Brandy Rayana Norwood (born February 11, 1979), known professionally as Brandy, is an American R&B and pop singer-songwriter, record producer, fashion model, actress, and film producer. Born in McComb, Mississippi and discovered by Chris Stokes when she was a member of a youth singing group, Norwood released her self-titled debut album in 1994 at the age of fifteen.
Following a major success with Grammy Award-winning "The Boy Is Mine," a duet with singer Monica and her second album Never Say Never in 1998, a series of hit records established her position as one of the most successful of the new breed of urban R&B female vocalists to emerge in the mid-to late 1990s. The RIAA ranks Norwood as one of the best-selling female artists in American music history, having sold over 10.5 million copies of her four studio albums in the United States and over 25 million albums worldwide, to date. Additionally, she has won over 100 awards as a recording artist.
While maintaining a recording career Norwood also gained fame for starring in several film and television productions, including popular UPN sitcom Moesha (1996-2001), a supporting role in the 1998 horror sequel I Still Know What You Did Last Summer and starring roles in a 1997 version of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella and Double Platinum, two of television's highest rated special programs.
Brandy is the elder of two siblings born to Willie Norwood, a former R&B singer and choir director, and his wife Sonja Bates-Norwood, a former district manager for H&R Block, in McComb, Mississippi. She is the sister of singer and actor William Raymond "Ray J" Norwood Jr, and a cousin of blues singer Bo Diddley and rapper Snoop Dogg.
Through her father's work Brandy started singing at the Brookhaven church of Christ in Brookhaven, Mississippi at an early age of two. By the time she was four, Norwood's parents moved the family from McComb to Carson, California, in hopes of jump-starting careers for their children. Inspired by a spontaneous onstange performance with Diddley and Little Richard in the Los Angeles Forum at the age of six, Brandy began performing at many West Coast functions as part of a youth singing group and then, at 11, met manager Earl Harris and Chris Stokes who landed her gigs as a backing vocalist for the all-male groups such as Norment and the more successful teen R&B trio Immature. In 1993, while shopping around record companies, seeking a record deal, Norwood attended a party held by the Atlantic Recording Corporation. After performing in front of hundreds of people, an executive, Darryl Williams indicated interest in her persona and eventually offered Brandy a recording contract with Atlantic Records.
Recording and performing career
Brandy with MC Lyte, Queen Latifah, and Yo-Yo in the remix video to "I Wanna Be Down" (1994).By the time Norwood was putting the final touches on her debut album with producers Keith Crouch and Darryl Williams, Atlantic Records decided to release "I Wanna Be Down" as the newcomer's first outing. Although the singer was barely satisfied with her label's debut single choice at the time of its release, the song subsequently scored Brandy her first number-one hit on Billboard’s Hot R&B Singles chart, where it remained four weeks atop. Its success resulted in a remixed version of the song, containing new vocals by rappers Queen Latifah, Yo-Yo and MC Lyte, and boosted the sales of Norwood's second number-one hit "Baby," her first international top-10 entry. Her debut album Brandy, a collection of hip hop soul-oriented pop tunes, reached number 20 on the U.S. Billboard 200 and number six on the Top R&B Albums chart. It eventually sold over four million copies domestically, and although the album's success was limited elsewhere, it produced another two top 10 hits with "Best Friend" and "Brokenhearted." Latter single, a re-done version with Boyz II Men singer Wanya Morris, was recorded during Brandy's two-month stint as the opening act on the group's national tour.
Critical reaction to Brandy was generally positive, with Allmusic writer Eddie Huffman calling Brandy "a lower-key Janet Jackson or a more stripped-down Mary J. Blige [...] with good songs and crisp production." The album eventually earned Norwood two Grammy Award nominations for "Best New Artist" and "Best Female R&B Vocal Performance," four Soul Train Music Awards, two Billboard Awards, and the New York Children's Choice Award. The singer continued to soar the following two years, teaming up with Lenny Kravitz for the Batman Forever soundtrack and scoring another hit single with her Waiting to Exhale contribution, "Sittin' Up in My Room" (1995). In 1996, Norwood also collaborated with Tamia, Chaka Khan, and Gladys Knight on the single "Missing You," released from the Set It Off soundtrack. While not her biggest hit, the single did peak at number 25 on the pop chart, and earned Brandy her third Grammy nomination in the "Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals" category.
