R&B has a rich history of girl groups, from the Supremes and their peers on up.
In the early ’90s, SWV – aka Sisters With Voices – led the way for a new crop of girl groups (along with En Vogue and TLC) with No. 1 singles “Weak,” “Right Here,” and “Anything.”
Cheryl “Coko” Clemons, Tamara “Taj” Johnson-George and Leanne “Lelee” Lyons broke up in 1998. The NYC ladies of new jack swing reunited in 2005, and in 2012, the group released “I Missed Us,” its first new album in 15 years. On Thursday, they headline opening night of the Food Lion Speed Street Festival. Lyons, who lives in Atlanta now, spoke to The Observer Friday.
Q. What brought SWV back together in 2005?
I believe it was Teddy Riley that wanted us to do this New Jack Swing tour for the Tom Joyner cruise. It did get us back on speaking terms. It got us to realize we’re a lot better together than we are apart. ... We were childhood friends. I’ve known Coko forever. Coko knew Taj. There was love there before the world got to know us. I think that helped with us coming back together.
Q. Why does trouble seem to follow girl groups?
Whenever it’s a lot of women together, there’s always a little bit of mess, whether you’re in a singing group or working in the office. Women are naturally just – I hate to say it, but jealous of each other. When it comes to girl groups, it’s always something stupid that happens. One person may have more light on them. One person’s hair looks better. It can destroy something so big.
Q. It seems like the R&B audiences still want to hear groups that they followed in the ’80s and ’90s. Have you had a good reception?
Absolutely. I always believe when you make music that people feel in their heart, or music that takes people on a journey, it’s timeless. There were times when music was my healing, my therapist. It can take you from a mad woman to a happy woman on a beach.
Q. You’ve spoken about your experience as a teenage mother (Lyons had her first daughter at 15). Where do you think society is today on the issue?
It’s so important to raise awareness. I meet a lot of (teen moms). They see a way out. (But) my story is not your story. Everybody is not going to get lucky and make records after they have two kids by the age of 17. I think it’s sad. There’s not enough for these kids to do outside. A lot of our programs are closing. They don’t have afterschool centers; (if they do), the kids can’t afford it. I don’t think we’re doing enough as parents or as a country. We care so much about the money and stuff that doesn’t matter (that) we’re losing the kids.
Q. Since you’re playing Speed Street, we have to ask: Are you a NASCAR fan?
Not since I’ve been in two car accidents. I love watching it, but I’m so afraid these guys are going to kill themselves. The fact that they’re professionals goes out the window for me. Slow down!
Q. Do you follow other sports?
When Michael Jordan was with the Bulls, I absolutely loved basketball. I just found out he got married. I’m sad about that. I’ve met him before. I’ve always had a crush on Michael Jordan, but I don’t follow (basketball) as much.
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