Brandy - Biography
By Joanna Ricco
Seamlessly wearing the hats of singer, songwriter, record producer, film producer, actress, and television host, Brandy has led multiple careers in her relatively short time on earth. Brandy was born Brandy Rayana Norwood in McComb, Mississippi on February 11, 1979 to the R&B singer Willie Norwood and his wife Sonja Bates-Norwood. Brandy’s younger brother, William Raymond “Ray J” Norwood, Jr., is also a singer and actor (and less admirably, Kim Kardashian sex-tape accomplice). The Norwoods have a particularly talented extended family as well, including Brandy’s cousins Snoop Dogg and Bo Diddley.
Brandy was thrust into the spotlight early on, first singing at the Brookhaven Church of Christ in Brookhaven, Mississippi. The Norwood family did not stay long in Mississippi, however, as both of parents saw the opportunities their children’s talents afforded. The Norwoods moved the family to Carson, California, where Brandy spent her early childhood years singing with youth groups. By the time she was 11-years-old, she had been introduced to Chris Stokes who is most often credited with discovering her. Through Stokes, Brandy landed backing vocal gigs for boy R&B groups, such as Immature. Her exposure to the industry through Stokes led to her interest in securing her own record deal. During a party at Atlantic Records in 1993, she met Darryl Williams who offered her a contract with Atlantic.
Brandy’s first foray into the R&B world as a solo artist was with the 1994 single “I Wanna Be Down.” Reportedly, Brandy did not support the decision that this song should be used as her first single, though fans and critics disagreed. The track went on to become number one on the Billboard Hot R&B Singles chart and was remixed in collaboration with Queen Latifah, Yo-Yo, and MC Lyte, all before the official release of her debut full-length album, Brandy (1994 Atlantic). The album went on to reach number 20 on the Billboard 200 and included the hits “Baby,” “Best Friend,” and “Brokenhearted.” Following the release of the album, Brandy joined Boys II Men’s tour for two months as their opening act, which greatly expanding her fanbase.
Brandy received two Grammy Award nominations for Best New Artist and Best Female R&B Vocal Performance. Soul Train, Billboard, and New York Children’s Choice also awarded the album. A third Grammy nomination came her way after the singer teamed up with Gladys Knight, Tamia, and Chaka Khan for the single “Missing You,” which was released on the soundtrack to the 1996 film Set It Off.
In 1998, Brandy’s sophomore album, Never Say Never (Atlantic), was released. The album was produced with the help of emerging producer Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins and featured Brandy’s duet with fellow R&B songstress Monica. A feud between the girls had long been the makings of tabloid headlines and this story was leveraged to promote their collaboration on the track “The Boy is Mine.” That single stayed at the top of the Billboard charts for over three months and resulted in a Grammy Award for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal.
Urban Renewal, a tribute album to Phil Collins released in 2001, took the somewhat unlikely pairing of Collins’ songs in the hands of R&B and hip-hop performers. Brandy and her brother Ray J covered Collin’s 1989 hit “Another Day in Paradise.” The album faired better in Europe than it did in the U.S.
Full Moon (Atlantic), Brandy’s third studio album, was released in early 2002. During the production of Full Moon, Brandy became involved with one of the album’s producers, Robert “Big Bert” Smith. In February of 2002, she announced their marriage and her pregnancy. After the birth of her daughter Sy’rai Iman Smith in June of 2002, Brandy announced her divorce from Smith. The marriage and subsequent divorce were later revealed to not be legally viable, but rather used in an attempt to uphold Brandy’s family image. Full Moon seemed weak compared to her earlier work and did little to heat up the charts, with the exception of the single “What About Us?”
Brandy’s fourth album, Afrodisiac (Atlantic), was released in June of 2004 amid well-publicized stories of her tumultuous business break from entertainment manager Benny Medina and her romantic break from fiancé Quentin Richardson. Despite the drama in her personal life, Afrodisiac was a commercial success. With Timbaland on production, the album was widely regarded as Brandy’s most complex work. Later that same year, Brandy was granted a release from her Atlantic records contract after 11 years with the label. In 2008, she released Human (Epic) on Epic, once again turning to Jerkins for production as she had on Never Say Never in 1998.
Aside from her work in the music industry, Brandy is well-known for her work as an actress. In 1996, Brandy scored her breakout role as Moesha Mitchell, a typical teen growing up in Los Angeles, on the UPN sitcom Moesha. The show ran for six seasons and was, at the time, the most watched show ever to air on the network. In 1997, Brandy was cast by Whitney Houston as Cinderella in the Wonderful World of Disney television production of the classic tale, which won an Emmy after bringing in 60 million viewers. Brandy’s big screen debut was in the 1998 summer teen franchise film I Still Know What You Did Last Summer, for which she was nominated for Best Actress and Best Breakthrough Female Performance from the MTV Movie Awards. In 1999, she co-starred in the made-for-television film Double Platinum alongside Diana Ross.
Brandy was also a judge on the first season of America’s Got Talent, but turned down the offer to rejoin the cast following her involvement in a car crash in 2006, which claimed the life of a 38-year-old woman.