Youthful R&B vocalist Ciara (pronounced "Sierra") became an icon on the pop music scene in the summer of 2004. Her single "Goodies" spent seven weeks at No. 1 on pop charts, and its unsyncopated but subtly layered beats pounded out of sport-utility vehicles all over North America. A striking beauty with long hair and strong dance moves, Ciara quickly dispelled any idea that she was just a one-hit wonder. Her album Goodies, with lyrics that she mostly wrote herself, matched the success of its title track and spawned two more major hits. In 2005 Ciara went on tour with some of the biggest names in urban music, and she seemed a strong candidate to inherit the dance-pop niche long inhabited by Janet Jackson and Beyoncé Knowles.
Born on October 25, 1985, in Austin, Texas, Ciara Princess Harris grew up in a military family. Her father was in the United States Army, her mother in the Air Force, and their posting took her to New York, California, the desert southwest, and even Germany before the family settled in the Atlanta area. The "Dirty South" hip-hop music scene was taking shape in Atlanta when Ciara was young, but the tall and slender girl thought first of becoming a model. Attending North Clayton High School in Atlanta's southern suburbs, she was a member of the track team, competing in relays, the long jump, and the triple jump. She then moved to Riverdale High School and became the leader of the cheerleading squad. That decision paid dividends, Ciara told People: "I learned how to not get nervous in front of big crowds."
Wrote Out Goals
By the end of high school, Ciara had already decided what she wanted to do with her life. When she was a freshman in high school, she saw Knowles's group Destiny's Child performing live on ABC television's Good Morning America program. "It was this weird feeling: I want to do this. I'm going to do this," she told Nancy Miller of Entertainment Weekly. Where other young people might have stared at the television and dreamed, Ciara took action. She began writing songs, and she found a manager who landed her a gig writing songs at the up-and-coming Red Zone Entertainment studio. For a short time, after winning a contest, she performed with an all-girl group called Hearsay, but she soon went her own way. She wrote songs for the Washington, D.C.-born vocalist Mya, who was not much older than herself, and she kept aiming toward the goal of hearing her own music on the radio. Ciara wrote out her goals on a piece of paper at one point. "I wasn't into gossip or who was wearing what," she told Malcolm Venable of Interview. "I was like, 'I don't know about y'all, but I'm about to do something good with myself.'"
Her prediction came true when she met Atlanta producer Jazze Pha, whom she called her musical soul mate. In 2002 Ciara was signed to Jazze Pha's Sho' Nuff label, and that in turn provided the young singer with an entry point into the corridors of Atlanta's phenomenally successful urban hit-making machine. The producer felt that she filled a niche, telling Miller that "what was really lacking is the Janet Jackson, high-energy dance [music]. Ciara fills that void. She's pretty, she can dance, she can write music, and kids love her. Everyone loves her." Jazze Pha gave Ciara's demo recording to Arista Records head L.A. Reid, who in turn passed it on to Lil' Jon, the hot producer of the moment and a key figure in bringing the down-and-dirty hip-hop subgenre known as crunk to national popularity.
That was the key moment in propelling Ciara to national fame, for Lil' Jon in 2004 was the producer of the moment, giving crunk's heavy bass beats a lighter sheen that put them in dance clubs beyond those that favored the "Dirty South" sound. When Ciara's "Goodies" single was released in the summer of 2004, wrote Jason Birchmeier of the All Music Guide, "all it took was one listen to place the tune" for most urban listeners, "even if the singer was unknown—it's not a Ciara tune, it's a Lil' Jon one. You know, Lil' Jon, that red-hot producer with the simple yet infectiously booming bass beats and the clubby (even strip-clubby, dare say) singles that are more hook than song."
