[Read our 25th anniversary tribute to En Vogue’s Funky Divas here]
Cindy Herron-Braggs has always been committed to her craft as a vocalist and songwriter. One-fourth of the Oakland originated quartet En Vogue, Herron-Braggs showed herself to be an artist with range, confidence, and vision. It's been almost 30 years since “Hold On”―En Vogue's debut single with that legendary lead from Herron-Braggs―kicked off the group's career which has held fast against changing tastes and times. Through it all, Herron-Braggs and her fellow group co-founder Terry Ellis have remained staunchly devoted to En Vogue.
Their journey continues to captivate audiences today and their long awaited sixth long player, Electric Café, will undoubtedly keep listeners wanting more when it arrives later this year. Herron-Braggs recently sat down with Albumism’s Quentin Harrison to discuss the group’s new album, their canon at large, and what it means to be a working wife, mother and “Funky Diva” in 2017.
Quentin Harrison: En Vogue is closing in on your 30th year in music. How does that make you feel?
Cindy Herron-Braggs: 30?! [Laughs]. It makes me feel old, but good! We made our musical mark on the world and are still fortunate enough to perform and do what we love to do. Not everybody can say that, to have such a long career and still love it.
QH: Your landmark second album, 1992’s Funky Divas, is currently celebrating its 25th anniversary. Talk about that record, its impact and why it still resonates with people today?
CHB: That album, to me, was the album that really established us, finally, as a superstar group. We got a lot of great reviews and album sales off of the Funky Divas album. A lot of people have a lot of positive things to say about it because of the way the music was written and produced, the subject matter. We never worked inside of the box. We always tried to set new standards and new musical trends. Even listening to it now, it still sounds great and feels great in today's world of music.
We also had really great music videos. The songs that were released as singles were powerful by themselves, but when you combine them with a really great image, it just made those songs have a greater impact. When you think of those singles, the image of the video is in your head, like “Giving Him Something He Can Feel” or “My Lovin'…,” the way they were directed and styled, I can't think of those songs without the videos. In the future, I hope, that Funky Divas continues to be an esteemed album―something that up and coming girl groups will look to as a standard.
QH: In the spirit of that question, let's discuss the remaining En Vogue catalog. You ladies have recorded some fantastic music across several records, and EV3 (1997) is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year too. So can you walk through the rest of the En Vogue discography and give us your thoughts on each album?
CHB: Born to Sing (1990) was our first album, and for me, I really didn't have any expectations, but I wanted the album to do well. For the very first single (“Hold On”) to take off and go platinum, we were really playing catchup to that album for a whole year. It was very unexpected and I will always remember that album for that and setting the tone for who we were and introducing us to the world.
Our EV3 (1997) album sticks out because it was the first album that we finished without Dawn (Robinson). We did half of the record with her, but she left during the mid-recording of it. That was a big, new step forward for all of us. It was a new chapter unwritten, we didn't know where the story would go after that. It was bittersweet. Those are the things that stick out in my mind about the EV3 album.
The Masterpiece Theatre (2000) album is one of my favorites, because we really stretched ourselves. We definitely moved in a new creative direction and did some new spins on some classical pieces we were all fond of. We flipped them and brought them into the popular music of that day.
The Gift of Christmas (2002) was our first, and only, Christmas album. We were approached by a producer who was interested in doing a Christmas album, I knew him through his wife. He wanted to produce it, so, we said “Well, why not? We've never done a Christmas album, let's take a chance and do this!” Amanda Cole was performing with us at the time, she was a performing member. It was when Maxine (Jones) and Dawn were no longer working with us, but we wanted to continue performing and doing shows. So, we found Amanda and she'd been performing with us for awhile and was available to record the album. The album was sort of, I don't want to say it was an experiment, but in a way it was [laughs]. It had some standard Christmas carols and some originals that were co-written with Foster and McElroy.
I'm proud of Soul Flower (2004), but not a lot of people heard about it because we released it on our own label with just an outside distribution deal. That's always a different path to take. But it was the album that introduced our fans to Rhona (Bennett), because Dawn and Maxine weren't interested at the time in recording a new album with us. We did approach them. Terry and I knew we wanted to keep doing new music, so Rhona came on board and recorded Soul Flower with us. I think it was a good collective work of music, I love the songs on there and everyone's performances.
QH: Talk about Rhona, she's been a member of En Vogue for well over a decade now. What does she bring to the En Vogue flavor?
CHB: Rhona is a very talented, positive young lady. She's a motivational speaker and she also writes self-help books, everything about her is positive. She's a team player and a ferocious singer! The thing about Rhona is that she fits within our sound and hasn't tried to change who we are.
QH: Let's talk about your forthcoming record Electric Café. Fans have been eagerly awaiting its arrival. Can you talk about why there's been such a wait for it and what we can expect from the project?
CHB: We weren't sure we were done with it, we were looking for more songs to add to the album. We had also signed a distribution deal with a company that didn't love the record. So, we started feeling that they didn't know what to do with it. We ended up getting out of that deal and started shopping for a distribution deal with another company who understood better who we are, so that's what has taken us so long.
What you can expect from Electric Café is that it's just a lot of music that speaks to a lot of different issues that, in part, reflect who we are and how we've grown as women. In terms of tempos, vibes and feelings, it has a bit of an international appeal, I'll say that. We named the album very early, because initially we thought, why don't we try an EDM influence? That's where we started, but we evolved out of that creative area into some other places and it's not just strictly EDM anymore. But we liked the name, so we kept the name. We're looking at releasing the album in June and we're trying to have another single released in another two to three weeks as a digital download. There will be a digital and physical release for the album.
QH: Women are really fighting to maintain their voice and power in every aspect of society currently. How do you, as a working wife and mother, push back against the negativity that women face today?
CHB: I start with being the best me that I can be. I try to live healthy, eat healthy, feel my best mentally and physically. Once I tend to myself, I can tend to my family and my business better. It's very important for women to be supportive of other women, even if we are from different political parties or socio-economic backgrounds. When we have a strong voice, as a whole, more people listen. When we're not divided, we really are a force to be reckoned with.
QH: Can you share some of your favorite En Vogue leads that have remained special to you through the years?
CHB: There's so many I like! I really love Maxine's vocal on “Give It Up, Turn It Loose.” Goodness, this is hard [laughs]. I love Dawn's vocal on “Giving Him Something He Can Feel,” I love Terry's vocal on the remix to “Just Can't Stay Away.” And my vocal, I'll say “Hold On” [laughs]. That was my first big lead I sang on and it was always so fun to hear on the radio. Now, let me just think for Rhona, I really like “Losin' My Mind” and “Stop.”
QH: Talk about being a part of the history of the Oakland music scene and what that means to you.
CHB: There's so much talent in and that has come out of the Bay Area. So many artists from there have been a standard and example for us, I'm really proud to come out of the Bay Area and be part of that legacy!
QH: What are your five favorite albums of all time?
CHB: Cool! Let me think, five favorite albums of all time? Hmm! The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill by Lauryn Hill, The Broadway Album by Barbara Streisand, I'm Your Baby Tonight by Whitney Houston, Natalie by Natalie Cole, and the album where Chaka Khan is sitting on a big ol' pair of lips [laughs]! Rufus Featuring Chaka Khan!
SEE En Vogue on tour | Dates
STREAM Our Essential En Vogue playlist here: