In the rich tapestry of 90s R&B, few groups left as indelible a mark as Sisters with Voices, better known as SWV. Comprising Cheryl “Coko” Gamble, Tamara “Taj” Johnson, and Leanne “Lelee” Lyons, SWV burst onto the music scene with their sultry harmonies, soulful ballads, and infectious energy. This article delves into the history, impact, and enduring legacy of this iconic trio.
Formation and Early Years
SWV’s journey began in the vibrant New York City borough of Brooklyn in the early 1990s. Coming together as a vocal trio, Coko, Taj, and Lelee brought a unique blend of gospel roots, streetwise edge, and undeniable talent to the table. Their distinctive voices, when combined, created a harmonious sound that set them apart in the crowded R&B landscape.
The trio’s big break came when they caught the attention of producer Teddy Riley, a visionary in the genre known for his work with New Jack Swing pioneers like Guy and Keith Sweat. Riley signed SWV to his label, The New Beginning, and their debut album “It’s About Time” dropped in 1992. The timing was serendipitous, as their arrival coincided with a renaissance in R&B that saw the emergence of influential acts like Boyz II Men, En Vogue, and Mary J. Blige.
SWV wasted no time in making their mark on the charts. The lead single from their debut album, “Right Here,” introduced audiences to their signature sound – a blend of smooth vocals, contemporary R&B beats, and just a hint of hip-hop swagger. The track quickly climbed the charts, reaching the Top 20 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Following the success of “Right Here,” SWV unleashed a string of hits that solidified their status as R&B royalty. “I’m So Into You” and “Weak” became instant classics, with the latter topping the charts and earning the group a Grammy nomination for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group. The heartfelt ballad showcased the trio’s vocal prowess and remains one of their most beloved songs.
SWV’s sophomore album, “New Beginning,” continued their winning streak. The lead single, “You’re the One,” became another chart-topper, showcasing their ability to evolve while staying true to their R&B roots. The album’s success solidified SWV’s position as one of the premier female groups of the 90s.
Challenges and Resilience
Despite their commercial success, SWV faced internal and external challenges that tested the group’s resilience. Like many musical acts, they navigated the pressures of the industry, including artistic differences and the ever-present scrutiny that comes with fame. In 1996, the group announced a temporary hiatus, leading to solo endeavors for each member.
During the hiatus, Coko released a solo album, while Taj and Lelee pursued other ventures. The trio, however, reunited in the early 2000s and continued to create music together, proving that their bond and shared passion for music were stronger than any challenges they faced.
Legacy and Impact
SWV’s impact on the R&B landscape extends beyond their chart-topping hits. Their influence can be heard in the work of contemporary artists who cite them as inspirations. The trio’s seamless fusion of soulful vocals and hip-hop beats contributed to the evolution of R&B during a pivotal era.
SWV’s music resonates with fans across generations, a testament to the timeless quality of their sound. Tracks like “Weak” and “Rain” remain staples on R&B playlists, evoking nostalgia for the 90s while captivating new audiences. The enduring popularity of their catalog is evident in the countless samples and covers by artists who recognize the enduring brilliance of SWV’s work.
Reunion and Continued Success
The 2000s marked a resurgence for SWV as they reunited and returned to the studio to create new music. Their fourth studio album, “I Missed Us,” dropped in 2012, showcasing that SWV’s magic was undiminished by time. The album featured the single “Co-Sign,” a smooth and contemporary track that seamlessly blended with their classic sound.
SWV’s reunion wasn’t limited to the studio; they took their captivating live performances on the road, reminding audiences of their stage presence and vocal prowess. The reunion solidified their status as enduring icons in the R&B genre, proving that their music remained relevant and impactful.
SWV’s journey from the streets of Brooklyn to the pinnacle of R&B stardom is a testament to their talent, resilience, and enduring appeal. Their harmonies continue to resonate with fans, and their influence can be heard in the music of countless artists who followed in their footsteps. As we celebrate the legacy of SWV, it’s clear that Sisters with Voices not only left an indelible mark on the 90s R&B scene but also created a timeless body of work that transcends generations.