Wrote Lyrics to "Goodies"
Yet Ciara was much more than just a pretty face slotted into a producer's vision. The beat of "Goodies" was Lil' Jon's, but the lyrics, as with most of her songs, were her own. She was reluctant at first to work with the rhythm track the producer gave her, and in fact she disliked crunk music in the beginning. But that stimulated her to devise something that went slightly against the grain: in a hip-hop scene dominated by a confluence of sexuality and materialism, Ciara asserted in her lyrics that a fancy car and jewelry didn't mean an automatic gift of sexual favors. "It's something we [women] go through all the time," she told Steve Jones of USA Today. "You're at the mall and a guy pulls up in a Benz on 22s [22-inch wheel rims] and he's got the bling-bling chain and the blinged-out watch, and that makes it easy for you to leave with him. Actually, it's not." "If you're lookin' for the goodies, keep on lookin', 'cause they stay in the jar," Ciara sang, in contrast to the sexual promiscuity of which other female stars boasted. The song had a musically minimal feel, with repeated notes and even rhythms that complemented its chaste message. Touring on the Teen People Rock 'n' Shop Mall tour, Ciara quickly found legions of fans of both genders. "Goodies" shot to No. 1 on Billboard's Hot 100 ranking and stayed there. The release of the Goodies album was threatened due to problems at her label, LaFace, but executives sensed something big in the making and kept it on the front burner.
Inspired by Songwriters
In the fast-moving genre terminology of urban music, Lil' Jon needed a new label to help Ciara stand out from the crowd, and he dubbed her the Queen of Crunk R&B. The label pointed to the smoothed-out dialect of crunk, more sung than rapped, in which Ciara specialized, but she pointed out to Kevin C. Johnson of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that "the title 'queen' is something that has to be earned. How can you be the queen or princess of something like that? That comes with time. You have to prove it." Having crossed the first hurdle to stardom, Ciara didn't lose her ambitious edge; she listened to the music of durable figures like Janet Jackson in search of clues to their longevity. "I've always admired people who write their songs," she told Ebony. "I'm a big fan of Michael Jackson and Sam Cooke, and because I love their music so much it makes me want to do the research. I want to learn as much as I can about music."
At a Glance …
Born Ciara Princess Harris on October 25, 1985, in Austin, TX; both parents were members of the U.S. military. Education: Attended North Clayton and Riverdale high schools in suburban Atlanta.
Career: Wrote songs at Red Zone Entertainment studio, Atlanta, while in mid-teens; brief membership in all-girl group Hearsay; signed to LaFace label, 2004.
Awards: Entertainment Weekly magazine, named to Best New Emerging Talent list, 2005.
Addresses: Label—LaFace Records, 3350 Peachtree Rd., Suite 1500, Atlanta, GA 30326. Web—www.ciaraworld.com.
She was off to a good start. Two more singles from the Goodies album, the dance-ready "1, 2 Step" (with an assist from established hip-hop star Missy Elliott) and the more sensual "Oh" (featuring Ludacris), emerged as big hits later in 2004; "Oh" was another No. 1 single, and the Goodies album topped out at Number Three. The high-powered guest artists testified to industry expectations that Ciara was an emerging star, as did her appearance on a hip-hop tour in 2005 featuring superstar 50 Cent. Ciara beat back a bizarre Internet rumor that she was a transsexual or hermaphrodite; her detractors had her confused with another Ciara. She was romantically linked with the youthful rapper Bow Wow that year, and she was still stretching to find the limits of her musical creativity and ambition. "I've always been like 'Go get it,'" she told Miller. "If there was a pair of shoes I wanted, I was gonna get 'em. Some way, somehow." She made Entertainment Weekly's list of the best new talent of 2005, yet another indication that the best was yet to come.
Goodies, LaFace, 2004.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution, September 9, 2004, p. P9.
Daily News (Los Angeles), May 13, 2005, p. U21.
Ebony, June 2005, p. 28.
Entertainment Weekly, July 22, 2005, p. 38; December 30, 2005, p. 94.
Interview, May 2004, p. 52; July 2005, p. 74.
People, October 18, 2004, p. 132.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 25, 2005, p. 5.
