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T-Boz made her mark in the music industry as a founding member and one-third of the Grammy Award-winning group TLC. Along with Lisa 'Left Eye' Lopes and Rozonda 'Chilli' Thomas, Tionne 'T-Boz' Watkins shot to fame with the group's exuberant debut single "Ain't 2 Proud 2 Beg" (1992). They also commanded attention with their brightly colored outfits, use of condoms as accessories, and sassy sensuality. TLC was unlike any other girl group that came before them, yet each member brought her own distinct style and personality. T-Boz brought a hip-hop swagger to Left Eye's wild rapping and Chilli's sexy R&B vocals. Despite legal issues with their management, TLC bounced back to the top of the charts with their landmark album CrazySexyCool (1994), featuring the hit singles "Creep" and "Waterfalls." Although she suffered from sickle cell anemia since childhood, T-Boz remained a strong force not only in the group, but also as a spokesperson for the disease. Along with her bandmates, she empowered young women to take control of their lives. TLC earned more accolades for its third album FanMail (1999), but the group's success came to an abrupt end when Left Eye died from a tragic car accident in Honduras in...
T-Boz made her mark in the music industry as a founding member and one-third of the Grammy Award-winning group TLC. Along with Lisa 'Left Eye' Lopes and Rozonda 'Chilli' Thomas, Tionne 'T-Boz' Watkins shot to fame with the group's exuberant debut single "Ain't 2 Proud 2 Beg" (1992). They also commanded attention with their brightly colored outfits, use of condoms as accessories, and sassy sensuality. TLC was unlike any other girl group that came before them, yet each member brought her own distinct style and personality. T-Boz brought a hip-hop swagger to Left Eye's wild rapping and Chilli's sexy R&B vocals. Despite legal issues with their management, TLC bounced back to the top of the charts with their landmark album CrazySexyCool (1994), featuring the hit singles "Creep" and "Waterfalls." Although she suffered from sickle cell anemia since childhood, T-Boz remained a strong force not only in the group, but also as a spokesperson for the disease. Along with her bandmates, she empowered young women to take control of their lives. TLC earned more accolades for its third album FanMail (1999), but the group's success came to an abrupt end when Left Eye died from a tragic car accident in Honduras in 2002. T-Boz and Chilli continued recording and touring as TLC, but it was clear that the group was never the same again. Having paved the way for hit-makers like the Spice Girls and Destiny's Child, T-Boz and her group mates were undeniably true pioneers in R&B/hip-hop music.
Tionne Tenese Watkins was born on April 26, 1970 in Des Moines, IA. At an early age, Watkins was diagnosed with sickle cell anemia. She spent her childhood in and out of hospitals, and was not expected to live past her thirties due to her blood disorder. Her family moved from Des Moines to Atlanta, GA when the future star was nine. It was in Atlanta where Watkins worked as a model and hairdresser as a teenager. In the early 1990s, she answered a call for an audition with fellow Atlanta resident Crystal Jones for a female music group. The trio was called 2nd Nature and also included aspiring Philadelphia rapper Lisa Lopes. The group landed an audition with singer Perri 'Pebbles' Reid, who signed the girls and renamed the group TLC, which stood for the first letters of their names. She also set up an audition for TLC at LaFace Records, the label founded by her husband Antonio 'L.A.' Reid and Kenneth 'Babyface' Edmonds. Signing with LaFace also meant a big change for TLC. The label felt Jones was not a good fit for the group and was quickly replaced with Atlanta singer and back-up dancer Rozonda Thomas. To keep the name TLC, Thomas took the nickname Chilli, while Watkins and Lopes went by T-Boz and Left Eye, respectively.
The group released its debut album Ooooooohhh.On the TLC Tip in 1992. A mixture of rap, R&B, and the popular '90s genre New Jack Swing, TLC delivered a fun, high-energy album that matched the group's youthful personality. The lead single "Ain't 2 Proud 2 Beg," about a young woman's prerogative to demand sex, showcased T-Boz's soulful swagger, Left Eye's eccentric rap style, and Chilli's sexy vocals. The accompanying music video was equally vibrant, a raucous party scene that introduced the world to TLC's signature look: baggy, neon-colored clothing, excessive jewelry, and Left Eye's statement accessory of choice - a condom as eye patch. On the TLC Tip peaked at No. 14 on the Billboard 200 chart and spawned a string of Top 10 hits, including the ballad "Baby-Baby-Baby" and the girl power anthem "What About Your Friends." T-Boz remained silent about her illness until TLC's first national tour, opening for rapper MC Hammer. Around the same time, the trio decided to take more control of their career, ultimately parting ways with manager Pebbles, but remaining with LaFace Records. T-Boz, Left Eye, and Chilli made their feature film debut in the comedy "House Party 3" (1994), performing as the group Sex as a Weapon, and they also contributed to the "Poetic Justice" (1993) soundtrack with the track "Get It Up," written by Prince.
