Born Toni Michele Braxton on October 7, 1968, in Severn, MD; daughter of Michael (a utility company employee and minister) and Evelyn (a cosmetology instructor) Braxton; married Keri Lewis (a musician); children: Denim Kole, Diezel Ky. Education: Attended community college, business school, and Bowie State University. Addresses: Record company--Blackground Records, http://blackgroundrecords.com. Website--Toni Braxton Official Website: http://www.tonibraxton.com.
Toni Braxton's first effort at recording picked up where a generation of R&B divas had left off years before--launching her into instant stardom. Showcasing a rich contralto much lauded by critics, the Maryland native's 1993 debut, Toni Braxton, won several industry awards and made her a household name almost overnight. One key to Braxton's success was the faith a famed team of producers known for their hitmaking abilities had placed in her talents. Her collaboration under the wings of Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds and Antonio "L.A." Reid was a virtual assurance that her debut album, Toni Braxton, would go gold; it reached multiplatinum instead. In later years, her personal adversity provided fodder for the tabloids, but her subsequent triumph over financial and legal difficulties enabled her to regain her position as one of pop music's reigning stars.
Braxton grew up in Severn, Maryland, in a fairly prosperous household. Her father worked for a utility company, but was also a minister and deeply religious man. Braxton and her younger siblings--four sisters and a brother--were members of a number of faiths during their childhood as the Braxton parents searched for a harmonious spiritual fit. For a long stretch of her childhood, the Braxton family belonged to the Apostolic Church, a strict creed that dictated dresses for all female believers and no secular music. Braxton's mother, however, was an amateur opera singer, and gave her daughters singing lessons that they used in their father's church choir. Braxton also studied piano and composed her own songs.
Decided to Become a Singer
When Braxton entered her teen years, the family became adherents of the United Methodist Church, a less conservative faith, and her father rescinded some of the strict rules. She was finally allowed to buy her first pair of pants--some Levi's--in the eighth grade, and she could listen to non-religious music such as Chaka Khan and Stevie Wonder, two particular favorites. (She still had to sneak out of the house to watch Soul Train, though.) By the time she entered high school, Braxton had made up her mind she wanted to become a singer--a decision, she has admitted, that was partly the result of attending predominantly white schools much of her life. "I always wanted to fit in, but they [classmates] never accepted me," Braxton told Joy Duckett Cain in Essence. "So I said, 'One day, I'll show them.'"
When she was still a teenager, Braxton talked her parents into letting her sing in a band, but one late-night performance caused her to come home past her curfew and she was forced to quit. After graduation from high school, Braxton enrolled in community college, then business school, and also worked as a secretary and court reporter. She decided on a back-up career as a music teacher, but had also formed a singing group with her sisters by the late 1980s. They entered talent contests and recorded one single, "The Good Life," as The Braxtons, but, she told Ebony writer Muriel L. Whetstone, the sales were so abysmal that she was certain no one outside the Braxton family had bought it.
Nevertheless, "The Good Life" got the attention of the famed Atlanta producers/label executives Edmonds and Reid. Braxton's voice lured them in particular, but they were wary of bringing another all-female group into the LaFace Records family since they had just signed TLC. (The Braxton sisters would later record their own album and serve as Braxton's back-up singers on the road.) Signing just Toni Braxton in 1991, Edmonds--who performs under the name "Babyface"--recorded a duet with her, "Give U My Heart," for the soundtrack to the 1992 movie Boomerang; another Braxton single, "Love Shoulda Brought You Home," also appeared on the release. The latter--a heartfelt admonishment to a straying man--had originally been offered to Anita Baker, who passed on it. Each song enjoyed success on the charts while Braxton was at work co-writing and recording several new songs with Edmonds and Reid for a full-length debut album of her own.
Had Immediate Hit with Toni Braxton
The namesake album, Toni Braxton, appeared in 1993, became an immediate hit, and would eventually sell over nine million copies. As Essence's Gordon Chambers explained, at the time of Braxton's debut, R&B and dance was dominated by "tough, sexed-up ... adolescence bubble-gum pop," in dramatic contrast to the sound and sentiments that came out of Braxton. "Her bluesy, hard-hitting, timeless R&B ballads about lies, deceit, and love gone wrong hark back to Billie Holiday," Chambers declared. Reviewing Toni Braxton for the Village Voice, James Hunter also found much to praise. "That Braxton doesn't try to stretch her voice up toward the sacred jazz galaxies or demonstrate wild concert virtuosity on this debut doesn't make her music seem more calculated or any less soulful," Hunter wrote. "It brings home the real."
Braxton's Grammy-winning record included several introspective, brooding cuts, such as "Another Sad Love Song"--which would win the 1993 Grammy for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance--and "Best Friend." The latter track she wrote about a real-life experience that occurred a few years before when her best friend immediately took up with a recently-exited beau. Success was indeed the best revenge, and it was sweet. "After I released [it], I heard through acquaintances that this ex-boyfriend wanted publishing rights," Braxton laughingly told Time writer Christopher John Farley.
"The things I sing about, women can identify with," Braxton told the magazine. "Although they're sad love songs, I always try to portray it like everything's going to be O.K.; I'm still strong." Furthermore, Braxton's lush voice limits her, in a way, from taking on the typical lightweight pop songs. Discussing her music, which seemed atypical of the offerings from other young, attractive African-American female recording artists--with their thumpy beats and lyrics that often celebrate sex--Braxton told Linden in Essence, "My voice is a lot older than I am. So, even though I might have enjoyed doing one of those hip-hop songs, I don't know if I could have, because of my mature sound."
