Born in 1973, in Lakeland, FL; daughter of Helene Evans and Richard Swain; married rapper Christopher Wallace, a.k.a. Biggie Smalls or Notorious B.I.G., 1994; widowed 1997; married Todd Russaw, 1998; children: (with Kiyamma Griffin) Chyna; (with Wallace) Christopher Jr.; (with Russaw) Joshua. Education: Attended Fordham University in NY. Addresses: Record company--Capitol Records, 150 5th Ave., New York, NY 10011. Website--Faith Evans Official Website: http://www.faithevansonline.com.
For a woman who was perhaps known more for being the wife of the infamous rapper the late Notorious B.I.G., Faith Evans has 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 named 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 People in 1998. "Because her mind wasn't going to be there. It was going to be on her music." She was in Los Angeles 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 was rumored 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-and-coming gangsta rapper Christopher Wallace, a.k.a. Notorious B.I.G., better known as Biggie Smalls, at a photo shoot in August of 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. There was the misconception that Evans rode her husband's coattails to fame. In truth, she had already signed the Bad Boy record deal, but her debut, Faith, was released months after his in 1995. There were Wallace's flaunted infidelities with rapper Lil' Kim, and rumors of a romance between Evans and rapper Tupac Shakur, which Shakur made claims to on an album.
Evans's debut, however, met with 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 separated. Early in 1997 Wallace was gunned down in a Las Vegas drive-by shooting. Ironically, the two had seen each other earlier that same night, but hadn't spoken. 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." In the ensuing months she gave birth to their son, Christopher Jr., and at 24, the newly widowed mother of two had her family as well as her late husband's legal issues to attend to.
Evans's 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 a 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 heart-felt lyrics tell her stories of love and loss and triumph over heartache and adversity." Craig Seymour's 1998 review of Keep the Faith for the Village Voice praised "Faith's airy yet strong soprano," although he also wrote that he felt the self-written songs from her first album were better suited to her voice.
"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. Puff Daddy had given her a strong start, but Evans seemed primed to blaze her own trail.
In 2003 Evans's new husband and manager, Todd Russaw, helped her negotiate an exit from Bad Boy Records. She signed with Capitol, and began working on a new album. However, in 2004 she and Russaw were pulled over in Hapeville, Georgia, where a police officer found marijuana and cocaine in the vehicle. Although Evans later denied that there was cocaine in the car, she did admit to possession of marijuana. She told Aliya S. King in Vibe, "I'll be the first to admit I've experimented with drugs. I don't have to go into detail. I've tried a few things. Am I a drug addict? No. I'm living responsibly, not recklessly." As a result of the arrest, Evans and Russaw agreed to complete a 13-week drug rehabilitation program; when they completed the program in May of 2004, the charges were dropped.
In 2005 Evans released The First Lady, described by King as "arguably her best work since her classic self-titled 1995 debut." On the album, Evans did not shy away from the complexities and difficulties of her life; one single, "Again," even addressed the reports of her drug habit that had spread after her arrest. DeAnne M. Bradley wrote in the Virginian Pilot that on this album, Evans "unveils a wiser sound," and in the Newark, New Jersey, Star-Ledger, Jay Lustig commented that the album was "polished but warm, and often reminiscent of '70s soul classics by groups like the Stylistics and the Chi-Lites."
Though Evans is moving on in life, she is aware that her fans can't seem to stop talking about her past. She told Angus Batey in the London Times, "The turbulence in my career is what people grasp onto. It's not something that I'm ever going to get away from. All I can do is be me and let people know that this is the person I am, not who I was made out to be for whatever reason."
by Brenna Sanchez and Kelly Winters
Faith Evans's Career
Moved to Los Angeles to pursue singing career, 1992; signed by Bad Boy Entertainment label, 1994; released debut, Faith, 1995; released Keep the Faith, 1998; left Bad Boy, 2003; signed with Capitol Records, released The First Lady, 2005.
Faith Evans's Awards
Grammy Award (with Sean Combs and 112), Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group, for "I'll Be Missing You," 1997.
- Selected discography
- Faith Bad Boy, 1995.
- Keep the Faith Bad Boy, 1998.
- The First Lady Capitol, 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.
- Star-Ledger (Newark, NJ), April 3, 2005, p. O10.
- Time, November 8, 1998.
- Times (London, England), April 30, 2005, p. 17.
- Vibe, June 2005, p. 95.
- Village Voice, December 1, 1998.
- Virginian Pilot, April 8, 2005, p. E8.
- "Faith Evans," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (January 5, 1999).