The title of White’s hit single, “Superwoman,” seems to describe her life. Karyn White has gone from a back-up vocalist with local bands, to a rhythm and blues/pop singer and song writer of international acclaim, producing albums which went gold and double platinum. To this successful singing, song writing, and touring career add marriage to Terry Lewis, the co-producer of many of her hits, and three children. In addition to balancing her singing career, marriage, and family, White along with husband, Terry Lewis, also finds time to share herself with needy children across the country. White and Lewis frequently visit facilities like the Hale House, in New York City, where people suffering from AIDS and recovering addicts live. She provides support to residents, and has been known to sing lullabies to the tiniest of the residents of Hale House. Not only does White have talent, beauty, and a silken smooth voice, she has a “heart of gold.”
Karyn White was born Karyn Lay Vonne White on October 14, 1965 in Los Angeles, California. Her parents, Clarence and Vivian White, were both musicians. Her father played the trumpet and her mother was the director of and sang in the church choir. In her youth, White also sang in the choir. At the tender age of five years old, White won first place in a talent and beauty contest in Culver City, California for her rendition of “Somewhere over the Rainbow.” In high school White was a cheerleader, but quit the squad because she felt yelling was damaging her voice. When White was 18 years old, she wrote the song “Automatic Passion,” which Stephanie Mills recorded.
White fronted the L. A. band Legacy for a short time, and in 1984 she toured with rhythm and blues singer, O’Bryan. She also did session work with other well known artists including the Commodores, Ray Parker, Jr., Shanice Wilson, Bobby Brown, Sheena Easton, and Julio Iglesias. Two years later, in 1986, she was the featured vocalist for Jeff Lorber’s dance hit single “The Facts of Love.” This exposure proved to be her big break, and it was through her relationship with Lorber that Warner Brothers signed her as a solo recording artist.
White’s self-titled debut album was released in 1988 and sold double platinum. The success of this album was stimulated by the recognition several of her singles received internationally. These included “The Way You Love Me,” “Love Saw It,” and the tune that has become recognized as White’s trademark song, “Superwoman.” Throughout the album, White’s ability to project realism and depth of feeling into the rhythm and blues tunes is apparent. The songs on this album all reverberate with emotional nuances. White shapes the songs to her stylist needs. On the album’s first hit single, “The
Born Karyn Lay Vonne White, October 14, 1965 in Los Angeles, CA; daughter of Clarence (a trumpeter) and Vivian (a choir director) White; married Terry Lewis (a producer); children: Ashley, Chloe, Tre.
Participated in numerous beauty pageants and talent shows as a teenager; sang with band Legacy; toured as backup singer with rhythm and blues vocalist O’Bryan in 1984; sang on Jeff Lorber’s “Facts of Love” (1986); signed with Warner Brothers Records and released debut album, Karyn White, (1988), Ritual of Love, (1991), Make Him Do Right, (1994), and Sweet and Sensual, (1995); featured on the Disney album, Rock-a-Bye Baby, (1996).
Addresses: Record company —Warner Bros. Records, 3300 Warner Blvd., Burbank, CA 91505. Agent—Jeff Frasco, William Morris Agency, 151 El Camino Dr., Beverly Hills, CA 90212. Fan Club— Karyn White Fan Club, 9016 Wilshire Blvd., P.O. Box 321, Beverly Hills, CA 90211. Correspondence —Kings Kid Entertainment, 1800 North Vine St., Suite 300, Hollywood, CA 90028.
Way You Love Me,” she displays her ability to interject “breathy cries, a short string of ‘oh’s,’ even a bit of scat,” according to a review in the New Yorker, around and within the available space created between co-producers L.A. Reid’s and Babyface’s synthesized strings and drums.
White’s hit single, “Superwoman,” begins tenderly and affectionately, and soon turns to remorse. This song has been called “the women’s national anthem.” It’s the grieving of a smart, 1980’s career woman who in addition to managing her professional life, tries to satisfy her spouse. She is unappreciated by her man, and is tired of trying to make him happy. The success that hit single “Superwoman” brought White was repeated in 1991 when three other superwomen of soul, Gladys Knight, Patti LaBelle, and Dionne Warwick re-released the tune on Knight’s Good Woman album. The song ends with the refrain, “Boy, I am only human,” repeating over and over like an incantation.
