Born c. 1973 in Jamaica, Queens, NY; married Jeffrey Rolle; children: Jeffrey Jr., Jonia. Addresses: Record company--Island/Def Soul, 825 8th Avenue, New York, NY 10019, phone: (212) 333-8000, website: http://www.defsoul.com. Website--Kelly Price Official Website: http://www.dearkellyprice.com.
Called the Aretha Franklin of her generation, R&B singer Kelly Price proved both her staying power and her status as a young diva with the release of her second solo album, Mirror Mirror, in 2000. Known for her big, powerful, and emotional voice, Price worked for years as a backup singer for such artists as Mariah Carey, the Isley Brothers, Aretha Franklin, and Mary J. Blige. As a solo artist, her soulful voice has brought her number one hits on the R&B charts. As Chuck Taylor of Billboard wrote of the successful singer, "[a]nyone who doesn't yet love ... Kelly Price simply doesn't know her."
Price and her two sisters were raised by their mother in Far Rockaway, New York. The family was a musical one, and Price had an early immersion in gospel music. Her grandfather was the pastor of a Pentecostal church, and her mother the music director. Price started singing in the church when she was just six years old and quickly earned the nickname "Little Mahalia," after gospel star Mahalia Jackson. Price was drawn to R&B at an early age as well, but had to listen to it in secret because it wasn't allowed in her strict religious household. When Price was 18 years old, she joined a gospel choir that performed around New York City. The choir was chosen to sing backup for pop singer George Michael when he performed in the city, and Price's professional musical career was launched.
Following her performance with the choir, Price was invited to tour with Carey and sing backup for her. The singer accepted, and she traveled with the well-known performer for four years. Price then sang on a demo for rapper Sean "Puffy" Combs, which landed her a position as a backup singer with his Bad Boy label. While at the label, Price recorded with artists such as Notorious B.I.G., Mase, Brandy, Monica, and Franklin. A big break came for the singer when she recorded Diana Ross-like vocals for Biggie Small's single, "Mo Money, Mo Problems" in 1997. The recording represented the first time that Price stepped out from behind a lead singer to let her own voice be heard. The experience inspired her to pursue a solo career.
Finding a label to launch that career was not easy for Price, however. Several recording deals fell through before she found a home at T-Neck Records/Island Black Music. Price is a full-figured woman, and her image seemed to hold her back. She told Rahel Musleah of the New York Times, "Studios want artists to look like models.... A lot of people felt I didn't fit that visual concept. They asked me to lose weight." Price refused to give in but found an ally in Hiram Hicks, president of Island Black Records. He told Musleah, "I was looking for someone to represent the girl next door, someone who was natural. I knew her raw talent would shine through." The label released Price's debut album, Soul of a Woman, in 1998.
Not only did Soul of a Woman showcase Price's voice, it reflected her prowess as a songwriter and producer. She wrote or co-wrote all but one song on the album and produced roughly half of the tracks. In recording the release, Price worked with some of the biggest names in R&B, including Stevie J., R. Kelly, J Dub, and Sean Smith. She also worked with Kelly and Ronald Isley, who controlled T-Neck Records. Isley told Anita M. Samuels of Billboard, "Every few years, someone like her comes along.... When I heard her, I knew how special she was. She had that 'voice.' ... It was a gift to have her." Singles from the album included "Secret Love," a song about finally confessing to loving someone, and "Friend of Mine," about a best friend stealing a lover. "Friend of Mine" was Price's first real hit, going to number one on Billboard's Hot R&B Singles & Tracks chart and breaking into the top 20 on American pop charts. The success of the single drove sales higher for the album, which went platinum. The album climbed as high as number two on Billboard's Top R&B Albums chart.
Soul of a Woman also received critical praise. Richard Harrington of the Washington Post called the album a "spectacular entrance" for Price, whom he called a "great soul diva." A Jet reviewer called the singer "sweet, strong, giving, and magnificently talented," and Taylor called her a "budding chanteuse with a voice of steel."
After the success of Soul of a Woman, Price had another hit--and a Grammy nomination--with "Heartbreak Hotel," a 1999 collaboration with Whitney Houston and Faith Evans. The song went to number one on Billboard's Hot R&B Singles & Tracks chart and number three on the Hot 100 chart. That same year, Price recorded "The Gods Love Nubia" for Elton John and Tim Rice's stage musical, Aida. Broadening her efforts, Price also founded her own label, Big Mama Records (through Elektra), and began cultivating artists like young R&B singer Sasha Allen. Price also co-wrote and recorded songs with R. Kelly and Gerald Levert and began writing for and producing other R&B stars. But the multi-talented Price did not stop there. She also developed two different clothing lines for plus-sized women--the dressy Kelly Price Collection and the sportier Big Mama Wear.