"Ciara," All Music, www.allmusic.com (December 31, 2005).
"In the Bag with 'Goodies' Mix," USA Today, www.usatoday.com/life/music/news/2004-07-26-ciaraverge_x.htm (December 31, 2005).
With a publishing deal at age 15 and a major-label record contract at 17, R&B/pop singer Ciara reached one of her greatest goals with the release of her multi-platinum solo debut album Goodies in 2004. From an early age, Ciara knew she wanted to write songs and become a pop star, act in movies, and sell millions of albums. With two hit records under her belt, Ciara's hard work and youthful exuberance have set her up for what the young singer hopes will be a long career. Often dubbed the First Lady of Crunk, or the Princess of Crunk & B, by the time she was 21, Ciara had worked with some of the best producers and songwriters in the hip-hop/R&B genre and had co-written and co-produced two records and won a Grammy Award.
Born Ciara Princess Harris in Austin, Texas, Ciara was a self-described army brat, spending much of her early childhood moving from one town to another. Ciara's father, Carleson Harris, served in the U.S. Air Force, and after living in Arizona, California, Nevada, New York, and Germany, Ciara and her parents eventually settled in Athens, Georgia. A star of the Riverdale High cheerleading squad, by the time she was 14 Ciara knew she wanted to pursue a career in music. Ciara soon auditioned for the singing group Hearsay, but shortly after joining, due to musical differences, the group split. That was fine for Ciara, who had her sights set on a solo career. Singing wasn't Ciara's only talent, and she quickly proved to be a talented songwriter, signing a publishing deal before she could legally drive. Ciara began to write her own songs, selling some to R&B/pop singer Mya and Blu Cantrell. Ciara's talents as well as her good looks caught the attention of hip-hop producer Jazze Pha, who took Ciara under his wing and assisted in her eventual recording contract with LaFace Records in 2003.
"I've always admired people who write their songs," Ciara told Ebony. "I'm a big fan of Michael Jackson and Sam Cooke, and because I love their music so much it makes me want to do the research. I want to learn as much as I can about music. I admire artists who have longevity. That's my ultimate goal. To be like Janet [Jackson], Patti [LaBelle] and Missy [Elliott]." As Ciara began work on her R&B/pop debut solo album for LaFace, southern hip-hop and its crunk style of music (especially in Atlanta) were at their peak of popularity. Up until producer and rap star Lil Jon teamed up with Ciara to produce the track "Goodies" (a track Ciara co-wrote with Sean Garrett), southern-style hip-hop was a male-dominated scene. With Ciara's smooth pop-minded R&B vocals and the heavy crunk beats produced by Lil Jon, "Goodies," became an instant hit in the summer of 2004. Critics and fans began to call the track a crunk-&-b hit; a song that was equal parts R&B and hip-hop crunk. "When I define crunk music I define it as the heavy metal of hip-hop," Ciara told Designer Magazine. "It's high energy music. … So when you add R&B to it you make this high energy crunk & b." The sexy singer also began to earn the nicknames of Princess of Crunk & B, or the First Lady of Crunk & B; titles she appreciated but didn't always agree with. As Ciara told Ebony, she felt that "Goodies" was really the album's only definite "Crunk-&-B" song. "I think it's cool that I'm setting a trend," she said. "But there is more to Ciara than just Crunk-&-B."
In September Ciara released her debut full-length album, Goodies. Unlike most young R&B/pop singers at the time, Ciara had a hand in co-writing a majority of the album's songs. The album included the hot title track as well as other hit singles "1, 2 Step," featuring Missy Elliott, and "Oh," featuring Ludacris. "The album is an ample mix of beat-heavy party jams, midtempo grooves and heatseeking ballads," wrote Billboard's Gail Mitchell. Goodies mingled 1980s style R&B with the electro-pulses of the most contemporary hip-hop and sold over 2.6 million copies in the United States alone.
