Lopes, Lisa 1971–2002
Lisa Lopes 1971–2002
Lisa “Left-Eye” Lopes spent ten years in the public eye as a member of the popular performing group TLC. The successful group sold more than 20 million albums, won four Grammy Awards, and redefined the landscape of contemporary hip hop and rap music in the process. After a rift with her TLC bandmates, she contributed to albums by Melanie C and Mya, and branched out on her own with a solo album, Supernova, completed in 2001. In the fall of 2001 Lopes reunited with TLC members Tionne “T-
Boz” Watkins and Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas for the group’s fourth album. “The hard times are behind us now and we want to get back to the good times,” Lopes told the British website Dotmusic in an interview late in 2001. “It’s great working together again. It’s like working on the first album again.” But her optimism over her future as a solo artist and as a member of TLC would not be fulfilled. The announcement of Lopes’s death in a car accident in Honduras on April 25, 2002 devastated music fans around the world.
Lisa Nicole Lopes was the eldest child of Wanda D. and Ronald E. Lopes. Born on May 27, 1971, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, she was later joined by two younger siblings, sister Raina and brother Ronald.
Lopes’s father pursued a career in the U.S. Army that took the family to several different locations while the children were growing up. At one point the family lived in Panama, where the United States maintained a significant military presence at the Panama Canal. The constant moves helped the eldest Lopes child to adapt to different environments and appreciate the diverse cultures that she encountered.
Ronald Lopes was a strict disciplinarian and at times resorted to physical violence against his children. He was also dependent on alcohol, a habit that he passed along to his eldest daughter while she was in her teens. Despite this troubled relationship, Ronald Lopes encouraged his daughter to follow her love of music, which he also shared. Ronald Lopes could play the drums, clarinet, saxophone, harmonica, and piano, and his daughter began playing the piano when she was five years old. By the time she was a teenager and living back in Philadelphia, Lopes was entering various local talent contests as a rapper and helping out other acts as a designer and visual artist. Her troubles continued at home and she ran away several times before
At a Glance…
Born Lisa Nicole Lopes on May 27, 1971, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; died April 25, 2002 in Honduras; daughter of Wanda D. and Ronald E. Lopes.
Career: Recording artist. Formed performing group TLC with two other performers, 1991; albums: Oooooooh … On the TLC Tip,1992; CrazySexyCool, 1995; Fan Mail, 1999; solo album: Supernova, 2001.
Awards: Grammy Awards with TLC: Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal, for “Creep,” 1995; Best R&B Album, for CrazySexyCool, 1995; Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal, for “No Scrubs,” 1999; Best R&B Album, for Fan Mail, 1999.
leaving home for good at the age of 17. Lopes eventually relocated to Atlanta, Georgia, in late 1990. One of the teenager’s few possessions was a portable keyboard that she used to compose and play music.
Lopes quickly became known around the Atlanta performing scene by her nickname, “Left-Eye,” bestowed upon her by singer Michael Bivins, who was a former member of New Edition and a member at the time of new jack swing sensation Bell Biv Devoe. Noticing that her left eye was a bit larger than her right one, Bivins told Lopes that he thought the difference made her beautiful, and the nickname “Left-Eye” stuck. After less than a year in Georgia, Lopes joined forces in 1991 with two other Atlanta-area performers, Crystal Jones and Tionne Watkins, who were looking for a third member to join their group, 2nd Nature, as a rap vocalist. The group renamed itself TLC after signing a management contract in 1991 with singer Perri “Pebbles” McKissack Reid and producer Dallas Austin. Watkins and Lopes decided to oust Jones from the group and replace her with Atlanta native Rozonda Thomas. With the new lineup of TLC complete, Reid and Austin secured the group a recording deal with LaFace Records, a company founded and operated by Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds and L.A. Reid, the husband of Pebbles.
TLC entered the studio to make its debut album, released in 1992 under the title Oooooooh … On the TLC Tip. Helped along by the colorful visuals of the group’s videos and a dash of controversy for Lopes’s habit of wearing a condom on the left lens of her glasses, the album sold four million copies. The album also spawned three major hit singles, the platinum selling “Ain’t 2 Proud 2 Beg” and the gold records “What About Your Friends?” and “Baby Baby Baby.”
On June 9, 1994, just as the group reunited to start on its second album, Lopes made headlines when she set fire to the multi-million-dollar, Alpharetta, Georgia, home she shared with Andre Rison, a wide receiver with Atlanta’s professional football team, the Falcons. The fire destroyed the mansion. Lopes insisted that she had not meant to burn down the house but was simply acting under the influence of alcohol and anger when she set a fire in a bathtub after the two had a fight. After pleading guilty to an arson charge in December of 1994, Lopes was fined $10,000, put on probation for five years, and ordered into a month-long residence in an alcohol treatment program. She also received counseling at a program to help battered women. Rison and Lopes later reconciled; and although an announcement of marriage never came to fruition, the two remained close during the rest of Lopes’s life. The incident also marked a turning point for her problems with alcohol; she subsequently remained free of substance abuse and increasingly developed an interest in organic foods, meditation, numerology, and holistic healing.
TLC’s second album, released in 1995, was another multi-platinum hit, with more than 11 million copies sold in the United States alone. To many critics, the highlight of CrazySexyCool was Lopes’s rap on the single “Waterfalls,” an inspirational verse that Lopes wrote during her month-long stay in rehabilitation. The single stayed at number one on the pop charts for seven weeks and earned the group another platinum record. Another single, “Creep,” won the group a Grammy Award for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal in 1995, while the album CrazySexyCool won another Grammy Award for Best R&B Album. With the success of the two albums, TLC was now the biggest-selling female group of all time.
