By the age of four, Tevin Campbell had a passion for singing. Likened to such greats as Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson, Campbell began by singing gospel, first as a choir member, and then as a soloist at Jacob’s Chapel in a small town just south of Dallas, Texas. Apart from his favorite singer, Aretha Franklin, his greatest influence as a child was probably his mother, Rhonda Byrd. Then a postal worker, she was known to the Texas congregation as “little Aretha.”
As Campbell told Dennis Hunt of the Los Angeles Times, “[My mother] pushed me and made me see trying to be a big solo singer was something I should do. Without her pushing, I’d still be in the background. To some extent, that’s what happened to her. She has a good singing voice that she never fully developed. I guess nobody pushed her to get ahead. She didn’t want to see me waste my talent too. When I was younger I wasn’t sure what I wanted, but she knew what was best for me, and I went along with it.” Rhonda went on to become Tevin’s co-manager.
In 1988 a friend of Campbell’s mother arranged for the budding young singer to audition for jazz flutist Bobbie Humphrey by singing over the phone to her in New York. Humphrey took an immediate interest in Campbell and submitted an audio and videotape to Warner Bros., which led to a meeting with Benny Medina, the label’s senior vice president and general sales manager of black music. Humphrey also arranged for Campbell to tryout for the short-lived NBC-TV children’s television program “Wally and the Valentines.”
Showed Up on Quincy Jones’s Block
Campbell’s first big break came when Quincy Jones was in the process assembling an all-star cast for his Back on the Block album. By the ripe old age of 12, Campbell was assigned to Jones’s label, Qwest, and spotlighted on two tracks of the 1990 platinum-selling, Grammy-winning album. One of those songs, “Tomorrow (Better You, Better Me),” made it to Number One on the Hot R&B Singles chart.
Later in 1990, Campbell was featured in the musical biopic Listen Up: The Lives of Quincy Jones and performed on “Listen Up,” a song paying tribute to Jones. Within a year, Campbell was whisked away to Paisley Park Studios in Minneapolis to record “Round and Round” for Prince’s movie Graffiti Bridge, in which he also snagged a role. “Round and Round” was considered by many critics to be the best single from the soundtrack; it earned Campbell a Grammy nomination for best male R&B vocalist.
For the Record…
Born November 19, 1978, in Texas; moved to Los Angeles area as a child; son of Rhonda Byrd (a former postal worker; now his manager). Education: Attended Buckley School (a private school in Sherman Oaks, CA). Religion: Methodist.
Began singing gospel in a Baptist church in Waxahachie, a small town just south of Dallas, when he was four years old; signed by Warner Bros., C. 1988; appeared on Quincy Jones’s all-star album Back on the Block, 1990; appeared in biographical film Listen Up: The Lives of Quincy Jones, and performed on “Listen Up,” a song paying tribute to Jones; recruited by Prince to perform single “Round and Round” for the soundtrack to Graffiti Bridge. First solo album, T.E.V.I.N., released on Warner Bros./Qwest, 1991. Participated in three side projects: Handel’s Messiah; a Special Olympics Christmas album; and the Olympic album Barcelona Gold, 1992.
Addresses: Record company —Warner Bros., 3300 Warner Blvd., Burbank, CA 91505-4694; or Qwest Records, 3800 Barham Blvd., Ste. 503, Los Angeles, CA 90068.
Campbell had hopes that Prince (who is now referred to by an unpronounceable symbol) would take the helm of his first solo outing, but co-executive producers Jones and Medina had other ideas. As Jones told Hunt, “Tevin needed to work with some different producers, to explore several directions and maximize his potential.” His debut album, T.E.V.I.N., features songs written by Al B. Sure! and Kyle West; Marilyn and Alan Bergman; Narada Michael Walden; and several tracks cowritten by Campbell. The only Prince-influenced song on the release is the soul-mix edit of “Round and Round,” which may explain why the album captures less of the much-anticipated funk attitude Campbell displayed in Graffiti Bridge.
