A 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.”

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