Born Brandy Norwood, February 11, 1979, in McComb, MS; daughter of Willie (a choir director), and Sonia (Brandy's manager) Norwood; one brother, Willie, Jr. Education: Enrolled at Pepperdine University, Malibu, California campus. Addresses: Home--Los Angeles, CA. Record company--Atlantic Records, 75 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10019.
Brandy Norwood, television's talented African American teen idol, boasts a successful singing and acting resume that many an entertainment veteran could envy. With a flash of her broad, contagious smile, and a toss of her signature mane of glossy braids, the award-winning singer turned her focus to acting and captured a television audience as star of the UPN sitcom Moesha, causing Entertainment Weekly to note, "She's one of the few pop-music stars who can act even better than she can sing."
Brandy's parents, Willie and Sonia Norwood, recognized stand-out talent in both their children--Brandy's younger brother Willie, Jr., called Ray-J, is also a singer--and launched a non-stop business plan aimed at early careers in the entertainment industry. They moved the family from Mississippi to Los Angeles when Brandy was four Ray-J was two, and started their vocal training in a church youth choir. "My brother and I were always in the front as featured singers because our dad was the choir director," Brandy explained to Rolling Stone. "Then I started being directress of younger choirs, and, well, I was just really hot in the church."
Church was Brandy's first stage. Willie handles the kids' musical grooming, while Sonia serves as business manager/chaperon. Brandy calls her "Momager," and Sonia takes the job to heart. Mom must okay clothing, costume, diet, social, and career choices. "She says, 'I'm going to be as big as Whitney [Houston],'" Sonia told TV Guide. "It's our job to go out there and help get her there."
At age 11, Brandy won second place in a talent contest and was singing at local events; at 12, she earned a spot singing backup for an R&B group named Immature. In 1993, when she was 14, Brandy signed her first recording contract with Atlantic. Several months later she landed a role on the ABC sitcom Thea as 12-year-old Daneesha, daughter of the title character. The show didn't last long, which suited Brandy fine. "I'm always smiling and happy," she told People, "Other people on the set weren't. I was miserable. I couldn't wait for it to go off the air."
Brandy used the extra time to polish and launch her debut R&B album, simply titled Brandy. The recording was a wild success, rocketing to the top of musical charts with triple platinum sales, producing best- selling singles "Baby" and "I Wanna Be Down," and two videos featured prominently on MTV. Jeremy Helliger in People remarked, "Brandy's well-groomed blend of gently lilting hip hop and pop-soul has a more timeless appeal. With the poise and sassy confidence of a diva twice her age, Brandy mixes her love songs with tributes to her little brother ("Best Friend"), God ("Give Me You"), the perfect man ("Baby") and older crooners like Aretha and Whitney ("I Dedicate"). While this isn't groundbreaking stuff, Brandy has the pipes to become more than the latest teenage next-big-thing."
Brandy embarked on her first 13-city tour of U.S. high schools and a two-month stint as opening act for Boyz II Men's national tour. Her credits include songs on two major motion picture soundtracks, "Sittin' up in My Room" from Waiting to Exhale, and "Where Are You Now?" from Batman Forever. Winning a Grammy award and being named "Favorite New Artist" at the 1996 American Music Awards legitimized her musical talent on a national level.
Brandy followed up with another high-profile career move. Nabbing the star role in the United Paramount Network (UPN) hit sitcom Moesha has elevated her status to prime time. The highly-rated comedy series focuses on the everyday life of the Mitchells, a middle class black family living in south-central Los Angeles. Brandy plays Moesha Mitchell, the bright, 16-year-old daughter who copes with the normal pressures and complications of teen life with the help of best friends and well-meaning family members. She has a mischievous little brother, hard-working car salesman father, and a new stepmother who teaches at her high school.
When Brandy initially read the script for the show, she was struck by the similarities between the lead character and herself. "Brandy kind of matched Moesha," the actress explained to TV Guide. "Her attitude is the same. She's interested in boys, but something else comes first--her schoolwork, her family. She hangs out with her friends. She's very nice." Clarifying her position about the show in Jet, Brandy said of her character, "She's responsible and listens to her dad. Her friends are wild, but she isn't. Most of the black shows on TV now are so unreal. There's no moral. There is a moral on Moesha."
