cronk

    Good point, Partylikeapumpkin. Safire was one of Freestyle’s best artists. Latin Hip Hop?? Haha, No.

    • freestylemaster

      Ha ha. Yup. Latin Hip Hop & Freestyle are completely interchangeable terms unless you are a music afficionado in denial.

  • sp12ver@yahoo.com

    hate on her all you want but safire is the true quuen of freestyle …

  • Ralph Wiggum

    My cat’s breath smells like cat food.

    • Sammy

      That’s some nice police work there Chief.

  • mrsmoy

    Loved Safire in the 80s! I even had the “Thinking of You” cassette single.

  • Ha

    Holy eyebrows, batman… get that girl some wax. (I know, I know… our grooming standards were different in the 80s)

  • Tony

    “Thinking Of You” is at least deserving of some respect, being a top 10 hit, and one of the few Latinas to hit the Top 10 as a solo artist other than say, Gloria Estefan.

    • danny

      I agree i love safire i have follow her career threw the years and i must say she is one classy lady. I dont understand how anyone can discredit her by saying she was’nt part of the freestyle movement i guess she probably gonna get haters.

    • Jeff Spratt

      That is a godawful song. The worst of 80s pop.

  • Matt

    “Boy I’ve Been Told” is one of my favorite 80’s dance songs. It was wild yesterday when I saw all this news about Safire, who I hadn’t heard anything about in a good 20 years.

  • crunk

    What is the controversy? Artists pen songs and then allow other artists to cover them. Later they cover it themselves. Prince does this and nobody calls it a controversy. I dont get it.

    • freestylemaster

      Wait… “Controversy” was a cover album?

      ;)

  • Safire For Life

    Safire has a great voice and is a beautiful woman to top it off. I hope to hear more from her. Keep it up Safire!

  • the truth

    I’m sorry yall but this chick has NO talent what so ever, its such a shame that she’s tryna ride off of michaels legacy

  • Safire For Life

    She’s not trying to live off of Jackson’s legacy fool. The media is giving her publicity!

    It is obvious that you have never seen Safire perform and never heard her songs before.

    Shovel your smoke elsewhere.

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