Funky Tribute: The Impact of En Vogue’s 1993 Soul Train Awards Performance

En Vogue changed everything.

When the Oakland, CA quartet of Terri Ellis, Cindy Herron, Maxine Jones, and Dawn Robinson debuted in 1990 the bar was immediately raised. No longer could groups – female or male, R&B or pop – get by on solid production and appearance alone. Singing ability had to be genuine and crisp, arrangements sharp and on point with impeccable timing. Live performances had to replicate recordings to the exact pitch.

En Vogue’s smash debut single “Hold On” began with an a cappella rendition of “Who’s Lovin’ You”, a classic Smokey Robinson burner that a young Michael Jackson caught fire with. En Vogue increased its temperature, scorching charts and expectations. Their sex appeal was classy, their vocal prowess unmatched. Their multiplatinum-selling debut album Born to Sing– which hit the recording industry like a storm–had the total package. Every female-comprised group who followed saw En Vogue as the blueprint, the measuring stick. Two years later their star power increased.

If Born to Sing was merely a storm, En Vogue’s sophomore LP Funky Divas was a category 5 hurricane. On the strength of mega hits “My Lovin’ (You’re Never Gonna Get It)”, “Giving Him Something He Can Feel”, “Yesterday”, “Free Your Mind”, “Give It Up, Turn It Loose”, and “Love Don’t Love You”, the funky foursome became an entertaining force not to be denied.

At the 1993 Soul Train Music Awards, En Vogue was merited for their success with a Sammy Davis, Jr. Entertainer of the Year Award.

Gracious in their acceptance, Terry, Cindy, Maxine, and Dawn were far from finished. On this night they were not only expressing their gratitude, but they were just warming up. Advertised to also perform, those in attendance and watching at home had no idea Ev Vogue was preparing to raise the bar yet again.

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Once introduced by the late Luther Vandross, En Vogue hit the Soul Train Awards stage to ravenous ovation. Wearing mini dresses perfect for a night at Studio 54, stacks, and afro-wigs of various colors, The Entertainer of the Year Award winners emerged proclaiming it time to “pay tribute to the real funky divas!”

The women opened their set with a cover of The Emotions’ classic “Best of My Love”. Dawn engaged the crowd with an aggressive lead vocal before she and her group mates harmonized the iconic chorus while dazzling with an array of old school dance moves.

They next segued into a Cindy-led “I Heard It Through the Grapevine”, a ditty famously belted by Gladys Knight & The Pips. Dawn returned to lead on their third tribute of this medley – Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” – before passing the microphone to Terri for a roaring re-do of LaBelle’s “Lady Marmalade”.

En Vogue brought their performance to a soulful finale as Maxine took the reins for Rufus & Chaka Khan’s “Tell Me Something Good”. A standing ovation followed.

Up to this point in time award show performances were standard fair. Artists delivered on current singles and favorites from their own catalog, and sometimes they’d world premiere a new song. What En Vogue pulled off was groundbreaking, mould setting, and the type of awards show performance now considered normal.

If an artist today did anything similar to En Vogue in ’93 it wouldn’t be as surprising. How many unexpected, unadvertised tribute performances have happened since this? How many current performers have dressed in fashions from the past to recite classic tunes to the listeners of now?

Proving themselves worthy of the Sammy Davis, Jr. Award on a special night at the right time, the funky divas of En Vogue changed everything.

And they did it by paying homage to the artists who changed everything for them.

Check out an oldie but goodie below from En Vogue, “Free Your Mind”:

– Mr. Joe Walker

Mr. Joe Walker is an entertainment and news journalist published thousands of times regionally, nationally, internationally, and online. Loves to create, loves that you read. Follow him on Twitter @mrjoewalker.



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