Born 1973 in Lakeland, FL); daughter of Helene Evans and Richard Swain, raised in Newark, NJ; married rapper Christopher Wallace, a.k.a. Biggie Smalls or Notorious B.I.G., August 1995; widowed March 1997; children: Chyna, born 1992, Christopher Jr.(with Biggie Smalls), and Joshua born 1998. Education: Attended Fordham University in NY. Addresses: Record company-Bad Boy Entertainment, 8 W. 19th St., 9th floor, New York, NY 10011-4206.
For a woman who was perhaps known more for being the wife of the infamous rapper, the late Notorious B.I.G., Faith Evans managed to become a musical success in her own right. Evans was born in Lakeland, Florida to an Italian musician father, Richard Swain, who left her before she was born, and an African-American, blues-singing mother, Helene Evans. Raised by her mother and grandparents in Newark, New Jersey, Evans got her start singing in the church. At age four, she caught the attention of the congregation of the Emmanuel Baptist Church in Newark when she sang "Let the Sunshine In."
Her grandparents' influence served her well-Evans was an honor student at University High School, appeared in musicals there, and was named Miss New Jersey Fashion Teen. "I was raised in a very, very Christian home," Evans told i-D magazine in a 1998 interview. "It was church, school, church, school. I could hardly go to the corner of my block. It was strict." At 18, she won a scholarship to Fordham University in New York City to major in marketing. After a year, she left to have her first child, a daughter, Chyna, fathered by producer Kiyamma Griffin. She then moved to Los Angeles to pursue her singing career, and did so with her mother's blessing. "I felt she could always go back to school," Helene Evans told Peoplein 1998. "Because her mind wasn't going to be there. It was going to be on her music." She was in LA doing backup vocals and working with Al B. Sure!, Mary J. Blige and Pebbles when she caught the ear of famed R&B producer Sean "Puffy" Combs, a.k.a. Puff Daddy. It's said that when he first heard Evans sing, he described her voice as feeling "like rain." He signed her to his label, Bad Boy, in 1994 as the label's first female artist.
Evans met then-up-an-coming gangsta rapper Christopher Wallace, a.k.a. Notorious B.I.G., and even better known as Biggie Smalls, at a photo shoot in August, 1994. Both barely 21, they married nine days later. "He was charming and funny," Evans told People in 1998. "We both said 'I want to marry you,' and did it." And from that moment on, the two were plagued by controversy. First, there was the misconception that Evans rode her husband's coattails to fame. In truth, she'd already signed the Bad Boy record deal, but her debut, Faith , was released months after his in 1995. Then, Wallace's flaunted infidelities with rapper Lil' Kim, and rumors-which Evans maintained were false-of romance between Evans and rapper Tupac Shakur, which Shakur made claims to on an album. "He was a good person but definitely not ready for marriage," Evans said in the same Peopleinterview. "I tried my best to be a good wife for as long as I could take the disrespect."
Evans' debut met critical success. She was likened to Minnie Riperton and Chaka Khan. Her influences were gospel singers like Shirley Murdock and Karen Clark-Sheard of the Clark Sisters. "Where some of R&B's male players sound like medieval courtiers with their carefully scripted protestations of adoration," i-D magazine wrote in 1998, "Faith's generous and easy meditations of love feel unconditional." In 1995, Faith went platinum.
In 1996, Evans and Wallace split up. Early in 1997, he was gunned down in Las Vegas drive-by shooting. Ironically, the two had seen each other earlier that same night, but hadn't spoken. The last time they did speak was on the telephone and that ended with the two hanging up on each other. The next time she saw him, it was to identify his body at the morgue. "I don't even remember my reaction," Evans told People of the killing. "It was just blank. But I pulled it together and dealt with it with dignity." Although she had three tracks completed for her follow-up release at the time of Wallace's death, she was too burdened by estate and legal issues, as well as giving birth to the couple's son, Christopher Jr., to spend any time in the studio. At age 24, the newly widowed mother of two had her own, and her late husband's, business to attend to.
Evans' next musical project turned out to be a collaboration between herself, Combs, and the group 112, also on Bad Boy. It was a multi-million selling tribute to Notorious B.I.G. called "I'll Be Missing You." The single topped Billboard's Hot 100 and R&B charts and won the 1997 Grammy award for best rap performance by a duo or group.
By the fall of 1998, "Rap's most famous widow," as she was called by Ebony, was ready to release her second album. Keep the Faith was released in October and met with mostly critical success. Newsweek's Allison Samuels called it a "lush mixture of thoughtful love songs and boogie downbeats. Evans' edgy churchchoir voice and soulful delivery make it clear she was born to sing the blues." And Lynn Norment of Ebony was just as positive: "Evans continues to let her honey-coated voice and hear-felt lyrics tell her stories of love and loss and triumph over heartache and adversity." Craig Seymour's1998 review of Keep the Faith for the Village Voice was glowing, as well. "Faith's airy yet strong soprano sounds like the dreams you believe in standing at the altar, committing yourself before God," although he did go on to say that her self-written songs from her first album suited her voice better.
"Faith Evans is about as close as these letters are pressed together to breaking bad as the next really big thing in R&B and pop," wrote Chuck Taylor for Billboard in 1999. And that seemed to echo industry sentiment from all around-Puff Daddy had given her a strong start, but Faith Evans seemed primed to blaze her own trail.
by Brenna Sanchez
Faith Evans's Career
Moved to Los Angeles, 1992, to pursue singing career; signed by Sean "Puffy" Combs' record label, Bad Boy Entertainment, 1994; released debut, Faith, 1995; released Keep the Faith, 1998.
Faith Evans's Awards
Platinum certification for Faith, 1996; Grammy award for "I'll Be Missing You," with Combs and 112, 1997.
January 27, 2004: Evans was arrested on drug possession charges in Georgia, along with her husband-manager Todd Russaw. Source: CNN.com, www.cnn.com, January 28, 2004; E! Online, www.eonline.com, January 29, 2004.
April 5, 2005: Evans' album, First Lady, was released. Source: Billboard.com, www.billboard.com/bb/releases/week_2/index.jsp, April 7, 2005.
- Billboard , October 3, 1998; November 7, 1998; January 16, 1999.
- Ebony , March 1998; January 1999.
- i-D Magazine , December 1998.
- Newsweek , November 9, 1998.
- People , October 26, 1998; November 16, 1998.
- Time , November 8, 1998.
- Village Voice , December 1, 1998.
- "Faith Evans," All-Media Guide , http://www.allmusic.com (January 5, 1999).