Few debut singles in the history of pop have introduced a group as perfectly as “Hold On,” the 1990 smash that launched En Vogue into the R&B stratosphere. But as much as the funky divas sang their faces off, the song wasn’t an instant hit with their label.
“The head of our record label didn’t think ‘Hold On’ was a good radio single because it started with that a cappella [of the Miracles classic ‘Who’s Lovin’ You’],” says Cindy Herron-Braggs, 58, who sang lead on the new jack swing jam. “It took a lot of convincing for that to be the first single, and then once it took off, the song and the success of it spoke for itself.”
Indeed it did. “Hold On” set it all off for “Born To Sing,” EV’s debut album, which came out on April 3, 1990. To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the LP — and one of the biggest girl groups of the ’90s — an expanded edition is being released on Friday that will have you holding on to your love for En Vogue all over again.
With those tight, four-part harmonies, it’s hard to believe that Herron-Braggs, Terry Ellis, Dawn Robinson and Maxine Jones weren’t already sisters in song when they all showed up on the same day to audition for a group being formed by producers Denzil Foster and Thomas McElroy. “None of us were friends, and we didn’t really know each other,” says Ellis, 56, who, along with Herron, is one of two current original members. “They only wanted three girls originally, but when they heard the four of us together, they thought, ‘Hey, why couldn’t it be four girls?’ I feel like it was lightning in jar.”
Making “Born To Sing” — which also included the No. 1 R&B singles “Lies” and “You Don’t Have To Worry” — it was clear that these soul songbirds were destined to harmonize. “We were all hungry and had a passion for singing,” says Herron-Braggs. “And so we were all just like, ‘Let’s do this.’ It was sort of like stepping into the unknown, and that kind of unified us all.”
But while recording the album, the group wasn’t actually called En Vogue. “Originally the name of the group was 4 U,” says Ellis. “Once we finished ‘Born To Sing,’ we decided that name wasn’t quite fitting, and so then we came up with En Vogue. Now, with a name like that, we knew that we better be vogue. And that’s how our fashion [sense] was really born — it was because of the name. We knew we had to live up to it.”
En Vogue would go on to have more hits, including “My Lovin’ (You’re Never Gonna Get It),” “Free Your Mind” and “Don’t Let Go (Love).” But it was like a national day of mourning for R&B fans when Robinson left the group in 1997, turning the quartet into a trio.
“It was heartbreaking for us, because it definitely wasn’t something that we wanted,” says Ellis. “And it wasn’t necessarily that we even had a falling out.”
Drama or not, there were some doubts about En Vogue’s future after Robinson’s departure. “There was the element of, ‘Can this end us? Are people gonna be done with us?’ ” says Herron-Braggs.
It has been a revolving door for En Vogue since then, with Jones leaving the group — first replaced by Amanda Cole and then by current member Rhona Bennett — and Robinson returning for stints. In fact, all four originals performed together at a benefit last fall.
And don’t rule out another reunion. “Never say never,” says Herron-Braggs. Actually, Ellis adds, “We’re hoping and praying for it.”
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