Such smart-girl vibes in Braxton's music earned her legions of fans and made her a major star. With Secrets, released in the spring of 1996, Braxton took her time recording--"I can't record in the morning because I sound like Barry White," Braxton told Essence's Cain--and she and the LaFace team came up with a decidedly new, more upbeat sound. Farley found the transition a successful one. "The rhythms are forceful, dynamic, danceable," he wrote in Time. "These are the kinds of songs you can expect to hear booming out of car windows for the rest of the summer." The album, which met all expectations, featured a Grammy Award-winning number one single, "You're Makin' Me High," and earned a second Grammy for Best Pop Female Vocal Performance for the much played "Unbreak My Heart." Additionally, the album won two American Music Awards for Braxton who also contributed a song to another hit soundtrack that year, Waiting to Exhale.
Amid all the success and recognition Braxton received in the first five years of her musical career, it came as a surprise that Braxton filed for bankruptcy. In December of 1997, citing Section 2855 of the California Labor Code, a statute that limits the length of personal service contracts to seven years, Braxton sued her record label, LaFace Records. Braxton claimed her agreement with them had been invalid as of August of 1996. LaFace and Arista countersued in New York's Supreme Court, alleging that Braxton had breached her contract. On January 23, 1998, in a Los Angeles court, Braxton filed for Chapter 7 protection from creditors.
According to Entertainment Weekly, in late December, Braxton was informed that what she thought was a $600,000 line of credit from the Republic Bank was already used to cover overdrafts. In January she learned that a concert in Europe the previous autumn had gone into the red and that she owed her business manager more than $400,000; and that she was in debt several hundred thousand dollars to managers and lawyers who were no longer her employees. In all, her debts totaled about $2.8 million.
Some people blamed Braxton's expensive taste and spendthrift ways. Braxton's manager Barry Hankerson claimed much of her personal money was consumed by expenses that her record company should have underwritten as marketing costs. She had to sell off all her personal possessions to pay off creditors, even her prestigious awards. Amid her bankruptcy proceedings, Braxton was offered the role of "Belle" in Disney's musical, Beauty and the Beast. She says she always wanted to act, and had bankruptcy problem not happened, she probably never would have started. She performed on Broadway in New York and flew back to Los Angeles for court appearances between performances. This was a stressful time for Braxton, but she was eventually able to buy back most of her valuable possessions and retrieve her Grammys and her Soul Train awards.
Signed New Deal with LaFace
In 1999, Braxton signed a new $20 million recording contract with LaFace Records, and reached a settlement agreement regarding legal actions filled during her contract disputes with LaFace and Arista Records. The agreement dismisses Braxton
by Carol Brennan
Toni Braxton's Career
Sang with her four sisters in a group called the Braxtons as the choir for her father's church; the Braxtons recorded a single "The Good Life" for Arista Records, 1990; offered a solo contract by Atlanta-based LaFace Records, 1991; worked on Boomerang, the Eddie Murphy movie soundtrack, 1992; "Give U My Heart" and "Love Shoulda Brought You Home" from Boomerang became hit singles; multiplatinum debut album Toni Braxton released, 1993; sang on soundtrack album Waiting to Exhale, 1995; released Secrets, 1996; Heat, 2000; More Than a Woman, 2002; title role in Broadway play Aida, 2003.
Toni Braxton's Awards
Grammy Awards, Best New Artist and Best Female R&B Vocal Performance for "Another Sad Love Song," 1993; Best Female R&B Vocal Performance for "Breathe Again," 1994; Best Female R&B Vocal Performance for "You're Makin' Me High," Best Female Pop Vocal Performance for "Unbreak My Heart," 1996; Best Female R&B Vocal Performance for "He Wasn't Man Enough," 2000; she has also been presented with an NAACP Image Award, several Soul Train Music Awards, and American Music Awards.
- Selected discography
- (Contributor) Boomerang (soundtrack), LaFace, 1992.
- Toni Braxton LaFace, 1993.
- (Contributor) Waiting to Exhale (soundtrack), Arista, 1995.
- Secrets LaFace, 1996.
- Snowflakes Arista, 2001.
- The Heat LaFace, 2000.
- More Than a Woman Arista, 2002.
- Ultimate Toni Braxton LaFace, 2003.
- Platinum & Gold Collection LaFace, 2004.
April 12, 2005: Braxton's album, Unbreak My Heart: The Remix Collection, was released. Source: Billboard.com, www.billboard.com/bb/releases/week_3/index.jsp, April 15, 2005.
- Ebony, May 1994, p. 134; April 2002, p. 44.
- Essence, December 1992, p. 50; April 1994, p. 60; May 1996, p. 94.
- Jet, December 2, 2002, p. 58; April 21, 2003, p. 34; September 15, 2003, p. 56.
- Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service, August 25, 2003.
- People, August 23, 1993, p. 19; May 7, 2001, p. 124.
- Rolling Stone, December 26, 1996, p. 190.
- Time, July 15, 1996, p. 67.
- Village Voice, August 24, 1993, p. 80; September 17, 1996, p. 60.