Tweet sang, played instruments, and wrote songs from the time she was a child, but six years of toiling for a recording contract left her feeling defeated. Frustrated and alone in her parents' home in Florida, Tweet battled a depression so deep that she planned her own suicide. Luckily for her and for music fans worldwide, rap artist and longtime friend Missy Elliott called Tweet and asked her to sing backup on her 2001 album, Miss E … So Addictive. The call saved Tweet's life and gave birth to a solo career that rocketed the artist into Gold record sales.
Born Charlene Keys in 1972 in Rochester, New York, Tweet was the youngest of five siblings. Her parents, Tom and Shirley Keys, raised the children in an atmosphere thick with musical and gospel influences. Tweet first learned to play drums as a child, performing at church services. She picked up the guitar later so that she could develop her own arrangements. Her mother revealed in People magazine that Tweet had written lyrics from a young age, and written them on any available surface, including the walls.
Citing Aretha Franklin as an early influence, Tweet dedicated herself to music, and attended the Rochester School for the Performing Arts. A few years after graduating—and many auditions later—she was invited to join the girl group Sugah. The record company that signed her led the group on for six years; the women were kept in a contractual limbo while promises were broken, and eventually the group disbanded. During that time, Tweet had the good fortune of meeting Elliott, who was also a member of Sugah. The two became confidantes before Elliott dropped out of the group to move on to a successful solo career.
Reeling from the group's breakup, Tweet suffered from a feeling of defeat and depression. She explained her disappointment to Gail Mitchell of Billboard, "I'd put all my life and trust in this group, and nothing happened. I felt like a failure." She had turned to songwriting as a way to help herself. She told Matt Diehl of Rolling Stone, "Instead of going to a psychiatrist, I started writing songs." By 2000 Tweet was living with her parents in Panama City, Florida, but the songwriting wasn't enough for her. But at the height of her despair, she received the fateful call from Elliott asking her to join her group of backup singers.
Between recording sessions, Elliott heard Tweet playing guitar and singing an original song she'd penned, called "Motel." Impressed, Elliott worked to get Tweet her own contract with Atlantic, and in 2002 Tweet's first album was released. Southern Hummingbird was co-produced by Elliott and producer Timbaland, known for his work with R&B and rap stars Elliott, Aaliyah, and Jay-Z. Despite intense competition from another R&B newcomer, Ashanti, Tweet's debut album peaked at number three, riding on the success of its single "Oops (Oh My)."
While Southern Hummingbird included exciting dance-oriented singles, many of the songs focused on more serious issues. The song "Motel" is about confronting a cheating lover. "Smoking Cigarettes" also deals with the emotional fallout from a failed relationship. Soren Baker of the Chicago Tribune wrote that the songs showed "Tweet as someone more concerned with living a happy life than just having a good time." Tweet's musical style combines elements of folk guitar, R&B rhythms, and sample mixing. She explained to Mitchell in a Billboard article, "I want to bring back good, timeless soul music."
After the release of her first album, Tweet worked hard to support it. In the early months of 2002 she went on her first tour ever, opening for British R&B rising star Craig David on his North American dates. Soon afterward she opened for songstress Mary J. Blige for selected dates. She performed at the Soul Train Music Awards as well as at the BET Awards show. Sponsorships from companies like Verizon Wireless and AOL also helped Tweet stay in the public eye. Her other product endorsements included GAP, Citizen Watches, and Candies Foundation.
Supported by Elliott and others, Tweet managed to stay visible and popular. In 2005 she released her second album, It's Me Again. Obviously feeling more positive about her life and circumstances, her second album reflected, as Michael Paoletta described in Billboard, "a more self-satisfied and confident Tweet embarking on a new chapter in her life." She teamed up with Elliott on her first single from the album, "Turn Da Lights Off." Elliott spins and raps while Tweet sings a lilting R&B song about sexual attraction. The video for "Turn Da Lights Off" has Tweet posing for a fashion photographer, an homage to Diana Ross's 1970s film Mahogany, in which Ross starred as a supermodel. Tweet told Elyssa Lee of InStyle, "Diana Ross has been a big influence in my life, and Mahogany is one of my all-time favorite movies."
Coinciding with the new sound on the album is a new look for Tweet. She explained to Mitchell, "I felt the need to change the images being portrayed. You don't have to be naked to be sexy. I want to evoke a classy, timeless style." On the album, Tweet also introduced audiences to her daughter Tashawna in a duet on the song "Two of Us." Another notable song on an album almost entirely penned by Tweet is "Cab Ride." As the only person ever to receive permission to sample the theme song from the television show Taxi, Tweet mixed the tune on this ballad to great effect. She also sang the theme song "When I Need a Man" for the remake of the television drama Kojak, starring Ving Rhames. The new series debuted on the USA Network in the spring of 2005.
Having faced early challenges that nearly brought her to ruin, Tweet has risen with the help of friends to launch an enviable career as an R&B star. She is original, while still acknowledging the influence of classic soul, gospel, and the sounds and stars of Motown. That potent mix, as well as her experience and maturity, seem destined to help the artist as she continues her upward climb to musical stardom.
For the Record …
Born in 1972 in Rochester, NY; daughter of Tom (retired union foreman) and Shirley (missionary minister) Keys; children: (daughter) Tashawna.
Joined group called Sugah, 1994; Sugah disbanded, 2000; sang backup on Missy Elliott's Miss E … So Addictive, 2001; released first album, Southern Hummingbird, 2002; opened for Craig David's North American tour dates, first tour ever, Winter 2002; opened for Mary J. Blige, Spring 2002; performed at 16th Annual Soul Train Music Awards, 2002; lead act along with Cee-lo Green on Seagrams Gin Live Tour, 2004; second album released, It's Me Again, 2005.
Awards: Vibe magazine, Best New Artist of the Year, 2002; Rochester, NY, key to the city, 2002.
Addresses: Record company—Warner Elektra Atlantic Corporation, 79 Madison Ave., Fl. 7, New York, NY, 10016. Website—Tweet Official Website: http://www.tweetmusic.com/.
Southern Hummingbird, Gold Mind/Elektra, 2002.
It's Me Again, Gold Mind/Elektra, 2005.
Billboard, March 3, 2002, p. 73; March 26, 2005, p. 16; April 2, 2005, p. 29
Chicago Tribune, December 15, 2002, p. 9.
InStyle, February 2005, p. 180.
People, August 19, 2002, p. 80.
Rolling Stone, May 9, 2002, p. 30.
tweet / twēt/ (also tweet tweet) • n. the chirp of a small or young bird.• v. [intr.] make a chirping noise: the birds were tweeting in the branches.