Born Shanice Wilson in 1974 in Pittsburgh, PA; daughter of Carl Black and Crystal Wilson. Addresses: Record company--Motown Record Company, 6255 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90028.
Shanice Wilson learned about the demands and rewards of stardom at a very young age. She started singing when she was just a baby and was performing by the time most kids begin kindergarten. Her mother, who taught her the values of hard work and endurance and about the fickleness of fame and fortune, has encouraged--but never pushed--her daughter. Shanice told USA Today, "After I had signed with A&M records, my mom said 'Do you really want to do this? we can stop this now.' I said 'Mom, please, I want to do it.'"
Shanice was born into a musical family: her father, Carl Black, is a guitarist; her mother, Crystal Wilson, is a singer who has performed with the likes of Jennifer Holliday and Luther Vandross. Shanice showed great aptitude very early. "One of the first songs I ever sang was Chaka Khan's 'Tell Me Something Good' when I was seven months old," she remarked in Essence magazine. "My mom has the tape to prove it. I didn't know the words, but I knew the tune." She started performing while she was just a toddler. "My mom and aunt sang around the city, and mom would bring me on stage and let me sing a song in between their shows," she recalled in USA Today.
In 1979 Shanice's parents divorced, and shortly thereafter she moved with her mom and her aunt, Penny Wilson, to Los Angeles. With all three of them trying to break into show business, Shanice succeeded first. When she was just eight years old, she landed a television commercial for Kentucky Fried Chicken singing with legendary jazz vocalist Ella Fitzgerald. The adults were thrilled, but Shanice was a bit baffled by the excitement. "I had no idea who Ella Fitzgerald was," she told People magazine. "It was nice, but everyone around me was more excited than I was."
Shanice got more professional singing experience in the next few years as she performed in stage shows around the Los Angeles area. In 1985 an agent from A&M records saw her performing in Get Happy and signed her to a record deal. The same year, she appeared on television's Star Search, and won first prize. The record with A&M was slow in coming, but in 1988, it finally materialized. The album, Discovery, was a moderate success, but did not immediately lead to any further opportunities.
During the first few years following her debut album, the young Shanice's career did not advance much, so she used the time to grow a bit. She learned one valuable lesson in an exciting moment with superstar Michael Jackson. She described the meeting to Newsday: "I think Michael is the best entertainer ever. He called me up one day and asked if he could meet me. I guess he read in a magazine that I wanted to meet him. They picked me up in a limo and I watched him do his moonwalk video. It was an exciting day for me." Jackson advised Shanice to begin writing her own songs. "He told me how important it is to get into song writing," she told USA Today. "That's when he really became famous."
In the early 1990s Shanice's career picked up when she signed a new record deal with Motown. The company was happy to have her on their roster and vowed to catapult her into fame. "I tried to sign Shanice when I was at MCA," Jheryl Busby, president of Motown, told Billboard. "So when I had this second opportunity to work with her, I signed her immediately.... She's a cornerstone artist for us, and her project became a major priority the moment she signed with the company."
Shanice made other decisions and changes; she shortened her professional name from Shanice Wilson, to just Shanice. She explained this change to USA Today: "I used to hate my name Shanice. People used to say Chinese, Shannon, Charnice, instead of Sha-niece. I dropped Wilson so people would learn how to pronounce my name."
Deciding to take Jackson's advice, Shanice began to write songs with the help of her Motown producer, Narada Michael Walden. With suggestions and advice, Walden helped Shanice with over half of the songs on her first Motown release, Inner Child. "He really knows how to bring out the best in singers, and he's worked with some of the greats," she remarked in Billboard. "When we first met, he asked me to write down my ideas and they became the titles for some of the songs we wrote together."
The song "I'm Crying" was born, Shanice noted, "when Narada asked me to pretend I was onstage and sing whatever came out. That's where the whole chorus came from." She described to USA Today how they came to write her biggest hit, "I Love Your Smile": "When I was working on my album, the Persian Gulf War was going on. Everybody was depressed. I wanted to bring out a song that would make people smile." Her album did indeed make lots of people smile. Upon the release of Inner Child, Shanice embarked on an international tour to promote the album and traveled to Hong Kong, Holland, England, Germany, and Canada. "I Love Your Smile" hit the Top Five in ten countries, and became Number One in the United States.
In 1994 Motown released Shanice's second album, 21 ... Ways to Grow. As the title suggests, in this work, she shows just how much she has grown up from her teen years. "This album is a total opposite from my last," she explained in Billboard. "It fits me better because I was more involved; I co-wrote seven songs and co-produced three tracks. I did an album that the people would listen to and go, 'Hey now!'"
Motown's marketing strategy involved emphasizing Shanice's growth. "Her first album began to establish who she was and jell her image," Oscar Fields, executive vice president for Motown, stated in Billboard. "On this one, we want to show progression musically." He added that the company wanted all music video channels to showcase her work. Musically, the album is funkier than her previous ones, more rooted in rhythm and blues instead of mainstream pop, with more mature songs. "I'm not that little teenager anymore," she told Essence.
While her fame now seems assured with more records and even movie roles in her future, Shanice takes her success in stride like the seasoned veteran that she is. "My mother always told me that you should never take this business for granted," she explained to Essence. "You could be famous one day and gone tomorrow. I always keep a level head."
by Robin Armstrong
Sang in a television commercial for Kentucky Fried Chicken with Ella Fitzgerald, 1982; performed on stage in Get Happy, Los Angeles, 1985; signed first album deal, 1985; won first place on television program Star Search, 1985; released debut album, Discovery, A&M, 1988. Other television appearances include the Tonight Show, 1992; Ebony/Jet Showcase, 1992; and Welcome Freshmen, 1993.
- Selective Works
- Discovery, A&M, 1988.
- Inner Child, Motown, 1992.
- 21 ... Ways to Grow, Motown, 1994.
March 5, 2004: Shanice and her husband, actor Flex Alexander, welcomed the birth of their son, Elijah, in Los Angeles, California. They also have a two-year-old daughter named Imani. Source: Entertainment Weekly, April 9, 2004, p. 22.
- Billboard, November 30, 1991; April 23, 1994.
- Chicago Tribune, December 12, 1991.
- Ebony, September 1992; November 1993.
- Essence, October 1994.
- Jet, March 7, 1988; March 2, 1992.
- Newsday, March 22, 1992.
- New York Times, March 27, 1998.
- People, April 20, 1992; August 8, 1994.
- 'Teen, August 1992.
- Time, April 13, 1992.
- USA Today, February 14, 1992; August 25, 1994.
- Washington Post, January 29, 1992; August 31, 1994.