While anticipation grew for TLC's follow-up album, Left Eye made headlines when she began a turbulent relationship with NFL player Andre Rison. The couple lived together in Atlanta, where one of their fights eventually led to Left Eye accidentally setting his entire house on fire. She was found guilty of first-degree arson, fined $10,000, and sentenced to five years probation. The incident could have damaged TLC's career, but instead gave the group a media boost in promoting its sophomore album. In 1994, they appeared on a memorable cover of VIBE magazine dressed as firefighters, a cheeky nod to Left Eye's domestic and legal issues, but also a statement that they had risen above the incident. Later that year, they finally released the landmark album CrazySexyCool, the title of which highlighted each woman's distinct personalities - Left Eye as crazy, Chilli as sexy, and T-Boz as cool. Showing a more sophisticated and mature style, the group also ditched its Day-Glow outfits for sleeker, futuristic get-ups, but the music and message remained the same. The first single, "Creep," a mid-tempo jam about infidelity, topped the Billboard 100, while the sexually charged ballad "Red Light Special" peaked at No. 2. TLC also took on a more socially conscious stance with "Waterfalls," an inspirational track that spent seven weeks at No. 1 and garnered two Grammy Awards, including Record of the Year. CrazySexyCool went on to become one of the year's top-selling sets and earned TLC a 1996 Grammy for Best R&B Album.
TLC's critical and commercial success was short-lived, however, when the trio filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in July 1995. They reportedly owed $3.5 million, mostly due to T-Boz's medical bills and Left Eye's financial payments stemming from the arson incident. The group renegotiated its contract with LaFace Records, which took almost two years until both parties settled and TLC resigned under LaFace/Arista. In 1996, a stronger-than-ever T-Boz went public with her disease and signed on as a spokesperson for Sickle Cell Disease Association of America. The group released its highly anticipated third album FanMail in 1999, which debuted at the top of the charts largely due to another girl power anthem "No Scrubs." The follow-up single "Unpretty," also a No. 1 hit, drew comparisons to "Waterfalls" for its socially conscious message and memorable chorus. TLC dominated the 2000 Grammy Awards with seven nominations, including Album of the Year, Record of the Year, and Song of the Year, but won Best R&B Album and Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal for "No Scrubs."
Rumors swirled that TLC was splitting up after Left Eye and Chilli both announced they were working on solo projects. T-Boz took much needed personal time for her health and to start a family. She married L.A.-based rapper Mack 10 in August 2000 and gave birth to their daughter later that year. Left Eye further fueled rumors of the band's internal conflict when she wrote an open letter to T-Boz and Chilli in Entertainment Weekly, challenging each TLC member to record a solo album for a 3-disc compilation that she titled The Challenge. In her letter, Left Eye also referred to T-Boz as 'the Player' and Chilli as 'the Hater.' The girls patched up their feud before the ambitious project began, but Left Eye eventually recorded her solo album Supernova (2001), which was not released in the U.S. Sadly, that was the last time the rapper released music. On April 25, 2002, Left Eye flipped the SUV she was driving in Honduras while on a charity mission and died from severe head trauma. A devastated T-Boz and Chilli were left to work on TLC's fourth and final album as a trio 3D (2002); the lead single "Girl Talk," which Left Eye co-wrote, peaked at No. 28. 3D sold over a million copies despite the tragic loss, but it was clear the group could not match the success it had with previous albums.
In 2005, T-Boz and Chilli hosted the search for TLC's newest member with the UPN reality series "R U the Girl." The low-rated show crowned Tiffany 'O'so Krispie' Baker the winner, but she was not made an official member of the group. After the group's decline on the charts, the two remaining members of TLC pursued other projects and focused on their personal lives. T-Boz ended her marriage in 2004 and began dating football player Takeo Spikes. In March 2009, she announced she had been battling a potentially fatal brain tumor for three years and underwent surgery to remove a strawberry-sized tumor that reportedly affected her balance, hearing, sight, and facial movement. That same year, she competed on the NBC reality series "The Celebrity Apprentice" alongside comedy legend Joan Rivers and singer Brian McKnight.
By Candy Cuenco
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