En Vogue Biography

Vocal R&B group originally comprising Dawn Robinson (28 November 1968, Connecticut, USA), Terry Ellis (b. 5 September 1966, Texas, USA), Cindy Herron (b. 26 September 1965, San Francisco, California, USA) and Maxine Jones (b. 16 January 1966, Patterson, New Jersey, USA). They formed in Oakland, California, where they were auditioned by Denzil Foster and Thomas McElroy. The duo had worked together in both the Timex Social Club and Club Nouveau (who enjoyed big hits with ‘Rumors’ in 1986 and ‘Lean On Me’, a hip-hop version of Bill Withers’ 70s classic, and a Grammy-winner, in 1987). Afterwards they decided to write and produce under their own steam: ‘When Tommy and I bumped into each other in the early 80s, we had the same notion. Everyone was saying R&B was tired and worn out. The new era was hip-hop and rap. But we thought: why not combine the two eras? Put good songs - and the 70s were loaded with good songs - over the new grooves.’ En Vogue were formed in October 1988 after Foster and McElroy auditioned to establish their own ‘girl group’. Of the four selected, only Cindy Herron had previous ‘showbiz’ experience, winning Miss San Francisco and Miss Black California pageants, and also working as an actress.

En Vogue remained primarily responsible for their own image and songs, but they were groomed for success by joining M.C. Hammer’s 1990 tour, and that of Freddie Jackson a year later. They went on to enjoy transatlantic singles success with ‘Hold On’ (US number 2/UK number 5) and ‘Lies’ (US/UK Top 40) in 1990. The latter introduced female rapper Debbie T, and added a new, post-feminist outlook to traditional R&B concerns. Their second album Funky Divas, meanwhile, featured the hit Curtis Mayfield cover version ‘Giving Him Something He Can Feel’, and produced further transatlantic hits in ‘My Lovin’ (You’re Never Gonna Get It)’, ‘Free Your Mind’ and ‘Give It Up, Turn It Loose’. Heavily influenced by Chaka Khan, En Vogue, in turn, helped to start the ‘new jill swing’ movement, which threw up the equally successful SWV, Jade and TLC. They were approached by Roseanne Barr and her then-husband Tom Arnold to appear in their own sitcom. These distractions did not affect their singing or their commercial appeal into the mid-90s, with further huge transatlantic Top 10 hits including the Salt-N-Pepa collaboration ‘Whatta Man’ and ‘Don’t Let Go (Love)’ (from the movie Set It Off).

Following a short break from recording, during which Robinson left to pursue a solo career, En Vogue returned to a now highly competitive market with 1997’s classy EV3. The album featured the US/UK Top 20 hit ‘Whatever’. After another extended hiatus the trio released the inventive Masterpiece Theatre, but by now they had been commercially usurped by the new wave of urban groups led by Destiny’s Child. Amanda Cole was added to the line-up in 2001 but shortly afterwards Maxine Jones announced she was leaving, reducing the group back to a trio. A low-key seasonal recording was released on the Discretion Entertainment label in 2002. The following summer Cole left the group to embark on a solo career. Herron and Ellis carried on regardless, recruiting new member Rhona Bennett (b. 10 May 1976, Chicago, Illinois, USA), although Herron was in turn replaced by original member Maxine Jones on 2004’s Soul Flower. The original line-up of Ellis, Herron, Jones and Robinson reunited in 2005, but the latter’s failure to agree with the others on business issues led to the return of Bennett to the fold.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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