The only possible disappointment on White’s debut album, is the slightly feigned, “One Wish,” which was described by one reviewer from the New Yorker as “one of those unbearable upbeat peace-all-over-the-world tunes that established stars like to include as finales to show that they’re, you know, really nice guys.” At least this one reviewer felt that on the basis of the rest of the album, this gesturing was unnecessary.
Three years later, in 1991, White’s second album, Ritual of Love, was released by Warner Brothers. Ritual of Love sold gold-plus. The release followed her extended touring throughout the country and across the globe. White co-wrote ten of the songs from this album as well as co-producing some of the tracks with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, and an executive from Warner Brothers, Benny Medina. The majority of tunes were produced by Jam and Lewis, but the album also featured tracks produced by Michael J. Powell, Laney Stewart, Christopher Troy, and Zack Harmon.
The single, “Romantic,” became a number one hit, and very popular rhythm and blues number. Producing Ritual of Love, was also important for White personally because it was during production of this album that she first met her future husband, Terry Lewis. White told an interviewer at Warner online that upon release of her second album, “I was in love and feeling great. I wanted an album that reflected all the facets of a romantic relationship.”
In 1992, after White became Lewis’wife and stepmother to his two children from a previous marriage, she took some time off from performing. White felt it was important to spend time with her new family, and it was during that year that White and Lewis’ daughter, Ashley was born. Also during that period she continued to co-write songs that other artists recorded. These included the rhythm and blues hit single, “Till You Come to Me,” which was recorded on Rachelle Ferrell’s debut album, and the 1993 cut released on Johnny Gill’s second album under the Motown label, “I Know Where I Stand.” White also toured in Japan during the summer of 1993, and sang background vocals for the 1994 release of Gladys Knight’s, Just for You.
While White sang the lamentation of the “Superwoman,” in her music, in her own life she strove to maintain a balance between work and her personal life. She felt it was very important to keep the two separate, particularly since she and husband, Lewis, worked together in producing her third album, Make Him Do Right. White spoke about the essence of her new album with Warner online, “The basis for this album was simple: it was about trusting my ‘gut’ feelings….about doing what was natural.” In the title track, “Make Him Do Right,” White recoils from the themes of the unappreciated woman, as in “Superwoman,” and here demands self-respect for women in relationships. The lyrics encourage women to be alone rather than subject themselves to mistreatment.
The majority of the tunes on Make Him Do Right were produced by husband, Terry Lewis, with his partner Jimmy Jam. White also worked with Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds on two cuts, “Here Comes the Pain,” and “Can I Stay with You.” White feels that this album is different from her previous albums, because she focused more on allowing her own personal style to come through. The ballads on Make Him Do Right, display White’s ability to project clear, articulate, and heartfelt personal expression through her lyrics.
In 1996, White was featured on a collection of lullabies released by Walt Disney Records, called Rock-a-Bye Baby: Soft Hits for Little Rockers. This collection also featured Toni Childs and The Wild Colonials, and was produced by Grammy nominees Michael Becker and Harold J. Kleiner. Disney’s first release in this genre, the company sought to produce something different from the current music available for young children. White performed a heartfelt rendition of the Frank Sinatra hit, “Dream,” and also a calming rendering of the song, “Baby Baby,” by South African Grammy winner, Lebo M., which has also been sung by Amy Grant.
When not performing or recording, one of White’s favorite pastimes is simply to be at home. She also would welcome an opportunity to showcase her dancing or acting skills, and would embrace a chance to perform on Broadway. As she told an interviewer at Ebony magazine, “Performing to a live audience is what really gets me going. To be able to reach so many people at one time.”
Karyn White, (includes “The Way You Love Me,” “Love Saw It,” “Superwoman,” and “One Wish”), Warner Bros., 1988.
Ritual of Love, (includes “Romantic”), Warner Bros., 1991.
Make Him Do Right, (includes “Make Him Do Right,” “Here Comes the Pain,” and “Can I Stay With You”), Warner Bros., 1994.
Sweet and Sensual, Warner Bros., 1995.
(With others) Rock-a-Bye Baby, (includes “Dream,” and “Baby Baby”), Walt Disney Records, 1996.
Romanowski, Patricia; George-Warren, Holly; editors. The New Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock and Roll, Fireside, 1995.
Ebony, September 1989, p. 152-54.
Jet, November 7, 1994, p. 60; January 2, 1995, p. 15.
New Yorker, March 20, 1989, p. 83.
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