Born Tiffany Cobb in Providence, RI; daughter of Susi Franco (a jazz singer); one of six siblings. Addresses: Record company--Arista Records, 6 W. 57th St., New York, NY 10019, website: http://www.arista.com. Website--Blu Cantrell Official Website: http://www.blucantrell.com.
At first glance, Blu Cantrell's rise to hit status as a singer appears to have happened overnight. Her debut single, "Hit 'Em Up Style (Oops!)," from her debut release, So Blu, spent weeks at number two on Billboard's Hot 100 singles chart. But in actuality, Cantrell's singing career began at a very early age. As the singer told Alexandra Phanor at MTV.com, "I was singing before I could even talk." Cantrell's versatile style reflects her lifelong interest in music, incorporating the sounds of hip-hop, rap, reggae, and jazz.
Born Tiffany Cobb in Providence, Rhode Island, Cantrell received the nickname Blu from her family when she was a child because of her obsession with the color. "She even insisted that her birthday cakes had blue icing and blue sponge," her mother, Susi Franco, recalled in an interview with Anna Pointer in London's Sunday Mirror.
Cantrell's parents split when she was a child, and she and her five siblings--Adam, Tino, Nicky, Kelli, and Summer--were raised by her mother in Rhode Island. "I come from a bi-racial family; my mother and all my five brothers and sisters are white," Cantrell explained to Claire Donnelly in The Mirror. "My mother's family disowned her when she married my dad. He was a professional ball player, and they met in college in the early '70s when racism was a real issue."
Franco supported her six children by performing as a jazz singer, which sparked Cantrell's interest in music at a very early age. The children would go with Franco when she performed at various clubs because she couldn't afford a babysitter. Although the children were always supposed to stay in their mother's dressing room while she performed, Cantrell would often sneak out to the side of the stage to watch her sing. It was those experiences that fueled her desire to become a singer herself.
When she was a little girl, Blu Cantrell joined thousands of other girls in an audition to play the lead role in the musical Annie. She made it all the way to the top ten candidates, but did not receive the part because she didn't have the right look. "I was kind of devastated by that, so I kept off of that for awhile," Cantrell told the BBC's Top of the Pops. "I was kind of scared of performing, and I had a fright of singing on stage. Later on, I grew out of it."
Indeed, her stage fright didn't last long. After graduating from high school, Cantrell left Providence for New York City, where she began to pursue her singing career at the age of 17. Stardom didn't come quickly, though, and to make ends meet, she took various jobs in a bar, beauty salon, and department store. In 1995 Cantrell hit a rough financial period. She was about to be evicted from her home and barely had enough money to eat. She decided to take drastic action by posing for a series of nude photos in Black Tail magazine. Later, when her music career took off, Cantrell was criticized for the photos. She maintained that she did what she thought she had to do at the time and refused to be embarrassed.
In 2000 Cantrell's career took a major turn even as her family faced personal tragedy. Her sister Kelli, who had been injured in a car crash, was in a coma in Atlanta, Georgia, and Cantrell's entire family rushed to her side. While walking through the lobby of an Atlanta hotel, Cantrell met an employee of RedZone Entertainment, who told her she looked like a singer. She told him that she was. "I guess it was a pickup line," Cantrell told Pollstar, "but he brought me to RedZone and they signed me after they heard me sing."
She began working with RedZone A&R executive Tab and producer C. "Tricky" Stewart on a demo recording. RedZone also helped her break into the business by getting her work as a backing singer for artists such as P. Diddy, Gerald Levert, Aaron Hall, and Faith Evans. When the demo was complete, Cantrell was ready to enter the spotlight. Stewart contacted Antonio "L.A." Reid, then the president and CEO of Arista Records, and told him he had a new singer he wanted him to see. Within days, Reid and his staff traveled to Atlanta to meet Cantrell and hear her sing.
"We all went into this tiny studio, and he asked me to sing 'Till I'm Gone'--a song that I had recorded with Tricky--on the spot and a capella.... At the end of my performance, L.A. asked me to sign, and I've been with Arista ever since," Cantrell recalled in her record company bio at the Arista website. "Her voice seemed to satisfy that yearning in my soul, not only for a great singer, but also for a sound that I felt was missing in today's music," Reid told Yahoo! Launch.
