Brandy Norwood is a singular entertainer who has endured the test of time because of her versatile vocal and acting abilities. The 42-year-old artist began performing at the age of two, landing her first job on the short-lived sitcom Thea. But she really made her mark at 15 in 1994 with the release of her self-titled debut album, earning her the nickname, “The Vocal Bible.” With hip-hop influenced singles like “I Wanna Be Down” and “Baby,” the album became an immediate classic. Brandy didn’t stop there: she went on to play the title role in the UPN sitcom Moesha, which ran for six seasons, and won a Grammy 1998 in a duet with fellow teen singer Monica for “The Boy Is Mine.”
Brandy continued to rack up film credits. She starred in the ABC television movie Cinderella alongside Whitney Houston, the teen thriller I Know What You Did Last Summer and the drama Double Platinum, which co-starred Diana Ross. She made her reality TV debut in 2002 with Brandy: Special Delivery, where she highlighted the birth of her daughter Sy’rai. She later served briefly as a judge on America’s Got Talent, danced a storm on Dancing With The Stars and later appeared in Brandy & Ray J: A Family Business. She later returned to TV, snagging a role on BET's beloved sitcom The Game. In 2012, she released Two Eleven, her much-anticipated sixth album, and returned to music last year after an eight year hiatus with her seventh album B7, which is up for NAACP Album of The Year.
Here are 10 reasons we “wanna be down” with Brandy.
The world stopped as scores of viewers flocked to Instagram to witness R&B history on August 31, 2020 when Brandy and Monica reunited for an epic face-off as part of Swizz Beatz and Timbaland’s wildly-popular Verzuz series. Then-Democratic vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris even made a surprise virtual appearance to celebrate the ladies and encourage people to vote. The record-smashing battle drew more than 6 million viewers as they treated the virtual audience to their hits, rarities, deep cuts, and fan-favorite records. Brandy even shared poems throughout the night.
Brandy Rayana Norwood was born on 11th February, 1979 to “Christian parents, Willie Norwood and Sonja Bates in McComb, Mississippi. Her father was a popular gospel singer while her mother, Sonja, worked as a former district manager for ‘H&R Block,’” according to The Famous People. She began singing in church at the age of two. When she turned four, her father was hired as music director at a church in Carson, California. After a few years, the family decided to help her pursue a professional singing career, inspired by Whitney Houston, who later became her godmother. She grew up with her younger brother, William Ray Norwood Jr., who later became known as Ray J., who showed the same interest in music as his sister.
During the epic Verzuz battle with Monica, Brandy on multiple occasions during the three-hour event hinted at a possible tour headlined by the dynamic duo. The biggest and most heartbreaking revelation from the Verzuz battle was that they hadn't spoken in eight years, and it warmed the hearts of many to see them perform together. We’re here for it.
After an 8-year break, Brandy returned to music with her seventh album B7, released to much acclaim in July, 2020 on her record label Brand Nu and eOne Urban. The 15-track album includes collaborations with Chance the Rapper, Daniel Caesar and her daughter, Sy’rai. The release ended a five-year legal fight with her former label, Chameleon Entertainment, she told Rolling Stone. “I put everything I could into this project. It was so freeing for me, because I did get a chance to really dig in and write from my heart of hearts.” She continued, “I was able to really get a lot of things off of my chest, really use music as a way to escape and heal.”
More than 20 years after her breakthrough album, she took the stage at the Billboard Music Awards in October 2020, where she performed a medley of songs during the show at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. She began the performance with “Borderline” and moved on to a debut performance of “No Tomorrow Part 2,” a collaboration with Ty Dolla $ign. She closed the performance with her 1998 Grammy-nominated classic, “Almost Doesn’t Count.” Check out the performance:
B7 was accompanied by a music video for “Borderline,” an emotional ballad about heartbreak and loss. The images show Brandy being taken into a mental hospital against her will, ending with an important message about mental health: “You are not alone.” The video and message come amid protests against the mental and physical brutalization of Black bodies in the U.S. Watch the video below:
Brandy recalled meeting Tupac and winning a shout-out from Biggie during the Verzuz battle. She met Tupac on the red carpet at the premiere of Set It Off, she recalled. Brandy, a teen at the time, was surprised to learn he was just as excited to meet her. She recalled hearing him namedrop “I Wanna Be Down” in his 1996 song, “Me & My Girlfriend.” Later, she shared the story of how “Sitting Up In My Room” led to working with Babyface for the first time, and recalled another shout-out, this time from Biggie on “Another” from his acclaimed album, Life After Death.
Singing isn’t the only gift that God gave to Brandy: she’s a natural performer in real life as well. She made her reality TV debut in 2002 with Brandy: Special Delivery, where she highlighted the birth of her daughter Sy’rai. She later served briefly as a judge on America’s Got Talent, danced a storm on Dancing With The Stars and later appeared in Brandy & Ray J: A Family Business.
After the release of her sixth album “Two Eleven” in 2012, Brandy focused on her acting career, making her Broadway debut as Roxie Hart in Chicago and starring in the BET sitcom Zoe Ever After, according to Variety.
Kobe Bryant, who was drafted into the NBA after graduating from Lower Merion High School in Philadelphia, had a celebrity crush on Brandy and asked her to attend his prom in 1996. Both were 17 years old. “He asked me to go to the prom with him, and since he was a nice guy … I asked my mom, and she said yes,” she said in 1996.
Watch the 52nd Annual NAACP awards on BET on Saturday, March 27, 2021 at 8/7C
(Photo by Leon Bennett/STA 2020/Getty Images for BET)