Moesha, deemed "one of TV's most winning sitcoms--and a fresh alternative to its tire competitors" by Entertainment Weekly, is hailed by critics for the normalcy of the Mitchell family's life. Story lines deal with happy and sad moments, sibling rivalry, teen temptations, and parent pressures. For instance, the 1996-97 season introduced a street-smart rapper to the set as Brandy's love interest. Brandy, afraid of her father's reaction to her dating someone so different from his expectations for her, struggles with the issue of telling her father the truth. These types of issues are proving to be important to Moesha's fan base. Show co-creator Ralph Farquhar commented in Jet, "Teenagers are aspiring to be adults. It's interesting to see teenagers finding out who they are and how they interact with parents." But Farquhar is pleased that the show is not just a hit with teens. "I get a lot of calls from parents saying `Thank you. Finally a show I can sit down and watch with my children,'" Farquhar told Jet. "We like to say stuff, but we're not preachy about it."
Brandy leads a large and talented cast. For the time being, she relies on instinct, help from an acting coach, and advice from fellow performers for her new role. Her life is crowded with television rehearsals and tapings, school--Sonia insists on three-hour tutoring sessions daily--and continued work time spent in the recording studio. The schedule leaves little time for dating or down time with peers. She still tries to fit in phone calls and trips to the mall with friends--although now she takes a body guard along.
Brandy celebrated her 17th birthday with a glitzy party at Planet Hollywood in Beverly Hills, but admits she still has a 12:30 a.m. curfew. Her cover girl look requires daily exercise, vitamins, and healthy foods (she loves McDonald's fries, but is learning to control the craving). Brandy's pleased with herself as a role model for young girls. "I'm proud that little girls look up to me," she told Jet. "Not to be boastful but I think I'm a pretty good girl to look up to." The hundreds of girls who hope to copy her hairdo should know that it's not a do-it-yourself type hair style. A profession stylist spends eight hours braiding Brandy's hair every two or three weeks.
Brandy is not finished spreading her wings. Brandy's first love is still music, and she considers herself more a singer than actress. In fact, she sings the Moesha's theme song, though Moesha, the character, does not sing on the program. Future plans include a second album for which she hopes to help write songs and contribute to production. A four-day television work week leaves little time for school, but Brandy earned a high school diploma with independent studies and tutoring. She continues her studies at Pepperdine University, Malibu campus, and hopes to earn a degree with an emphasis on entertainment law.
Fame and fortune has not made Brandy sidestep family influence or forget her religious roots. She still counts on her parents for reality checks and her faith for stability. "I think it's because of God that I am where I am today," she told Jet. "And I thinks he's the cause of all of us being here. I don't ever want to forget about him."
by Sharon Rose
Co-starred on ABC sitcom Thea, 1993; recorded triple platinum debut album entitled Brandy, 1994; embarked on 13-city solo tour and spent two months opening for Boyz II Men; star of United Paramount Network's (UPN) sitcom Moesha, 1995--; contributed songs to Waiting to Exhale and Batman Forever soundtracks.
Grammy Award; American Music Award, favorite new artist, 1996.
- Selective Works
- Brandy, Atlantic, 1994.
- (With others) Batman Forever (soundtrack), Atlantic, 1995.
- (With others) Waiting to Exhale (soundtrack), Arista, 1995.
June 27, 2003: It is announced that Brandy and her husband, Robert Smith, have separated after two years of marriage. Source: E! Online, www.eonline.com, June 30, 2003.
August 2004: Brandy admitted that her recently failed marriage never existed in the first place. She called it a "spiritual union". Source: USA Today, www.usatoday.com/life/digest.htm, August 5, 2004.
August 3, 2004: Brandy's album, Afrodisiac, was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America. Source: Billboard.com, www.billboard.com/bb/riaa/gold.jsp, September 15, 2004.
- Entertainment Weekly, November 8, 1996, p. 56.
- Jet, February 26, 1996, pp. 59-61; November 25, 1996, pp. 56-59.
- Newsweek, March 25, 1996, p. 69.
- New York Times, April 2, 1995, (Section 2) p. 43.
- People, October 24, 1994, p. 20; November 21, 1994, p. 99; July 31, 1995, p. 23; May 6, 1996, p. 140.
- Rolling Stone, April 6, 1995, p. 32.
- Seventeen, April 1995, pp. 158-161.
- TV Guide, April 6, 1996, pp. 30-32.
- USA Today, July 26, 1996, p. 2D.