Cantrell released her debut CD, So Blu, on July 31, 2001; it includes her audition song "Till I'm Gone" and her hit debut single "Hit 'Em Up Style (Oops!)," which was produced and written by Dallas Austin. The latter was written about one of Cantrell's friends who went on a spending spree with her man's money after he had cheated on her. The album soared to number eight on the Soundscan album chart in its first week.
So Blu reflected Cantrell's brokenhearted state after the demise of an unhealthy relationship that left her in a severe state of depression. "I think you can feel the pain I've experienced in my music," Cantrell told Ebony.
Cantrell's catharsis of pain in So Blu may have been one of the key ingredients in her recipe for success. As Barry Walters wrote in Rolling Stone, "What sets Blu apart is a startling hurt that tears at the notes and lets them cry."
In 2002 Cantrell was nominated for a Grammy Award and an American Music Award, and she made an appearance singing the national anthem in the film Drumline. Following the success of So Blu, she returned to the recording studio to work on her follow-up with an ensemble of producers including Dr. Dre, "Tricky" Stewart, Shep Crawford, Mike City, Soulshock & Karlin, and Ivan Matias.
On July 24, 2003, Cantrell released Bittersweet, for which she co-wrote four songs including "Make Me Wanna Scream," "Let Her Go," and "Holding on to Love." The first single from Bittersweet, entitled "Breathe," made it to number one on the U.K. charts. The album includes guest appearances from artists such as Lil' Kim, Missy Elliot, Lady May, Fat Joe, Sean Paul, and Inner Circle's Ian Lewis.
"My new album is another chapter in my life; I'm getting a little further from the pain and closer to real love," Cantrell said in her record company bio. "That's why I titled it Bittersweet, because I'm still bitter about some past relationships, but I've also experienced the sweetness of love.... Singing about relationships is almost like therapy for me."
Although Bittersweet didn't have the same hit power as her debut, Cantrell has stated that she's more interested in staying power, enabling her to continue to perform for years to come. As she told Soultrain.com, "I think it's very important to stick to the things that you love and go for it.... I feel happy with what I have already. I feel very blessed."
by Sonya Shelton
Blu Cantrell's Career
Signed with Arista Records after recording demo with C. "Tricky" Steward of RedZone Entertainment, 2000; released debut album, So Blu, including hit single "Hit 'Em Up Style (Oops!)," 2001; appeared in the film Drumline, 2002; released Bittersweet, 2003.
- Billboard, August 4, 2003; August 25, 2003.
- Ebony, October 2001, p. 138.
- Entertainment Weekly, July 20, 2001, p. 68.
- The Mirror (London, England), September 1, 2003.
- Music & Media, October 13, 2001, p. 18.
- People, July 14, 2003, p. 39.
- Poughkeepsie Journal (New York), June 6, 2003.
- Rolling Stone, September 27, 2001; May 20, 2003; August 7, 2003.
- Sunday Mirror (London, England), August 3, 2003.
- "Backstage with Blu Cantrell," Soultrain.com, http://www.soultrain.com/st3/blucantrell1017.html (September 9, 2003).
- "Blu Cantrell: Bio," MTV.com, http://www.mtv.com/bands/az/cantrell_blu/bio.jhtml (September 9, 2003).
- "Blu Cantrell Biography," Arista Records, http://www.arista.com (September 9, 2003).
- "Blu Cantrell Biography," RollingStone.com, http://www.rollingstone.com/artists/bio.asp?oid=2042924&cf=2042924 (September 9, 2003).
- "Blu Cantrell Biography," Yahoo! LAUNCH, http://launch.yahoo.com/artist/artistFocus.asp?artistID=1097384 (September 9, 2003).
- "Blu Cantrell: Love So Blu," MTV.com, http://www.mtv.com/bands/archive/c/cantrell01/index.jhtml (September 6, 2003).
- Blu Cantrell Official Website, http://www.blucantrell.com (September 9, 2003).
- "Top of the Pops: Blu Cantrell," BBC Top of the Pops, http://www.bbc.co.uk/totp/artists/c/cantrell_blu/underthegrill/page1.shtml (December 11, 2003).