First things first: Toni Basil’s occupation is not “singer.” Yes, she can sing very well, and yes, she had a No. 1 hit in 1982 with “Mickey.” But to judge her career on a single song is to overlook an entire resume of dance and choreography that most people have never even heard of.
A one-hit wonder
Born Antonia Christina Basilotta in 1943, Toni Basil made her mark early as a dancer and choreographer, performing in Elvis Presley’s Viva Las Vegas and being listed as a choreographer for several episodes of “The Carol Burnett Show.” She choreographed Talking Heads’ “Once in a Lifetime” video as well as David Bowie‘s 1974 Diamond Dogs concert tour.
Her singing career, albeit brief, was impressive. She performed during the first season of Saturday Night Live in 1976, but by the time “Mickey,” a cover of a song called “Kitty,” came along, she was almost 40.
After the “Mickey” sensation, Basil struggled to find another hit. The follow-up, “Shoppin’ from A to Z”, barely scraped the Hot 100, and the debut single from her second album didn’t fare any better. Another song, “Girls Night Out,” was on the soundtrack to the 1986 movie Modern Girls.
Toni Basil the choreographer
But her lack of success as a singer after “Mickey” didn’t stop Basil. She continued her work as a choreographer, reuniting with Bowie in 1987 for his Glass Spiders tour. She choreographed and directed shows for Tina Turner, Mick Jagger, Linda Ronstadt, Bette Midler and Enrique Iglesias.
She has directed and choreographed more than 50 videos, and was the choreographer for such films as American Graffiti, The Rose, Peggy Sue Got Married, That Thing You Do!, My Best Friend’s Wedding, Legally Blonde and Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde. In 2019, at the age of 75, she choreographed Quentin Tarantino’s film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and even appeared in the film.
Basil founded the Street dance group The Lockers, which introduced the world to the dance form and moved it into the mainstream.
She’s also appeared in 23 films, including Easy Rider.
Toni Basil has been nominated for several Grammy and Emmy awards and won an Emmy for a commercial she directed starring MC Hammer. She has received two MTV Award nominations, four American Choreography Award nominations (and two wins, including a Lifetime Achievement Innovator award) and The Los Angeles Theater Ovation: Street Dance Award.
In 2008, she received Hip Hop International’s highest award, the Living Legend of Hip Hop.
She was featured as an American Video Artist in a calendar for the Museum of Modern Art. And she has stayed relevant in the age of social media. Many of her dance videos have gone viral, and she has excelled in world dance, Afro and Cuban, tango, flamenco, salsa, and swing. She continues to teach and judge in the street dance community.
Not bad for a one-hit wonder.