'Funky Divas' En Vogue to headline Nashville Pride
Headlining Nashville Pride this year is 90’s super girl group En Vogue.
Formed in Oakland, California, the group has been together now for 27 years. Since the group’s formation in 1989, they’ve sold over 30 million records, won numerous awards, and been Grammy nominated seven times. The members of the group, Terry Ellis, Cindy Herron, and Rhona Bennett, have gone through some tough times, but they have stuck together and continue to make their own brand of “Funky Diva” music.
Terry Ellis, a native of Houston, Texas is an original member of the group. She spoke with us at O&AN one recent, rainy day. She promised to bring some sunshine, and she did just that.
When I asked her about being an original member of En Vogue, you could hear some hesitation in Ellis’ voice. She’s been part of a group that started with four members but that, through the years, has lost a couple of members and added another (Rhona). They’ve weathered lawsuits, changing dynamics in an industry that is hard to navigate, and genuinely hard times. But Ellis says “it hasn’t been easy, but it hasn’t been hard.”
“Ya know, especially with it being the original four, ya know of course that’s not going to be comfortable for Cyndi and I, the two of us who decided to keep moving forward” Ellis said. “But our driving passion has been our love for the music, and being able to have the opportunity to do what we love to do. That’s what’s been keeping us going.”
Even with a sincere love for the music, being in a group that’s been around for 27 years has to be a challenge. When asked how they keep their sound fresh, Ellis spoke about her musical gumbo.
“It’s still a lot of fun for us. The creative part is still so much fun for us. And the music!” she said with excitement. “Being able to get in the studio to record something new and fresh based on where we are in our lives and conversations that we’ve had, or encounters that we’ve had, all that stuff goes into our music. Even our love for different musical genres, all of that goes into the mix, into the gumbo if you will, we get in and create. That’s what keeps it fresh.”
Of course, my favorite En Vogue song has to be Free Your Mind, and I know I’m not alone. The empowerment of the song is phenomenal. It calls for more acceptance of race and to let people just be people. It’s a classic hit of the 80’s, and one of the groups most successful hits. It was written by the producers of En Vogue, Foster and McElroy. Ellis was quick to let me know that the group had input too and was excited to tell the story behind the song.
“Most of our songs have been message driven. We feel like, with this platform that we’ve been given, we want to have something to say,” Ellis explained. “That was one of the issues. Being African American, each one of us have had those experiences. So when we decided to do that song, our producers had the idea of doing something like that. So we all sat in the studio one day and we all talked about our personal experiences. And so we all conglomerated and put it all together in a song. But those were real experiences that we’re singing about in that song.”
The Funky Divas just dropped a new single called “Déjà Vu” and are working on a brand new album. Ellis was very excited about the new work. “We are currently in the studio right now, finishing a few more songs for our forthcoming album. It’s called Electric Café. The first single, we wanted to roll out for our fans who have been supporting us for so dog-gone long. That song in particular is about the intimate experience of meeting someone and feeling like you’ve known them before, you’ve been there before. Ya know? It’s just something that stays with ya, you can’t let it go. Like ‘God, I know this person’ or ‘I feel like I’ve had this experience before.’ That’s pretty much where it comes from.”
“And the track itself, before we wrote the lyrics, just sort of spoke to us in that way. It’s one of those laid back kind of breezy kind of tracks. I like to call it our grown and sexy track,” she added, with suggestive laughter, “ya know, kinda saucy.”
Playing Pride is a big deal—for better or for worse. Some artists, even though they support the cause, are sometimes hesitant to perform at Pride festivals. Some are worried they might offend their fans if they support gay rights too openly. So it’s a very bold statement to headline a Pride festival.
When I asked why En Vogue played Pride when it may have been an easier decision to not, Ellis’ support for the gay community showed through. “We’ve been doing Pride since the beginning of our career,” she said. “We have a huge, huge gay pride following. For us, it was another reason why we wrote the song ‘Free Your Mind.’ That’s what it’s all about, it’s about non-judgement. It’s about allowing people to live their lives and doing unto others as you would have them do unto you. And ya know… Celebrating life and appreciating one another! That’s what it’s all about for us. So it’s never even been a question for us… Never! So it’s about pride and celebrating that pride, for us, ya know?”
Ellis and her group will be taking the Nissan Main Stage at Nashville Pride Festival and will surely be celebrating—and be celebrated. Their songs of courage and acceptance, as well as their songs of downright funky fun, will be exciting to experience live for fans!
Photos by Troy Jensen