Sangin' in the Background: Before They Were Soul Stars

Sangin' in the Background: Before They Were Soul Stars

COVER STORY | Just beyond the spotlight you’ll find some of the most incredible vocalists that have yet to be discovered. Before taking center stage, these soul singers paid their dues by lending their talents to music’s biggest acts. For anyone who has dreams of stepping out of the shadows and into the spotlight, may these stories of success inspire you!

Lisa Fischer 
Acclaimed as one of the top-tier background singers in the industry, Lisa Fischer gained her start in the pristine backing court of Luther Vandross. Encouraged by Vandross, the soprana ventured on her own in 1991 to release the soaring single, “How Can I Ease The Pain”, which garnered her a Grammy Award for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance. The singer felt the pressures that came along with being a solo star, from body image to demanding persona, and slipped into the background by choice. Since her brief solo foray, Fischer has found peace with herself and her magic, nestled into a successful career providing support vocals in studio and on tour with Tina Turner, The Rolling Stones, and Sting. A lifelong musical relationship with Luther Vandross, she toured and performed supporting vocals on every tour and album until the singer’s death in 2005. Sporadically, Fisher headlines shows at small venues but she is relieved to return to the background where she can just be Lisa.

Angie Stone
Angela Laverne Brown has done it all. In the 70’s the multi-talented musician pioneered as a member of The Sequence, the first female rap group signed to Sugar Hill Records. Following the group’s dissolve, Brown would work behind the pen crafting songs for Mary J. Blige, SWV, and Solo before venturing out as backup singer and saxophonist for Lenny Kravitz’s Let Love Rule and 5 tours. After reaching the top 20 on the R&B charts with “Seems You’re Much Too Busy” in 1993 as lead vocalist of the soul trio Vertical Hold, Brown became Angie Stone. In 1995 she joined the Brown Sugar tour as a backing vocalist, where she met her babydaddy, D’Angelo. In 1999, the soul singer would transition as a solo artist signed to Clive Davis’ Arista Records creating memorable hits “No More Rain (In This Cloud)”, “Wish I Didn’t Miss You”.

Luther VandrossIt’s hard to imagine Luther Vandross as a background singer, but he once stood behind others supporting acts like Donny Hathaway, Barbra Streisand, Roberta Flack, and David Bowie before breakthrough as the frontman for 70’s group, Change, for which he recorded two albums and hit single “Glow of Love”. Once a sought-out supporting vocalist himself, it’s no wonder that Vandross’ own background singers, were the envy of the industry throughout his career.  In 1981, he made his solo debut with “Never Too Much” and only looked back once to record backing vocals for Stevie Wonder’s 1985 hit, “Part-Time Lover”.

Anthony Hamilton
Comin’ from Charlotte, North Carolina, soul crooner Anthony Hamilton got his big break moving the New York City in his twenties and signing to Andre Harrell’s Uptown Records in 1993. He earned his street-legs by lending background vocals to Hip Hop Soul singers Jodeci, Horace Brown, Heavy D, Guy, and Mary J. Blige, with promise to release his own album. When the label folded in 1995, Hamilton’s debut was a shelved casualty of the business. It wasn’t until touring as background singer on D’Angelo’s Voodoo Tour in 2000 that a second chance presented itself. A distinguishable voice in soul music with hits like “Comin’ From Where I’m From”, Charlene”, and “Best of Me”, Anthony Hamilton is living proof that the biggest blessings are worth the wait.

Faith Evans
Long before some were introduced to her as the First Lady of Bad Boy, Faith Evans was a force behind the scenes of rhythm & blues.  In 1993, the Jersey girl she relocated to Los Angeles to work as a backup vocalist for New Jack Swing artists, Al B. Sure and Christopher Williams. She became the first female artist to sign with Bad Boy, penning and lending her vocals to hits from Usher, Tony Thompson, Mary J. Blige, and late husband The Notorious B.I.G. As her majesty of the Bad Boy Family, Fath released three platinum-certified studio albums: Faith, Keep the Faith, and Faithfully and continues to be heralded as one of R&B’s leading divas.

Kelly Price
The voice behind the era, Kelly Price played the background for R&B’s most forefront icons including Faith Evans, Aretha Franklin, Brian McKnight, SWV and R. Kelly. The Pentecostal church girl from Queens, New York was heard singing backstage at Madison Square Garden by Mariah Carey and was recruited to sing backup for the rising diva’s upcoming project. Her first gig behind the songbird was the recording of 1993’s Mariah Carey Unplugged and she continued to support Carey while also lending standout vocals to the artists of Bad Boy Records. The experience opened doors for more backing gigs as Price can be heard throughout countless R&B and Hip-Hop hits including “Fantasy”, “Always Be My Baby” and “Mo Money Mo Problems”, before stepping into the spotlight. By the time her debut single “Friend of Mine” and solo album, Soul of a Woman were released in 1998, she had erected a recognizable vocal presence and a strong support system among her peers that continues to put respect on her name and God-given talent.

Mariah Carey
Every diva has to start somewhere and Mariah Carey is no exception. Getting her start as the backup singer for Brenda K. Starr in the late 80s, Mariah’s demo tape landed into the hands of record exec Tommy Mottola, who signed her to Columbia Records. Launching her career with a multi-platinum eponymous debut, the rest is history. 200 million records sold worldwide, 19 number one singles, and a flock of devoted lambs, Mariah is one of the best-selling female artists in the history of music…PERIODT. Carey paid homage to her background origin by covering Starr’s hit “I Still Believe” on her #1s album in 1998.

Whitney Houston
Creating a diamond takes time, fire, and pressure; when you are the daughter of Cissy Houston of The Sweet Inspirations, expectations are at full temperature.  At the age of 15, Whitney Houston learned the ropes of live performance by singing backup for Aretha Franklin, Lou Rawls, The Neville Brothers, and Chaka Khan; even singing backup on the original version of “I’m Every Woman”. A voice as special as Houston’s was bound to take the spotlight and when she released her self-titled debut on Valentine’s Day in 1985, the love poured in from across the globe. The only artist to have chart seven consecutive #1 Billboard Hot 100 hits, Houston is THE VOICE that has reached diamond, multi-platinum, platinum, and gold status in music and in our hearts. We will always love Whitney!

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