The 13-track solo album was warmly received upon its release in November of 1991, and the single “Tell Me What You Want Me to Do” became a Top 40 hit. In a review of the album for the Los Angeles Times, Connie Johnson gave it three out of four stars and declared the single “positively stunning.” Describing the tracks “Just Ask Me To”—previously released as a single from the Qwest soundtrack to Boyz N the Hood —and “She’s All That,” the reviewer wrote: “He looks like the most talented kid to tackle a pop song since Michael Jackson fronted the Jackson 5.” Phyl Garland of Stereo Review called it “one of the best debut vocal albums I have heard in many, many years.… [Campbell] sings with an authority of attack, certainty of tone, and maturity of interpretation that immediately command respect. There is a passion in his work that marks the true artist.”
“I had no idea we would create a household name with Tevin before the album came out,” Benny Medina told Janine McAdams of Billboard magazine. “This album was three years in the making, but Tevin has proven he’s one of the blessed ones. When you take someone this talented and expose him to great talents like Quincy and Prince, he can only grow.”
Between interviews and television appearances following the release of T.E.V.I.N., Campbell found time to contribute to three special projects: Handel’s Messiah, a Grammy Award-winning album produced by Mervyn Warren of Take 6; a Special Olympics Christmas album, featuring Campbell’s rendition of “Oh Holy Night”; and Barcelona Gold, the 1992 Olympics album which includes his hit “One Song.”
Reflecting on the experience of recording his first album, Campbell told Christian Wright of Vibe: “It was horrible. I didn’t have as much of a relationship with the songs and my voice was changing. I didn’t have any control over it. I mean, one day it could be high and the next day it could be gone. And that’s why we had to keep going back in and doing songs over.”
The singer’s second solo effort, the 1993 release I’m Ready, was also produced by Jones and Medina. “I wanted to make a more mature-sounding album to reflect my current state of mind,” Campbell explained to J. R. Reynolds in Billboard magazine. “I’m Ready says a lot about who I am as a person because of the things I’ve been through during the last four years or so. I hope people will see that I’m not the same young kid that I was on my first album.”
Part of Campbell’s emotional development during this time stemmed from his difficult first meeting with his father, who lived “somewhere in Arkansas.” Campbell related the encounter to Christian Wright in a Vibe interview: “I wanted to meet him. It’s not that I wanted to bond with him or have some sort of relationship, ‘cause my mother raised all three of us on her own. I just wanted to meet him ‘cause I had never met my father.” When I’m Ready made its debut at Number Four on the Top R&B Albums chart, Tevin left no doubt he was capable of tackling almost any style of song. A diverse mix of ballads, soul, dance tracks, and a smattering of rap are included on the release, with Prince’s influence evident on about a quarter of the tracks.
Despite the ever-growing adulation, Campbell remains surprisingly levelheaded; he has expressed interest in studying computer science at a black university. And though he loves the music industry, he says he can do without the pressures of the business. “Sometimes I think what it might be like if I stayed in the background and was just singing in a choir somewhere,” Campbell told Hunt in the Los Angeles Times. “That crosses my mind on some of the bad days when I’m overworked. But it’s just a fleeting thought. Singing is still the important thing to me. I love singing. I wouldn’t be putting myself through all this if I didn’t.”
T.E.V.I.N., Warner Bros./Qwest, 1991.
I’m Ready, Warner Bros./Qwest, 1993.
Quincy Jones, Back on the Block, (includes “Tomorrow [Better You, Better Me]”), Warner Bros./Qwest, 1990.
Prince, Graffiti Bridge, (soundtrack; includes “Round and Round”), Warner Bros./Paisley Park, 1990.
Handel’s Messiah, Reprise, 1992.
Barcelona Gold, (includes “One Song”), Warner Bros., 1992.
Billboard, December 15, 1990; February 16, 1991; November 16, 1991; December 4, 1993.
Entertainment Weekly, January 10, 1992.
Los Angeles Times, December 15, 1991.
Musician, March 1992.
People, January 27, 1992.
Rolling Stone, May 17, 1990; April 18, 1991.
Stereo Review, June 1992.
Vibe, November 1993; March 1994.
Additional information for this profile was obtained from Qwest Records press materials, 1991 and 1993.
"Campbell, Tevin." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 15, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/campbell-tevin
"Campbell, Tevin." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved February 15, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/campbell-tevin
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