Brandy's 'Two Eleven' Is One For Whitney

Oct 20, 2012
Originally published on October 22, 2012 2:21 pm

Brandy Norwood helped reinvent the sound of R&B when she was just 15: Her self-titled debut as Brandy came out in 1994. She also starred in the television show Moesha and won a Grammy for "The Boy Is Mine," her 1998 duet with singer Monica. Brandy's most impressive distinction? She can honestly say that the late, great Whitney Houston was her fairy godmother.

That's the role Houston played opposite Brandy in a television adaptation of Cinderella. But it also represents the way Houston became an idol and mentor to the young singer — a story that stretches back to the night a prepubescent Brandy attended her first Whitney Houston concert and deserted her assigned seat to try to meet her hero.

"I was determined," Brandy says. "I promised every usher ... that I would remember them when I became famous, and that I would pay all their bills and take care of them if they just let me down to the next section. I talked my way all the way backstage — but by the time I got there, the concert was over and Whitney had left. So my whole world was destroyed."

Brandy's newest album is called Two Eleven — the date of both her own birth and Houston's death. She discusses it here with NPR's Scott Simon.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Brandy Norwood helped reinvent the sound of R and B in 1994 when she was just 15 years old and became known by one name: Brandy.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SITTING UP IN MY ROOM")

BRANDY: (Singing) Sitting up in my room, back here thinking about you, I must confess, I'm a mess for you...

SIMON: Brandy also starred in the television show "Moesha" and she can genuinely say that the late, great Whitney Houston was her fairy godmother.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV MOVIE, "CINDERELLA")

BRANDY: (as Cinderella) I've always hoped that someone would come and take me away from here.

WHITNEY HOUSTON: (as Fairy Godmother) Cinderella, if you want to get out of here, you going to have to do it yourself. The music's in you, deep down in your soul.

SIMON: That was Whitney Houston and Brandy in the television adaptation of Disney's "Cinderella." Nearly 20 years since her debut, and with a multitude of awards, Brandy has a new album now, "Two Eleven." She joins us from our studios in New York. Thanks so much for being with us.

BRANDY: Good to be with you.

SIMON: Tell us about the album title, "Two Eleven."

BRANDY: Well, 2-11 is the day that I was born and it's also the day that I lost Whitney as my idol. It's my way of tributing her and what she meant to me. You know, just sticking with my purpose. And that's something that I promised her that I would do. And I'm just so excited going forward and so excited about the new album.

SIMON: Can I ask about Whitney Houston?

BRANDY: Yes, you can.

SIMON: The first concert you went to was one of hers?

BRANDY: The first concert that I've ever gone to was a Whitney Houston concert. I was all the way at the top. I couldn't really see her face. I could only see her body. And I was irritated. So, I talked my way all the way backstage. I missed the entire concert because I was so busy talking my way to get to her. I was determined.

SIMON: How do you talk you way backstage when you're 8 or 9?

BRANDY: Because I promised every usher that was in charge of the each of the sections, promised that I would remember them when I became famous and that I would pay all their bills and I would just take care of them if they just let me down to the next section. And I talked my way all the way backstage. But by the time I got there, the concert was over and Whitney had left. So, my whole world was destroyed. Such a memory. I remember it like it was yesterday.

SIMON: Let's listen to a cut, if we can from this new album. This is "Scared of Beautiful."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SCARED OF BEAUTIFUL")

BRANDY: (Singing) Turn the lamp on, let me talk to ya, (unintelligible) something to you. (unintelligible) turn the light on and make it difficult to run and hide on it. Tell the truth to me, the truth to me, don't (unintelligible) me - that's you. I want to see the details inside those beautiful eyes. Myself ain't never talk to me like that before...

SIMON: You have such a distinctive voice. What do you look for in a song? What do you try and bring to it?

BRANDY: I try to bring the truth to a song. I think songs, different songs with different melodies, different instruments, different beats inspire a different side of who I am vocally.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SCARED OF BEAUTIFUL")

BRANDY: (Singing) Turn the lamp down, don't talk to me. That lamp on says something for me, gave something to me. I can't decide, I can't decide...

But I also love country music and pop music or dance music. Like, it's fun to sing those songs too. But R and B is where I came from. It hits the soul.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SCARED OF BEAUTIFUL")

BRANDY: (Singing) Scared of the beautiful, the evil, scared of the light bulb in the dark. Scared of the truth caught in the light. I'm scared of you. I'm scared of you.

SIMON: Your father, Willie, was a gospel singer and a church choir director.

BRANDY: He was - still is.

SIMON: Still is - God bless. Well, what did he teach you about music, do you think?

BRANDY: Oh, my dad taught me everything about music. He introduced me to so many wonderful gospel artists. And in our church, we would sing a cappella music. So, I learned how to do harmony singing with my dad. And we would always sing together. We would sing in weddings together. And, you know, he really helped me discover the voice within me. Because when I was younger, I didn't really like the way my voice sounded.

SIMON: What did you hear in your voice that made you uncomfortable?

BRANDY: When I was younger, I felt like I sounded like a chipmunk.

SIMON: They're big stars, though, the Chipmunks.

BRANDY: Yeah, aren't they? And now I, I mean, I just...

SIMON: ...Alvin, Simon or...

BRANDY: ...and Theodore.

SIMON: Yeah, Theodore, right.

(LAUGHTER)

BRANDY: I love them, I love them. But I got used to it and I started to embrace it and say, oh well maybe there's something different about my voice. And, you know, I started to like it over the years.

SIMON: Let's listen, if we could, to another song from this album. This is "Without You."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WITHOUT YOU")

BRANDY: (Singing) Caught (unintelligible) only for a minute. I just want to talk to you, baby, and let you know what I'm thinking of. Oh, please, boy, I'm done with all the lying...

SIMON: Is this song about anyone in particular?

BRANDY: Well, it's just about a relationship where the woman pretty much carries the baggage into her present relationship. And basically she's confronting the fact that she can't live without this person. I think the record is very honest. It has a great melody to it and so many of us can relate to that.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WITHOUT YOU")

BRANDY: (Singing) Oh, boy, I never meant to put you down, you're so much than that, yes you are. I want to do who I was before, I want to give you so much more...

SIMON: You have a daughter now.

BRANDY: I do, Sy'rai.

SIMON: Does she listen to you?

BRANDY: She does listen to me. She listens to me sing, she listens to me talk. I'm her mom. Of course. She better listen to me.

SIMON: Well, I kind of meant the studio stuff, all right?

BRANDY: Yeah, yeah, yeah. No, I was saying it as a joke. It was probably a bad joke. I'm sorry about that. But, yeah, she likes Justin Bieber more but I'm working on it.

(LAUGHTER)

SIMON: Oh, my. Well, she has plenty of time to acquire more mature tastes, right?

BRANDY: Yes. But Justin Bieber's music is great. I have Bieber fever too. So, I definitely understand her love for him.

SIMON: Is there a song on this album you'd like to point us to?

BRANDY: Sure. "No Such Thing as Too Late." It's a beautiful love song and it has a very powerful message to it. So, check it out.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NO SUCH THING AS TOO LATE")

SIMON: Brandy Norwood - Brandy - speaking with us from New York. Her new album, "Two Eleven," is out now. You can hear more songs from Brandy at our website, nprmusic.org. Brandy, very nice speaking with you. Thanks so much.

BRANDY: Nice speaking with you too.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NO SUCH THING AS TOO LATE")

BRANDY: (Singing) I know you think I be creeping, thinking of (unintelligible) into you. Just take a second...

SIMON: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.