Brandy and Monica in the video for "The Boy Is Mine" (1998), one of both acts' biggest singles.In 1997, Atlantic Records consulted upcoming producer Rodney "Darkchild" Jerkins to contribute to Norwood's second album Never Say Never, which was released on June 9, 1998 stateside. Brandy co-wrote and produced six songs on the album which yielded her first number-one song on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100, "The Boy Is Mine," a duet with singer Monica. Exploiting the media's presumption of a rivalry between the two young singers, the song rose to one of the most successful records of the year, spending record-breaking thirteen weeks on top of the Billboard charts, and eventually garnered the pair a Grammy Award for "Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal". The album's success was equally widespread, and following extensive airplay of the single overseas, the label released it globally during the summer. Never Say Never eventually became Brandy’s biggest album, selling over fourteen million copies worldwide; and critics rated the album highly, with Allmusic`s Stephen Thomas Erlewine praising Brandy and her team for wisely finding "a middle ground between Mariah Carey and Mary J. Blige — it's adult contemporary with a slight streetwise edge." Altogether the album spawned seven airplay and CD singles respectively, including Norwood's second number-one song, Diane Warren-penned "Have You Ever?."
After a lengthy hiatus that saw the end of the Moesha sitcom, and a flurry of tabloid headlines discussing her bout with dehydration, Norwood returned to music when she and brother Ray-J were asked to record a cover version of Phil Collins' 1980s hit "Another Day in Paradise" for the tribute album Urban Renewal: A Tribute to Phil Collins. Released as the album first single in Australia and Europe, the song became an instant international hit overseas, reaching the top 10 on the majority of all charts it appeared on.
"What About Us?" (2002) presented a more mature facet of Brandy's personality and her much-worked-on voice.During the following production of her third studio album, Norwood became romantically involved with producer Robert "Big Bert" Smith. The couple quietly "married" in the summer of 2001 but their union did not become known until February 2002—the same month Norwood revealed that she was expecting her first child. However, shortly after the birth of their daughter Sy'rai Iman Smith on June 16, 2002 — an event tracked by the four-part MTV reality series Special Delivery — Norwood "divorced" Smith. The "marriage" itself was later exposed as not of legal status but instead was used as a ruse to protect Brandy's image. Norwood later stated that she regarded her relationship with Smith as a "spiritual union and true commitment to each other". Full Moon, Norwood's third studio album, was released in March 2002. It once again comprised a row of R&B/Pop-oriented songs with adult contemporary, many of them co-created with Jerkins, Warryn Campbell and Mike City. While its lead single "What About Us?" became a worldwide top 10 hit, the album's title track failed to chart or sell noticeably outside the United States and the UK, where it managed to enter the Top 20 of the single chart. Media reception was generally lukewarm, with Rolling Stone saying that, "... this interminable (seventeen-track) product is frantic, faceless, fake-sexy R&B." Still, the album was rather quietly and cautiously declared as a flop by the media. Brandy ignored the rumblings and instead settled further into motherhood. She began writing and producing for other artists, such as Kelly Rowland, Tarralyn Ramsey, and Toni Braxton within the coming year.
By the following year, Norwood had entered a relationship with New York Knicks guard Quentin Richardson. The couple soon got engaged in July 2004 but Brandy eventually ended her 15-month engagement with the NBA player in October 2005. As reported, Norwood had to get a tattoo of Richardson's face on her back transformed into a cat.
"Talk About Our Love" (2004), produced by rapper Kanye West, failed to link Afrodisiac with previous successes.Returning from yet another musical hiatus, Brandy's fourth album Afrodisiac was released on June 29, 2004 in North America, amidst both her weakest promotional blitz ever and the well-publicized termination of her short-lived business relationship with entertainment manager Benny Medina. Norwood ended her contract with his Los Angeles-based Handprint Entertainment after less than a year of representation following controversies surrounding Medina's handling of the lead single "Talk About Our Love", and failed talks of a purported co-headlining tour with R&B singer Usher. Upon parting Norwood admitted her switch to Medina made her appreciate what she had with her mother, stating that "it was such a drastic change that it didn't work for me. Nobody out there can match her passion for me." Despite the negative blitz, Timbaland-produced Afrodisiac became Brandy's most critically acclaimed album to date, with some citing the "more consistently mature and challenging" effect of Timbaland on Brandy's music, and others calling it "very listenable and emotionally resonant", comparing it to "Janet Jackson at her best". Norwood described the CD as her most mature and versatile effort by then: "I just wanted to sing my heart out and connect with people. I wasn’t old enough or mature enough before to get into people’s hearts. Now I am." Nevertheless Afrodisiac became the least successful album of Brandy's career: While it debuted at number three on the Billboard 200, selling 500,000 copies domestically, the album widely failed to chart or sell noticeably outside the United States. "Talk About Our Love" reached number 6 in the UK but follow-up singles failed to obtain success on the pop charts.
At the end of 2004, however, Norwood asked for and received a release from Atlantic Records, after eleven years with the company. As a direct consequence the label brought a collection of all of her singles, The Best of Brandy, on the market. "I think it's awesome to have an album that reflects the songs that people have enjoyed over the years," Brandy said in an interview the following year, "I'm happy to say that many of the tracks included are my favorites too." Thereupon she reportedly started shopping for a new record deal under Knockout Entertainment, her brother's label.
