Early life and career
Born to a deeply religious family in St. Louis, Missouri, Angela began singing in church. She did not initially aspire to a career in music, studying architecture at Howard University, singing only to earn extra money. She continued to sing in church while at Howard as well as with gospel legend Richard Smallwood. By 1977, Angela had changed her major to music education, and recorded a demo. She shopped it to various record labels with no success but, through a personal introduction furnished by respected industry veteran, Wayne K. Garfield, the demo was heard by New York disc jockey Gary Byrd, who made the call that landed Angela a spot in Stevie Wonder’s backing vocal group, Wonderlove. Becoming Wonder’s protegé, she learned a great deal about writing and arranging songs. While in Los Angeles with Wonder, Angela met singer René Moore; the two became a couple (eventually marrying), and began writing songs together. René & Angela released their self-titled debut album in 1980, followed by Wall to Wall in 1982 and Rise in 1983. During this period they had two moderate hit singles, “I Love You More” and “My First Love”.
A Street Called Desire and meeting Ron Isley
During Rene & Angela’s early years, they were asked to produce songs for Janet Jackson’s 1982 self-titled debut album, Janet Jackson. One of the songs, “Young Love”, became Jackson’s first top ten R&B hit reaching number six on the chart. They also wrote exclusively for Stephanie Mills, who forged a close friendship with Winbush (their “I Have Learned to Respect the Power of Love”, gave Mills her first-ever #1 R&B single, in 1985). Winbush would later write another Mills number one R&B hit with “Something in the Way You Make Me Feel”. Between that, Rene & Angela decided to branch out and find a bigger fan base signing with Mercury Records in 1984. They released their breakthrough album, A Street Called Desire the following year. Among the hit singles included on the album was their first R&B number one with the dance single, “Save Your Love (For #1)”, which included guest vocals from rapper Kurtis Blow, making it besides Chaka Khan’s “I Feel For You”, one of the first songs to prominently feature a rapper. Other hit singles included “I’ll Be Good”, the mostly Winbush-led “Your Smile” was another number one hit while the subsequent “You Don’t Have to Cry”, hit number two in the beginning of 1986. Eventually A Street Called Desire sold over a million copies going platinum but on the brink of their greatest success, tensions between Winbush and Moore had grown and by the end of the album’s promotion, the duo split both personally and professionally. Moore would continue to find success as a songwriter, most notably for Michael Jackson, but he would never again find success as a singer as Winbush was often the main draw of their singles.
In 1987, Winbush was introduced to future husband Ronald Isley, lead singer of the influential Isley Brothers after Benny Medina had agreed to ask Winbush to be involved with the Isleys’ next record when Isley proposed plans to work with Winbush on a future project. Producing, writing and arranging the Isleys’ Smooth Sailin’ album, Winbush helped the group, now including just Ronald and Rudolph (eldest brother O’Kelly had passed away the previous year), score a top 10 R&B hit with the title track.
Sharp and subsequent follow-ups
In turn, Isley opted to manage Winbush and he helped in the process of releasing her debut solo album, Sharp, which was also released in 1987. The album included the huge hit, “Angel”, which stayed at number one on the R&B chart for two weeks in 1987 and showcasing her five and a half octave range. Other hits include the dance track, “Run to Me”, “C’est Toi (It’s You)” and the Ron Isley duet, “Hello Beloved”. In 1988, she wrote and produced two tracks for Sheena Easton’s gold album “The Lover In Me”. They were “Without You” and “Fire and Rain”, both of which showcased Easton’s lower range and surprisingly soulful vocals. In 1989, Winbush released her follow-up to Sharp with It’s the Real Thing. The title track reached number two on the R&B chart while subsequent hits “No More Tears” and “Lay Your Troubles Down” continued Winbush’s top 40 success on the R&B charts where she was now a fixture on despite failed attempts to cross her over to pop audiences. On June 26, 1993 Winbush and longtime manager/collaborator/lover Ronald Isley, who is thirteen years Angela’s senior, married. A year later Winbush released her third self-titled solo album, which included the huge R&B hit, “Treat U Rite”. Produced by Chuckii Booker, the song peaked at number six on the R&B chart making it Winbush’s ninth top ten R&B hit altogether in her career. In 1996, Winbush was featured on the Isley Brothers’ hit “Floatin’ On Your Love”, which was essentially a duet between Winbush and Ron Isley. The song was later remixed by Sean “Puffy” Combs and featured guest vocals from Lil’ Kim and the group 112 in backgrounds. The video for it showcased Winbush serenading Isley’s Mr. Biggs character. Winbush continued to collaborate with the Isley Brothers until 2001’s Eternal, where afterwards, their marriage had cooled off. In 2002, Winbush and Isley quietly divorced. In 2003, Winbush made news when it was found out she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Eventually after a successful surgery, the cancer was in remission and Winbush returned to perform on the road.
Legacy and influence
Since starting out with Rene & Angela, Winbush has played an influence on various R&B and hip-hop acts. In the latter genre, Winbush has heard her music being sampled by acts such as The Notorious B.I.G. (who featured her and Jay-Z on his Rene & Angela-sampled “I Love You More” for the song “I Love the Dough”), Foxy Brown (who sampled her “I’ll Be Good” for her 1997 top ten hit, “I’ll Be”) and singer Avant re-recorded the Rene & Angela ballad, “My First Love”, with singer Keke Wyatt in 2000. In appreciation during Avant’s performance of the song on BET’s 106 & Park, in 2001, Winbush surprised the audience by singing alongside Avant on the song. As a singer, Winbush influenced the likes of Syleena Johnson and Chante Moore. Winbush and former partner Rene Moore also shared the distinction for being one of the first R&B acts to prominently feature a rap act in a R&B song sharing that distinction with Chaka Khan and funk band Cameo. Winbush also carries the distinction of being one of the few female artists to find success as a songwriter, arranger, producer and session musician (Winbush also is an avid musician playing piano and keyboards).
After years of being missed from mainstream TV, diehard R&B fans recently got a rare treat to see Angela Winbush perform her R&B classic Angel, live on the late night talk show The Mo'Nique Show weeknights on BET at 11PM EST. The soul icon was at her best, displaying her multi octave range before her mesmerized audience letting them know "this ain't no tape." See the performance at www.bet.com/moniqueshow.
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