Before SWV, TLC and Destiny's Child, there was En Vogue. The R&B quartet single-handedly ushered in the return of girl groups in the '90s. Their soulful music is a time capsule of an era pre-auto tune, before music downloads, and the days when you would sit by the radio waiting the DJ to play your favorite song.
In April of 1990, En Vogue (Terry Ellis, Dawn Robinson, Maxine Jones, Cindy Herron) became the next big thing with their debut album, Born to Sing, which gave us the classic song, “Hold On.” In 1994, they released their second and last album of the original line-up, Funky Divas, which went three times platinum. The album delivered five top forty Billboard Hot 100 hits, three of which charted in the top ten. However, after their sixth number one R&B hit, "Don't Let Go (Love)," from the Set It Off soundtrack in 1996, Dawn Robinson left the group. En Vogue never recovered commercially and went through several member changes (Terry Ellis being the sole member who never left the group). By 2008, the original members reunited once again.
Friday night the ladies performed at the B.B. King Blues Club in New York City, and it was as if they'd never broken up. Dawn, Terry, Maxine and Cindy, belted out the biggest hits of their career. Dressed in all-black, with Dawn Robinson in silver, the ladies opened with "Love Don't Love You" in perfect harmony and no rust on their vocals.
B.B. King Blues Club is a small venue, holding no more than 1,000 people, and the space was packed. That said, it takes true vocals, stage presence and soul to perform in a smaller venue like B.B. King's. Fortunately, the ladies maintained intimacy with the audience, excited by the crowd participation — who knew every note and lyric.
Along with performing songs like "My Lovin’ (You’re Never Gonna Get It)" and "Riddle," they sang a melody of old-school classics like Cheryl Lynn's "To Be Real," Aretha Franklin's "Respect" and Ike & Tina Turner’s “Proud Mary.” However, considering that the group had so many R&B hits, the fans wanted to hear their other popular songs, like "Give It Up, Turn It Loose," "Runaway Love" and the number three Billboard R&B hit, "Don't Go," which didn't make the setlist.
Nonetheless, En Vogue gave the crowd everything they wanted in "Whatta Man," "Free Your Mind,” and "Giving Him Something He Can Feel" — with Dawn Robinson annihilating every note on the Curtis Mayfield song even though she claimed to be "hoarse." The last song of the evening was the powerful "Hold On," leaving the crowd wanting more from the divas whose show clocked in a little over an hour.
Despite technical difficulties, the R&B veterans made every song work. In addition, Cindy (50), Maxine (49), Terry (48) and Dawn (42), were strikingly ageless, looking nearly identical to themselves twenty years ago. En Vogue must have some Tina Turner genes!
Seeing the Funky Divas perform proved their break-up was one of the great disappointments in R&B history. Due to bad management, which the ladies have discussed in depth, they were torn apart at the peak of their career. En Vogue had more than two albums in them and clearly would've gone on to bigger success.
Hopefully, En Vogue will get the chance to release an album of new material. They obviously still have the love of New York City — and if you can wow New York, you can wow anywhere.
(Photo: C Brandon/Redferns)