Despite its accomplishments, the group declared bankruptcy in 1995; while some music industry observers saw the move as an attempt to break a restrictive management contract with Pebbles and L.A. Reid, the three band mates insisted that the two events were unrelated. TLC signed a more advantageous contract with the managers in 1996 and stayed with LaFace Records for a third album, Fan Mail, released in 1999.
During this time, personal conflict arose between the members of TLC. Lopes, who began missing rehearsals and interviews, sent LaFace Records a letter saying that she was quitting the band. In an Entertainment Weekly article, Watkins and Thomas discussed Lopes’s actions, and Lopes retaliated with another letter discussing her displeasure that Watkins and Thomas would discuss their personal problems in the media. She challenged her bandmates to each release their own solo CDs, simultaneously releasing separate singles. The winner would be determined by the single that sold the most copies.
After the release of Fan Mail, Lopes commented, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “I’m not really feeling TLC.” The group went on tour to support the album, but the tension between them was evident to concertgoers. However, as the tour progressed, the threesome managed to find some middle ground. Lopes told the Constitution, “It feels like a renewal right now. Like we’re starting all over again.”
Like its predecessor, Fan Mail won TLC two Grammy Awards, one for Best R&B Album and one for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal for the single “No Scrubs.” Fan Mail sold six million copies and brought the group’s total album sales in the United States to more than 21 million copies.
Lopes also contributed to a number of other artists’ work outside of TLC. Her rap on “Never Be the Same Again” on Spice Girls’ member Melanie C’s solo album Northern Star helped the single go to number one on the British pop charts in the summer of 2000. Lopes was also a guest on the track “Takin’ Me Over” on Mya’s album Fear of Flying in 2000. Lopes reserved her greatest ambition, however, for her own solo album. “I’m way too confident and I realize the power in desiring something and manifesting it,” she told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s website. The album, Supernova, was released late in 2001 in Europe, but after failing to match the success of any of TLC’s albums, its American release was postponed. Lopes next signed a solo contract with Marion “Suge” Knight’s label, Tha Row. She was set to record under the moniker N.I.N.A., which stood for “New Identity Non-Applicable.”
As Lopes promoted Supernova’s release in Great Britain in late 2001, she mentioned that TLC was already at work on its fourth album. After completing a few tracks on the album, the group took a break in early 2002 to accommodate a health crisis brought on by Tionne Watkins’s sickle cell anemia. As she had done before, Lopes traveled to Honduras, a Central American country where she enjoyed bringing her siblings and friends on vacations. Also on the trip was an eight-year-old girl whom Lopes was caring for while her mother dealt with some personal problems. Lopes had initially traveled to Honduras to help out with disasterrelief efforts in the wake of Hurricane Mitch in 1998, and later returned to help establish a childrens’ recreational center there.
On April 25, 2002, Lopes was driving a sport-utility vehicle along a highway in Honduras; The nine other passengers included her two siblings as well as members of the R&B quartet Egypt, whom Lopes was informally managing. The group was on its way to film some shots of Egypt interacting with Honduran children for possible use in a music video. After passing a truck on a dangerous section of road in the province of Atlantida, Lopes lost control of her vehicle, which rolled off the highway. She was killed by injuries to her head and chest, and several other members of the party suffered broken bones. According to the Honduran police, the primary cause of the accident was the excessive speed of the automobile, which was estimated to be 85 miles per hour at the time of the accident.
Following a private service for family and close friends, a funeral was held at the New Birth Missionary Church in Lithonia, Georgia, on May 2, 2002, which attracted stars such as Janet Jackson, Whitney Houston, Monica, Usher, and her TLC band mates. In a statement published in Billboard, the surviving members of TLC declared their love and respect for Lopes and announced that the group would complete the album which had been in process prior to the accident. “Lisa had already recorded three or four tracks, so she will definitely be on our next album, and it will be dedicated to her,” Rozonda Thomas said. “I know she would not have wanted us to stop recording. As for her being replaced—never. You can’t replace a TLC girl.”
(with TLC) Oooooooh … On the TLC Tip, LaFace Records, 1992.
(with TLC) CrazySexyCool, LaFace Records, 1995.
(with TLC) Fan Mail, LaFace Records, 1999.
Supernova, Arista Records, 2001.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution, November 14, 1994; February 28, 1999; March 5, 1999; April 1, 1999; February 7, 2000; June 15, 2000; September 29, 2000.
Billboard, May 11, 2002, p. 8.
Entertainment Weekly, November 18, 1994; December 9, 1994.
People, May 13, 2002, p. 68.
Q, April 1995; May 1999.
Rolling Stone, July 9, 1998, p. 83.
Time, March 1, 1999, p. 70.
Atlanta Journal Constitution, http://www.accessatlanta.com/ajc/living/lopes/artist.html (April 26, 2002).
BET Online, http://www.bet.com/articles/1%;2C%2Cc2gb1320-1978-1%2C00.html#boardsAnchor (October 8, 2002).
Dot Music, http://www.dotmusic.com/interviews/October2001/interviews.
Recording Industry Academy of Arts and Sciences, http://www.riaa.com.
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