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En Vogue

En Vogue

Along with Boyz II Men, En Vogue have set the standard for R&B vocal groups for over three decades. When the women debuted in 1990 to dazzling, chart-topping effect, they attracted comparisons to the Supremes, even though Terry Ellis, Cindy Herron, Maxine Jones, and Dawn Robinson shared lead vocals and intentionally designated no particular singer their Diana Ross. The Grammy-nominated group have always had more in common with fellow Oakland natives the Pointer Sisters, as they have drawn from all eras of R&B with convincing stylistic diversions and a knack for recalling the past and sounding current at once. En Vogue made their mark with Born to Sing (1990), Funky Divas (1992), and EV3 (1997), platinum albums featuring Top Ten pop hits such as "Hold On," "My Lovin' (You're Never Gonna Get It"), and "Don't Let Go (Love)." They've since released a handful of additional full-lengths, from Masterpiece Theatre (2000) to Electric Café (2018), while remaining active on-stage.

En Vogue were conceived and put together by producers Denzil Foster and Thomas McElroy, former members of Club Nouveau. Foster and McElroy wanted a vocal group who could exude sultriness and intelligence in addition to technical proficiency, and as producers, they wanted material that would fuse R&B and girl group traditions with contemporary new jack swing rhythms. The two held auditions and settled on a membership of Cindy Herron (a former Miss Black California), Maxine Jones, and Dawn Robinson. Terry Ellis auditioned later and made the group a quartet. Originally called 4-U, they first appeared on Foster & McElroy's 1989 album FM2 as Vogue, and then switched to En Vogue after learning of another group with the same name.

Born to Sing, En Vogue's debut album, appeared in 1990 and was the source of four major hit singles. "Hold On," "Lies," and "You Don't Have to Worry" all topped the Billboard R&B chart, while "Don't Go" reached number three. "Hold On" also crossed over and narrowly missed the top of the Billboard Hot 100. The parent release was eventually certified platinum and earned a Grammy nomination in the category of Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal. In between albums, Cindy Herron appeared in the film Juice. En Vogue returned in 1992 with Funky Divas. The album's wide array of styles, from pop and R&B to rap, rock, and reggae, was lauded in print and with a total of four Grammy nominations in the R&B, rock, and video fields. "My Lovin' (You're Never Gonna Get It)," "Giving Him Something He Can Feel" (written by Curtis Mayfield and originally performed by Aretha Franklin), and the hard-rocking "Free Your Mind" (the chorus of which quoted George Clinton) all went Top Ten pop, sending the album to multi-platinum status. En Vogue were in the Top Ten again in 1993, backing Salt-N-Pepa on their hit "Whatta Man" -- another Grammy-nominated recording.

En Vogue's third album took a few more years to materialize. In the meantime, they took part in the recording of "Freedom" for the Panther soundtrack and appeared in Batman Forever. Terry Ellis released the solo album Southern Gal. The group's burning "Don't Let Go (Love)," a collaboration with Organized Noize, Andrea Martin, and Ivan Matias, highlighted the soundtrack for Set It Off, and became a number two single in early 1997. That June, they released EV3, titled in reference to its place in their discography and the absence of Robinson, who left during the album sessions and went on to join Lucy Pearl. A change heralded by "Don't Let Go (Love)" was that the singers expanded their network of collaborators; although Foster and McElroy were still closely involved, roughly half of the album was made with other songwriters and producers, such as Babyface, Diane Warren, and David Foster. Like Funky Divas, EV3 peaked at number eight on the Billboard 200. "Whatever" and "Too Long, Too Gone" gave them their tenth and 11th Top 40 pop hits. Album four, Masterpiece Theater, was released in 2000. Only one single, "Riddle," was out before the plug was pulled on its promotion. En Vogue were informed after an interview that they had been dropped by their label.

Maxine Jones subsequently departed to take care of her family and was replaced in 2001 by Amanda Cole. In 2002, En Vogue returned with a contribution to the Deliver Us from Eva soundtrack and their first Christmas album, The Gift of Christmas, released on an independent label. Cole left the group in the middle of 2003 for a solo career. That September, the group reappeared for a small European tour with Jones temporarily in place of Cindy Herron (who had just given birth) and Rhona Bennett as a new member. Bennett, Herron, and Terry Ellis recorded the fifth proper En Vogue album, Soul Flower, issued in 2004 with the singles "Losin My Mind" and "Ooh Boy" faring best on Billboard's Adult R&B Airplay chart. The next several years were marked by numerous lineup changes, false starts, occasional performances, and legal battles over contractual obligations and the group's name. The lineup that made Soul Flower returned in 2018 with Electric Café. Foster and McElroy continued as the singers' primary partners with Raphael Saadiq and Ne-Yo among the other contributors. The set yielded another pair of charting singles with "Rocket" and "Reach 4 Me." Continuing to tour into the 2020s, En Vogue also performed as the queen cobra on The Masked Singer in 2022, the same year they were featured on the New Kids on the Block single "Bring Back the Time." ~ Andy Kellman & Steve Huey

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