Singer-songwriter Shanice Lorraine Wilson-Knox has been a musical breath of fresh air for well over three decades. Her radiant smile, fervent work ethic and five-octave range generated four Top 40 pop singles: “I Love Your Smile” (#2), a duet with Johnny Gill, “Silent Prayer” (#31), “Saving Forever For You” from the Beverly Hills 90210 soundtrack (#4) and “When I Close My Eyes” (#12).
There wasn’t anything Shanice couldn’t do vocally: dance grooves, midtempo R&B, hip-hop, Broadway show tunes or tender pop ballads. The problem was label executives at A&M, Motown and even LaFace Records had no clue how to categorize and market the Pittsburgh, PA native’s sound. Adding more salt to the wound was Shanice’s highly publicized financial meltdown along with her husband, comedic actor Flex Alexander Knox. Shanice’s fans constantly wondered, especially on social media, why she never fully ascended to the height of her female contemporaries.
Those probing questions are why Shanice decided to share her story this Sunday, August 6th on TV One’s Unsung. “People somewhat knew my story from [OWN TV’s reality show Flex and Shanice], but didn’t know quite everything,” says an effervescent Shanice. “There are things I’ve learned I didn’t know was going on. Sometimes, people aren’t straightforward with you; you wonder what happened. It was great for me to hear from some of the label executives. It was actually therapeutic for me [chuckles].”
Shanice, now 44, took both her craft and artist development very seriously from her early years. Upon relocating to Los Angeles in 1981, the then 8-year-old aspiring talent dabbled in songwriting while going on numerous auditions. She landed her first television gig in a Kentucky Fried Chicken commercial alongside jazz veteran Ella Fitzgerald. At the understandably naïve age of eight, Shanice had no clue she was standing in the presence of greatness, and further impressed the icon by scatting for her. “She was so sweet,” Shanice recalls. “Starting my career off with her was incredible. She’s one of the greatest.”
Opportunities came in abundance for Shanice. She was the youngest performer in Reverend James Cleveland’s gospel choir. Her appearance on the talent series Star Search earned her the grand prize, which was immediately followed by her first recording contract. She was cast as a series regular in the first season of Kids Incorporated.
Still, Shanice remained humble as her star began to rise. Now that she’s been married to Flex for 17 years, the former child star-turned-mother of two teenagers appreciates the fact that her protective mother and grandmother kept her enrolled in public school and away from the trappings of superstardom. “My mom did not play,” confirms Shanice, admitting she never saw anyone doing hard drugs. “She was really on it. My grandmother traveled with me, so that kept me grounded. I never felt any different or better than anyone else. My life felt normal like the other kids.”
Shanice released five studio projects: Discovery (1987), the gold-certified Inner Child (1991), 21...Ways to Grow (1994), Shanice (1998) and Every Woman Dreams (2006). Singles like “(Baby Tell Me) Can You Dance,” “No 1/2 Steppin’,” a cover of Minnie Riperton’s “Lovin’ You,” “I’m Cryin,’” “Somewhere,” “Turn Down the Lights,” and “Yesterday” were heavily rotated music videos and quiet storm staples.
As Shanice was recording her own material and appeared on various soundtracks like The Meteor Man (“It’s For You”), Pocahontas (“If I Never Knew You” featuring Jon Secada) and Boomerang (“Don’t Wanna Love You”), the Grammy nominee’s quick working pace and easygoing demeanor made her a sought-after background vocalist for various best-selling acts. Well before she even signed with LaFace in 1997, Shanice credits Babyface for seeking her out to contribute backup vocals.
“Our voices blend well together,” shares Shanice, “so he would bring me in to sing on a lot of his records. I sang on almost every record that Babyface produced. That’s how I got to sing with Usher, Toni [Braxton], Whitney [Houston] and Mariah [Carey]...just a whole bunch of projects. He had me singing background so much, L.A. Reid told me to slow down because I was doing too many sessions. He wanted me to focus on my solo career.”
Shanice adds: “That was always an honor because I got to sing on some really good projects. I love working with Babyface because he works really fast. He would knock out a song in an hour.”
Working with Michael Jackson were fan moments for Shanice. She contributed vocals to “Keep the Faith” on his Dangerous LP. Ad-libbing with the King of Pop on the posthumous “Behind the Mask,” Shanice recalls, left her with a brush of sadness. “I got to sing on his record with Siedah Garrett,” she remembers. “I felt like I wanted to just pass out. It was hard for me to do that session because he’d just passed. I was real emotional; I couldn’t stop crying. It was really hard, but I was glad to be part of that.”
Taking the time to reflect upon her storied past made Shanice proud of all that she’s accomplished. She’s survived bankruptcy, a devastating eviction from a lavish home and several record executives at every label attempting to concoct an image for her that didn’t reflect her sound or wholesome personality. The three seasons Flex and Shanice spent on air, Shanice says, inspired families and couples to overcome many obstacles.
One viewer in particular, Shanice mentions, rejected committing suicide after hearing and being touched by Flex and Shanice’s story. “If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t change anything,” says Shanice. “Even the hard times actually made me a better, stronger person. If my story can help somebody else, then it’s a blessing.”
Shanice still tours and records new music. She’s been focusing on releasing her line of onesies and is working on a line of cosmetics. Still excited about the Grammy nod she earned 25 years ago, the optimistic vocalist is confident she’ll eventually win. A loving family, Shanice declares, is her grand prize for all she’s done and endured.
“I’m hoping to get another nomination one day and actually win,” says the jovial singer. “That would be really good. I’m very proud of my family and my children. That’s the biggest gift ever. They’re such a blessing. They give me so much joy.”
Shanice’s Five Favorite Albums of All Time: