Published: Friday 5th August 2016 6:39PM
Updated: Friday 5th August 2016 8:59PM
THIS is what we call the best of British
We are a generation obsessed by the 90s. From box braids (think Janet Jackson – Poetic Justice) to baggy jeans and crop tops, Pokemon Go to high tops – (queens channeling their inner royalty – Nefertiti), the 1990s have well and truly made a comeback.
So what better way to celebrate this glorious decade – in true Black Ballad style – than to honour 12 black British female artists who provided the soundtrack to our youth? Nineties nostalgia – here we go!
1. Caron Wheeler, lead vocalist of Soul II Soul.
(This is a slight cheat as they were from 1989) Soul II Soul was the soundtrack of childhood car journeys home. The beautiful sweet vocals of Caron Wheeler soaring over tracks masterminded by Jazzie B were a marriage made in music heaven.
Their signature sound comprising pertinent lyrics, melodic strings and pulsating beats ensured Soul II Soul became one of the great British musical exports of the 80/90s- successfully crossing and conquering both sides of the Atlantic (they won two Grammy awards). For an entertaining trip down memory lane, watch ‘Back to Life’ – Cue dreads, shoulder pads and bright colours!
Key tracks: ‘Keep on Moving’ & ‘Back to Life’
They. Changed. My. Life. I was on the cusp of double digits when ‘Stay’ was released in 1993. I remember watching the music video and assumed they were an American girl group, but was soon shocked to discover this beautiful, multi-racial group of women were Londoners! They could sing, dance and brought this refreshingly carefree vibe so indicative of the 90s R&B / New Jack Swing era: Box braids, bold colours, baggy jeans and crop tops – oh yes!
Powered by lead vocalist Esther Bennett, Eternal enjoyed a string of top ten hits and even when they became a trio, they still kept bringing the hits. Eternal went on to become one of the most successful British girl groups of the 90s selling 10 million records worldwide.
Key tracks: ‘Stay’, ‘Step from Heaven’, ‘Always and Forever’/ ‘Oh Baby I’ – (a soon to be – 90s karaoke classic butchered by many a classmate at a school talent show), ‘ I Wanna Be the Only One’ with Bebe Winans & Girl Power anthem – ‘Power of a Woman’.
3. Mica Paris
Dubbed the Queen of UK soul, Mica Paris’s impressive career spans more than three decades. The exceptionally gifted vocalist sings with enough power, soul and presence to rival the most elite American vocalist and is incredibly well respected within the music industry collaborating with legends such as Prince, Quincy Jones and Bobby Womack. A staple of the 90s, Mica Paris’s debut album was on regular rotation in my childhood home.
Gospel-influenced Mica Paris began singing in her grandparents church and derives from a line of phenomenally talented female vocalists including older sister, Gospel artist – Alison Mark.
The award-winning singer is also a successful author and TV presenter.
Key tracks: ‘Young Soul Rebels’, ‘Should Have Known Better’ collaboration with music genius – Omar, ‘Where Is the Love’ – Will Downing duet & ‘My One Temptation’.
“Dreams can come true, look at me babe, I’m with you.” You’d have to be living on another planet not to be familiar with this catchy chorus! ‘Dreams’, Gabrielle’s debut single, went straight to number one – the first of many for this multi-platinum selling, award winning singer-songwriter. With her beaming smile, trademark cropped locks and eye patch, Gabrielle brought such a unique vibe with her distinctive voice, quality songwriting and unusual sound seamlessly fusing pop, acoustic, soul and easy listening.
Key tracks: ‘Dreams’, ‘Rise’, ‘Walk on By’ (Dionne Warwick cover), ‘If You Ever’ – duet with East 17 &’Out of Reach’ (Bridget Jones diaries).
“You got to be bad, you got to be bold, you got to be wiser,” lyrics like mantras delivered by the soothing, husky voice of Des’ree. The beautiful singer-songwriter most famously contributed ‘Kissing You’ – the standout track – of the Baz Luhrmann directed, Romeo and Juliet, she also had a number of hits throughout the 90s.
Des’ree won several awards including an Ivor Novello and a Brit Award. She was also one of the rare music artists who managed to crack both sides of the Atlantic.
Key tracks: ‘Feel So High’, ‘Life’, ‘Kissing You’ & ‘You Gotta Be’.
6. Shara Nelson
Arguably one of the biggest dance tracks of the decade, 20 odd years later, Unfinished Sympathy still captures me. The deceptive simplicity of this trip-hop anthem – from the haunting strings to pulsating percussion makes it an instant classic but the evocative vocals of Shara Nelson take it to another level.
Shara Nelson co-wrote several other tracks with Massive Attack and went on to enjoy a solo career garnering several Top 40 UK hits.
Key tracks: ‘Uptight’ & ‘Down That Road’
7. Beverley Knight MBE
A class act – Wolverhampton native, Beverley Knight kicked off her career in the 90s bringing that fresh, soulful R’n’ B sound. She sounded so good, I immediately assumed she was American! Way ahead of her time, the supremely talented singer was one of the leading voices on the UK soul scene in both the nineties and noughties and enjoyed several top ten hits. With her big voice and even bigger smile, Beverely Knight is now wowing the West End as Rachel Marron in the Bodyguard musical.
In 2007, Beverley Knight was awarded an MBE for services to music and her charitable work. She also achieved an honourary doctorate from the University of Wolverhampton.
Key tracks: ‘Flavour Of The Old School’, ‘Shoulda, Woulda, Coulda’, ‘Made It Back’ & ‘Greatest Day of My Life’
8. Dina Carroll
The Brit award winning singer enjoyed several hits in the 90s including a song penned by Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, which would soon become an anthem for New Year’s Eve – ‘the Perfect Year’. The green eyed, dual heritage soul singer enjoyed considerable success including being nominated for a Mercury music prize in addition to having several top ten hits.
Key tracks: ‘The Perfect Year’ &’Ain’t No Man’
9. Skin from Skunk Anansie
Skin was the famous front woman of 90s Indie/ Rock/ Alternative Metal band Skunk Anansie. The versatile vocalist and guitarist was renowned for her passionate and energetic performances and of course, her trademark skin head! Skin was groundbreaking because there weren’t many black women fronting mainstream rock bands during that period. Skin co-wrote most of the band’s hits. Skunk Anansie released three albums before temporarily disbanding in 2001, but have since reformed releasing a new record this year.
Key tracks: ‘Weak’ &’Charlie Big Potato’
Three sisters from Manchester brought the Black Girl Magic like no other! Cleopatra had several top ten hits, were signed by none other than Madonna and also had their own TV series. Refreshing, vibrant and youthful – Cleopatra embody all that’s good about the 90s.
Key tracks: Cleopatra’s theme & Life Ain’t Easy
11. Shaznay Lewis of All Saints
All Saints were one of the coolest groups of the 90s – fact. They made combats and crop tops super cool, but more importantly, gave us some fantastic tracks including break-up anthem ‘Never Ever’. All Saints were refreshing and classy, yet bringing an edgy vibe with their own unique brand of pop R’n’B.
Singer-songwriter Shaznay Lewis co-wrote the majority of the groups biggest hits – bagging an Ivor Novello Award – and continues to enjoy a successful career as a songwriter.
Key tracks: ‘Never Ever’, ‘Lady Marmalade’ & ‘Under the Bridge’- Red Hot Chilli Peppers cover version.
12. Sade OBE
Aka the Queen of Quiet Storm – oh how I could wax lyrical about this beautiful woman! Although Sade is probably most well-known for 80s hits such as Smooth Operator, the stunning singer-songwriter released a number of tunes in the 90s including the lead track for the film ‘Indecent Proposal’.
With a career spanning over 30 years, Sade’s inimitable voice – soulful, sensual and husky – has inspired a generation of musicians and singers alike including Beyoncé, Kelly Rowland and Brandy.
Sade is considered one of the most successful British solo female artists of all time and was awarded an OBE in 2002 for her services to music.
Key tracks (from the 90s): No Ordinary Love, Cherish the Day and Kiss of Life