Ciara spent the remainder of 2004 and much of 2005 making television appearances and touring the country to promote her debut. While the singer is known for keeping her personal life as private as possible, after singing on rapper Bow Wow's amorous duet "Like You," the press had a field day once they could finally prove that the stars were also a real life couple. In October of 2005 Ciara and then-boyfriend Bow Wow appeared on the cover of Vibe for a story titled "Lovers and Friends: Bow Wow & Ciara." The star closed out the year with a string of U.S. dates with pop superstar Gwen Stefani. And in addition to the Bow Wow hit, Ciara became a sought-after singer by other artists. She appeared on hit singles for Missy Elliott's "Lose Control" and Field Mob's "So What." In February of 2006 Ciara was nominated for several Grammy Awards, including Best New Artist; she took home a shared Best Short Form Music Video award for Elliott's "Lose Control."
Once Ciara was a star, it seemed obvious that she would contribute her talents to other areas of the entertainment world. With a starring role in a made-for-MTV volleyball movie All You've Got, Ciara began to make her mark a star to be noticed. In October of 2006, Ciara turned 21, and her new single, "Promise," hit the radio and music television charts. The sensual ballad may not have been an expected first single, but as All Music Guide's Andy Kellman wrote, "The song is tremendous, one of the sexiest, slow-tempo, non-breakup songs of the past ten years." In December LaFace released Ciara's sophomore album, Ciara: The Evolution. The new record debuted at number one on the Billboard 200.
Once again, a number of top producers, songwriters, and vocalists were on board for Ciara's new record, including Lil Jon, Pharrel Williams, and Dallas Austin. For her second effort, Ciara co-wrote and co-produced the entire album. "There was a certain way a record used to groove back in the day. I wanted to go back to what I really loved growing up," she told Billboard's Clover Hope about her latest collection of songs. "With my last album, I was going with the flow, but here I was able to start from scratch. It started with me just having a clear vision of where I wanted to go." Ciara the songwriter consciously put more of herself into her lyrics, and opened up to her fans more than she ever had before. "Ciara's singing is nimble throughout: She whispers, coos, wails and reels off speedy syncopations worthy of Beyonceé herself," wrote Entertainment Weekly's Jody Rosen. "It's definitely a transformation form the first album to this one," Ciara told MTV.com about The Evolution. "I've been learning a lot throughout this whole recording process. And I'm thankful just to be in my second album. But it's all about where I'm going next."
Goodies, LaFace, 2004.
(Contributor) Step Up (soundtrack), Jive, 2006.
Ciara: The Evolution, LaFace, 2006.
For the Record …
Born Ciara Princess Harris on October 25, 1985, in Austin, TX; daughter of Carleson (served in the Air Force) and Jackie Harris.
Member of girl group Hearsay; signed first publishing deal at age 15; signed with LaFace/Zomba Records, 2003; released solo debut, Goodies, 2004; acted in the film All You've Got, 2006; released Ciara: The Evolution, 2006.
Awards: Grammy Award, Best Short Form Music Video, for Missy Elliott's "Lose Control," 2006.
Addresses: Record company—LaFace Records/Zomba, One Capital City Plaza, 3350 Peachtree Rd., Ste. 1500, Atlanta, GA 30326, website: http://www.laface.com. Website—Ciara Official Website: http://www.ciaraworld.com.
Billboard, October 2, 2004; November 18, 2006.
Ebony, June 2005.
Entertainment Weekly, December 8, 2006.
People, October, 18, 2004.
"Ciara," All Music Guide,http://www.allmusic.com (February 1, 2007).
"Ciara," Designer Magazine,http://designermagazine.tripod.com/CiaraINT1.html (February 1, 2007).
Ciara Official Website, http://www.ciaraworld.com (February 1, 2007).
"Ciara Talks Single Life, Dreams of Acting Like A Boy On Evolution," MTV.com, http://www.mtv.com/news/articles/1541563/20060922/ciara.jhtml (February 1, 2007).