The year 1999 proved to be a difficult one for Price, however. She began having conflicts with her label and filed suit against T-Neck Records, distributor Island Records, Ronald Isley, and the Isley Brothers Music Corp. for breach of contract and interference with other recording opportunities. The singer left her label and signed on with Def Soul Records, the R&B division of Def Jam Records. On a more personal level, Price was also struggling with the illness of her mother and mother-in-law, both of whom were diagnosed with breast cancer in 1998. While Price's mother's cancer was treatable and went into remission, her mother-in-law died; the loss hit both Price and her manger-husband Jeffrey Rolle hard, and Price suffered from a depression that caused her to lose nearly 100 pounds. One positive thing did come from Price's pain: with other Def Soul artists Kandice Love, LovHer, Case, Playa, Dru Hill, and Montell Jordan, Price recorded the single "Love Sets You Free," which originally appeared on the soundtrack of The Hurricane. The proceeds from the release of the 2000 single went to breast cancer research.
Price rebounded from her personal losses in 2000 with the release of her second solo album Mirror Mirror. The recording, like Soul of a Woman, includes songs that are almost exclusively about love relationships, some autobiographical in nature, and other songs the stories of other people's experiences. As Vivien Goldman described in an Interview review, the singer-songwriter "takes a cold microscope to our squirming emotions." Many of the songs explore troubled marriages and unfaithful lovers, like "Married Man." Price told Jet that her songs are "true stories but not always my story." "I set out to make music that was universal," she told Taylor in Billboard.
Like Price's debut release, Mirror Mirror also received critical praise. Amy Linden of People noted that Price's "womanly, from-the-gut voice" makes the album "an engaging and emotional collection," and Lynn Norment of Ebony applauded the release for its "tremendous vocals and poignant lyrics." Taylor called Price "one of the brightest young talents" in Billboard, while Kimberly Davis focused on Price's growth and nuance in Ebony. Davis wrote that with the second album, "Price reveals a woman of many layers, each adding up to a renewed confidence in life and love." The singer herself agreed, noting to Davis, "I'm more mine this time around."
Not all of the songs on the album received the same level of praise, though. Robert Christgau wrote in Rolling Stone that "the album's standouts include most of the tracks [Price] didn't compose." One song that most critics agreed was a standout was Price's version of Shirley Murdock's "As We Lay." The sexy track was a treat for Price, who had admired Murdock since she was a child. Murdock showed her respect for the younger singer by playing Price's mother in the video for the song.
A singer, songwriter, and producer, Price has already held many roles in the R&B world. With the success of her two solo albums, the strength and depth of her voice, and her continuing work behind the scenes with other recording artists, Price has only begun what promises to be a long and diverse career. As Taylor wrote in a Billboard review of Mirror Mirror, "Price is the real thing, an artist with a true gift."
by Christine Kelley
Kelly Price's Career
Sang backup for Mariah Carey and others, early 1990s; sang on Biggie Small's single, "Mo Money, Mo Problems," signed with T-Neck/Island Black Music, 1997; released debut solo album, Soul of a Woman, 1998; developed two clothing collections and music label, Big Mama Records, 1999; sang on Whitney Houston's hit single, "Heartbreak Hotel," 1999; signed with Island/Def Soul, released second solo album, Mirror Mirror, 2000.
- Selected discography
- Soul of a Woman (includes "Friend of Mine" and "Secret Love"), T-Neck/Island, 1998.
- (Contributor) Aida , Rocket/Island, 1999.
- Mirror Mirror (includes "Love Sets You Free," "You Should Have Told Me," and "Mirror Mirror"), Def Jam/Universal, 2000.
- Billboard, May 30, 1998, p. 29; January 9, 1999, p. 15; February 27, 1999, p. 72; March 19, 1999, p. 24; June 26, 1999, p. 27; July 24, 1999, p. 32; January 29, 2000, p. 40; May 13, 2000, p. 32; August 19, 2000, p. 21; December 23, 2000, p. 20.
- Ebony, August 2000, p. 18; October 2000, p. 106.
- Jet, December 7, 1998, p. 64; July 17, 2000, p. 63.
- Interview, July 2000, p. 42.
- New York Times, September 12, 1999, p. 3.
- People, July 10, 2000, p. 46.
- Rolling Stone, August 3, 2000, pp. 55-56.
- USA Today, July 11, 2000, p. D5; July 9, 2001, p. D4.
- Washington Post, November 8, 1998, p. G5.
- "Kelly Price," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (July 10, 2001).
- "Kelly Price," Listen.com, http://www.listen.com (July 10, 2001).