This is the theme song to the popular Cosby Show spin-off A Different World, which initially followed Denise Huxtable's life at Hillman College. Dawnn Lewis, who also played Denise's roommate Jaleesa Vinson, co-wrote the song with Bill Cosby and composer Stu Gardner. Inspired by the show's original title "Stepping Up to Step Out," the lyrics reflect the transition of leaving the comfort of childhood and stepping into the different world of young adulthood. The show ran from 1987 to 1993.
Lewis was originally supposed to sing the song herself, until the production company realized they'd unwittingly hired the same person to write the song and act in the show. Not wanting to put too much emphasis on Lewis' character, they began considering other singers before opting for Phoebe Snow. "It went through the round of "'who do we get to sing the song?'," Lewis told Vibe. "They had Al Green come in first to record it, so I'm in the recording studio teaching Al Green my song. 'No, no, no Al, it goes like this!'"
Snow's bluesy rendition accompanies Denise (Lisa Bonet) washing a car with her college pals and strolling around campus. When Bonet left at the end of season 1, the show's focus shifted to rich girl Whitley Gilbert (Jasmine Guy) and math whiz Dwayne Wayne (Kadeem Hardison) and a revamped theme was in order. Aretha Franklin, whose ex-husband Glynn Turman played Colonel Taylor on the series, performed a new R&B version with a funkier beat from seasons 2 - 5. The sixth and final season features vocals from Boyz II Men and Terrence Forsythe.
Debbie Allen, who came onboard as executive producer in season 2, contacted Franklin to record the theme. She just had to convince the Queen of Soul to travel from Detroit to California. "I wanted her, everybody did. So we put a call in to her and she said she would come. But she would not fly on a plane. So we had to charter her a bus with her people and have it catered with her favorite foods and she came all the way to California and went into the recording studio and re-did that song for us and it became the iconic image of A Different World
," Allen told Vulture
A Different World featured an array of musical guests throughout its run, including Gladys Knight, Heavy D. and the Boyz, En Vogue, and Kris Kross. Patti LaBelle and Dihann Carroll also played overbearing mothers to Dwayne and Whitley, respectively, while Tupac Shakur showed up as an ex-boyfriend in season 6. Jasmine Guy also debuted her first single, "Try Me," in the season 4 episode "Good Help is Hard to Fire."
Lisa Bonet married singer Lenny Kravitz in 1987 and was forced to quit A Different World when she became pregnant with daughter Zoe. While the writers considered giving Denise a pregnancy storyline, Bill Cosby, the show's creator, refused to allow his TV daughter to be portrayed as an unwed mother.