What makes an R&B Diva? Real vocals, unique style, and attitude at the appropriate time.
Faith Evans is the widow of The Notorious B.I.G., a New York Times bestselling author, Grammy Award winning singer, and first lady of Bad Boy Records. Syleena Johnson (daughter of Syl Johnson) is a recording artist with several albums under her belt, but she is probably most known for her collaboration with Kanye West on his single “All Falls Down.” Nicci Gilbert was the lead singer of 90s power girl group Brownstone. She’s also an accomplished actress in TV, film, and theater. Monifah was signed to Uptown Records by Heavy D and sparked several successful singles and albums. Keke Wyatt is known musically for her collaborations with Avant – but she is most known for her public issues with domestic violence.
In eight episodes we get to watch these women, who have fostered a genuine friendship and sisterhood through the years, as they attempt to produce a charity album to benefit The Whitney E. Houston Academy of Creative and Performing Arts. Evans first got the idea after the Grammy party she co-hosted with Kelly Price, which was the last time Houston took to the stage. All of the divas were in attendance that night. On the first episode, Evans brings the idea to the ladies.
R&B Divas is personal for each of the singers, showing a vulnerability and realness that’s rare in this business.
But what’s most interesting is that in the 90s and early 2000s, these women were at their height. Now audiences are going to be able to watch these women navigate an industry that seems to have forgotten about them. “Right now, I just don’t believe in music like I used to,” Nicci Gilbert says in the show.
It’s amazing that an industry can hail a singer like Adele as the next big thing while seemingly ignoring singers from this show. Those same soulful, church-tinged, heart-broken vocals that the industry rediscovered in Adele are the norm for these singers.
Is the industry sick of real singing from the people that made the genre what it is? If so, R&B Divas might renew interest in legitimate R&B once again.
The first episode, which premiered Monday on TV One, reintroduces the ladies and their families. Keke Wyatt is pregnant, which poised Nicci Gilbert to suggest that the other divas throw her a baby shower. It goes well with Gilbert’s lead singer tendencies taking the helm as shower director, producer, and creative director.
But Monifah has a big secret. It wasn’t hidden, but once the singer fell out of the limelight, it wasn’t well known. She’s been in a committed relationship for years–with another woman–whom she invites to the shower but worries about Keke Wyatt’s reaction. Wyatt and her husband are Christians, and her husband makes it clear that he doesn’t agree with homosexuality.
Despite small conflicts, these ladies maintain a standard when on screen. There’s no fighting and drink throwing. These ladies have class and enough soul to last a lifetime.
R&B Divas airs Mondays at 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT on TV One. The premiere this Monday gave the network its largest ratings in history.
–James R. Sanders
James R. Sanders is a freelance journalist and stylist based in New York. He writes for both online and print publications. He obsesses over social media and is finally finishing up his first novel about vaudeville and revenge set in the 20s. Check out his fashion blog here: jamessandersatlarge.tumblr.com.