Sunday, February 2, 2014

Toni Braxton, The #27 Female Artist of the Rock Era

Toni Braxton was born in Severn, Maryland, and first began singing in her church choir.  Toni and her four sisters (Traci, Towanda, Trina and Tamar) began performing as the Braxtons in the late 1980's.  They signed a recording contract with Arista Records in 1989 and released the single "Good Life".  

While the song wasn't successful, Antonio "L.A." Reid and Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds recruited Toni to record a demo of "Love Shoulda' Brought You Home", a song they had written for Anita Baker.  Baker wasn't able to record the song at the time, and Braxton signed a contract with Reid and Edmonds' LaFace Records to begin recording her solo debut album.  The single was released and included on the "Boomerang" Soundtrack, and went to #4 on the Adult Contemporary chart.

Braxton released her self-titled album in 1993, produced by Reid, Babyface and Daryl Simmons.  The first single was a smash, landing at #2 on the R&B chart and #7 overall in the U.S. and selling over one million copies.

As tasty as that song was, Braxton's next release sent her to the top.  As "Breathe Again" took off, the album went to #1 and has now sold 8 million copies in the United States alone and 10 million worldwide.  The single peaked at #2 in the U.K., #3 in the U.S., #5 in Ireland, #7 in Australia and #10 in Canada.

Another single emerged from the album--"You Mean The World To Me", which ran up to #3 on the AC chart and #7 overall in the United States and #6 in Australia.

The double-sided hit "I Belong To You" and "How Many Ways" received considerable airplay on Adult Contemporary stations, reaching #6, and earned Toni another Grammy nomination for Best R&B Female Vocal Performance.

Braxton received the Grammy Award for Best New Artist and two consecutive awards for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance in 1994 and 1995 (for "Another Sad Love Song" and "Breathe Again", respectively).  She also won Favorite New Adult Contemporary Artist, Favorite Soul/R&B Album and Favorite Soul/R&B New Artist and was nominated for Favorite Soul/R&B Female Artist at the American Music Awards.

In 1996, Braxton released the album Secrets.  The first single continued her hot streak as "You're Makin' Me High" went to #1 on the popular and Adult Contemporary charts and #2 on the R&B chart in the United States, #7 in the U.K. and #8 in Australia.  It captured the Billboard Music Award for Best R&B Single.

"Let It Flow", backed with "You're Makin' Me High", gave Braxton another double-sided smash when "Let It Flow" was included on the "Waiting to Exhale" Soundtrack.  It too went to #1.

Toni took off for the stratosphere with her next single.  "Un-Break My Heart", written for her by Diane Warren, jumped to #1 and stayed there for 11 weeks, one of the longest-lasting songs at #1 ever, and still one of The Top 100 Songs of the Rock Era*.  The song was also a #1 smash in The Netherlands and Switzerland, and reached either #1 or #2 in every major country in the world.  It was Billboard's Top Hot Adult Contemporary Track of the Year and the Top Hot Dance Club Play Single.

Braxton won Grammys for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance and Best Female R&B Vocal Performance for "Un-Break My Heart", and she was nominated for Best Pop Vocal Album.  Toni also won American Music Awards for Favorite Female Soul/R&B Artist and Favorite Soul/R&B Album.  Secrets spent 92 weeks on the chart and became her second straight eight-million seller (15 million worldwide).  "I Don't Want To" peaked at #9 in the U.K. and on the AC chart in the U.S.

Braxton was on top of the Billboard Year-End Charts as Top Hot 100 Singles Artist--Female, Top R&B Artist--Female, Top Hot R&B Singles Artist--Female, Top Hot Dance Club Play Artist and Top Hot Adult Contemporary Artist. 

By 1996, Braxton had sold over 20 million records, but had not been paid by Arista and LaFace Records.  She filed bankruptcy, and had to give up her Grammys and American Music Awards, along with most of her possessions.  She later got them back when a lawsuit against the record companies was settled.  

Toni was nominated for Favorite Pop/Rock Female Artist and Favorite Soul/R&B Female Artist at the American Music Awards.  Braxton made her debut on Broadway in Beauty and the Beast in 1998.  The song "A Change In Me" was written for her and has been used in the musical ever since. 

With her lawsuit settled, Toni went into the studio and recorded the album The Heat.  The album debuted at #2 on the Album chart with over 194,000 units sold in the first week.  "He Wasn't Man Enough" was the first single, and it too went to #2 (#1 on the AC chart) in the U.S., #1 in Australia, #4 in Ireland, #5 in the U.K. and #7 in Switzerland.  The song earned Braxton another Grammy Award for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance, and The Heat was nominated for Best R&B Album.
The Heat was certified Double Platinum and was in the Top 20 on the Album chart for 15 straight weeks.  Braxton earned an American Music Award nomination for the album, and she won the trophy for Favorite Soul/R&B Female Artist.  Toni also won a Billboard Music Award for Top Female R&B Artist.  The single "Just Be A Man About It" hit #6 on the Adult Contemporary chart.

In 2002, Toni had more problems with Arista.  While preparing to record her fourth album, Braxton became pregnant.  Knowing she couldn't promote the album properly, she lobbied Arista to postpone the release date until after the baby's birth.  Arista refused and released the album in November.  As Toni did little to promote the album because of a complicated pregnancy, More Than a Woman paled in comparison to her first three releases, although it did go Gold.

Toni starred on Broadway again in Aida, and then made her movie debut in Kingdom Come.  In 2003, Braxton left Arista and signed with Blackground Records, led by her manager Barry Hankerson.  She released the album Libra and the single "Please" in 2005.  Unfortunately, her problems with weak album promotion were not over.  The single received little help from the label and did not make the Hot 100.

Despite this, Toni's fans bought the album, sending it to #4 on the Album chart, and making it another Gold album.  Toni recorded "The Time of Our Loves", which was used as the official 2006 FIFA World Cup anthem. 

Toni became the headlining act at the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada, a residence she maintained for two years.  Meanwhile, Toni's son was diagnosed with autism, and Braxton became a spokeswoman both for Autism Speaks and the American Heart Association.   

In 2008, Braxton signed a new contract with Atlantic Records and released the album Pulse in 2010.  She enjoyed some R&B success, but was unable to cross over to the popular chart this time.

Toni sang on "We Are the World 25 for Haiti" to help benefit the people of that country following the devastating earthquake in January.  

Braxton is working on a new album that will consist of duets with Babyface.  The lead single, "Hurt You", hit #2 on the Adult Contemporary chart last year.

Braxton has sold over 66 million records worldwide, and has won six Grammy Awards, seven American Music Awards and nine Billboard Music Awards.  She has had 10 hits, with 7 reaching the Top 10 and her two #1 songs.

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