In June 2006, Norwood was cast as one of three talent judges on the first season of America's Got Talent, an amateur talent contest on NBC with executive producer Simon Cowell and host Regis Philbin. The broadcast was one of the most-watched programs of the summer, and concluded on August 17, 2006 with the win of 11-year-old singer Bianca Ryan.
In late 2006, TMZ broke the story that Brandy was involved in a wreck on a Los Angeles freeway on December 30. The accident claimed the life of 38-year-old Awatef Aboudihaj. An eyewitness tells TMZ Brandy was traveling at around 65 miles per hour but did not stop when traffic in front of her slowed. Brandy's vehicle struck the vehicle in front of her and triggered a four car crash. There is no evidence of drugs or alcohol and she was not arrested. Brandy was originally scheduled to return for a second season of the America's Got Talent in summer 2007, but eventually decided to step down, feeling that "she couldn't give the new season the attention and commitment it deserved". She was replaced by reality TV star Sharon Osbourne.
Norwood is currently putting the finishing touches on her fifth studio album, Human, her first release on Epic Records. The project involves a wide range of producers and songwriters such as Rodney Jerkins, The Neptunes, Kerry "Krucial" Brothers, Soundz, Greg Curtis, Toby Gad,Crystal "Cri$tyle" Johnson, Claude Kelly, Kara DioGuardi, Tim & Bob, RedOne, Jim Beanz, Rockwilder, WyldCard, Bryan-Michael Cox, Midi Mafia,The Writing Camp and executive producer Brian Kennedy, as well as other musicians such as Natasha Bedingfield, Tonex, Taio Cruz, and violonist Josh Vietti. The album's leading single, entitled "Right Here (Departed)," premiered on August 14, 2008 via Brandy's official website. In addtion, Brandy is also said to be in the works of a soundtrack for a yet-untitled sci-fi/action video game for PlayStation Portable in which she will be providing the voice for the main character.
In 1993, while recording her debut album, Brandy landed the role of Danesha Turrell in the ABC sitcom Thea, playing the 12-year-old daughter of protagonist Thea Turrell (Thea Vidale). The series was taken off the screens eight months after its release but earned her a Young Artist Award nomination for "Outstanding Youth Ensemble in a Television Series."
Her short lived engagement earned Brandy her first starring role in the UPN sitcom Moesha. Appearing alongside Sheryl Lee Ralph and Countess Vaughn, she played Moesha Mitchell, a typical 16-year-old girl from Los Angeles growing into adulthood. The show first aired in January 1996 on UPN and soon became the most watched show on the television network. Norwood who had not seen herself as an actress before, finally gained confidence: "I think Moesha is so much like me that I feel real comfortable." In 2001 the network canceled the show after six seasons on the air, leaving it ending with a cliffhanger for a scrapped seventh season.
In 1997, Norwood was hand-picked by executive producer Whitney Houston to play the title character in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s television version of Cinderella featuring a multi-cultural cast that also included Jason Alexander, Whoopi Goldberg, Bernadette Peters and Houston. The two-hour Wonderful World of Disney special garnered an estimated 60 million viewers, giving the network its highest ratings in the time period in 16 years, and won an Emmy Award. About filming Brandy later told Jet: "It was the best experience I could ever have." A year after, Brandy made her big screen debut after winning the supporting role of sassy Karla Wilson in the franchise-flick I Still Know What You Did Last Summer. The movie outperformed the original with a total of 16.5 million at its opening weekend but critical reaction towards the film was largely disappointing, with film review site Rotten Tomatoes calculating a poor rating of 7% based on 46 reviews. Norwood, however, earned positive reviews for her "bouncy" performance which garnered her both Blockbuster Entertainment Award and MTV Movie Award nominations for "Best Actress" and "Best Breakthrough Female Performance" respectively. In 1999, she co-starred with Diana Ross in the telefilm drama Double Platinum.
Since the early 2000s Norwood's focus on acting has permanently decreased to occasional guest appearances on several television shows such as Reba (2002), Sabrina, the Teenage Witch (2002), American Dreams (2004), House (2005) and One on One (2006). As reported, she's however working on a yet-untitled Touchstone Television-produced sitcom for The CW since mid-2004. Brandy will play a die-hard New Yorker who moves to Los Angeles to take a job as an entertainment editor. "It's going to be me playing [a character based on] my life, but it's not going to be me as Brandy," she explained in an interview with MTV News. "It's going to be a totally different person, but with the same challenges that I go through in my life ... being a single mom, raising my child, trying to have a life, trying to have friends and trying to do my own thing." The pilot for the series, which will be co-executive produced by Norwood, her mother Sonja, and producers Neil Meron and Craig Zadan, is said to be written by Girlfriends & The Game creator Mara Brock Akil.