‘Waiting To Exhale’: Striking the Perfect Chord With Timeless Tunes

On its anniversary, we look back at the soundtrack's harmony that breathed life into R&B and women's empowerment.

One can only imagine what music Terry McMillan listened to while penning “Waiting To Exhale” or if she knew her work would inspire the vocals of legends like Chaka Khan, Aretha Franklin, and Patti LaBelle

The soundtrack for the film released in November of 1995 is often considered Babyface's magnum opus and solidified him as the go-to producer for female R&B. Instead of launching careers, it relied on gathering established artists, namely Whitney Houston, who also starred in the film. The album appropriately begins and ends with Houston, wrapping the entire project in a bow of her superstardom.

Everything here is intentional. These aren't random songs gathered across throwaway studio sessions; they were created for the film as part of the score. The dual genius of the Waiting To Exhale soundtrack is that it works in partnership with the film and stands on its own. Soundtracks were big business then but were only sometimes approached this way. Some were even at total odds with the films that inspired them. 

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The selection of artists here reflects the casting of the film's archetypal friends. Established stars were paired with younger artists like Mary J. Blige and Brandy, so the perspective of a character like single mother Gloria (portrayed by Loretta Divine) can be represented along with a character like Robin (Lela Rochon), who stumbles through dimwitted dating decisions throughout the entire film. Despite varying love and life experiences, they are bonded by friendship, identity, and proximity, and that thread runs through how the album is produced. 

Chaka Khan's soaring rendition of "My Funny Valentine" sits alongside TLC's frank, instructional "This Is How It Works." Sonja Marie's spoken word "And I Gave My Love To You" coexists with "Wey U," where Chante Moore takes the scat jazz approach. The results are elegant and disciplined instead of haphazard. Different women with different stories, but all part of the same conversation. That's the texture and cohesion that sets the album apart as an experience from start to finish. 

Legacy-wise, seven singles were released across nine months, unheard of today even for albums by a solo act, and most were nominated for or won multiple awards. The DNA for the Waiting To Exhale can be found in other film soundtracks, like Soul Food, also largely produced by Babyface. The Love Jones soundtrack, released in 1997, is just as romantic and immersive, even with multiple producers. Babyface would take a similar approach for 2022's Girls' Night Out, where he worked exclusively with female artists from this generation. 

But it all goes back to how the conversation began with the book. Released in 1992, it was considered a watershed because it gave women a voice and upset many men, unlike many R&B albums. That's what makes the Waiting To Exhale soundtrack a full-circle moment.

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