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Syleena Johnson
Born September 2, 1976 (1976-09-02) (age 33)
Harvey, Illinois, United States
Genres R&B, soul
Occupations Singer-songwriter, CEO, Model, Actress
Years active 2001–present
Labels Jive, Aneelys
Associated acts Syl Johnson, R. Kelly, Busta Rhymes, Kanye West

Syleena Johnson (born September 2, 1976 in Harvey, Illinois) is an American R&B and soul singer-songwriter.



Johnson took to music early, growing up not only with a musical father but also listening to influential artists such as Aretha Franklin, Al Green, Tina Turner, The Dells, and Mavis Staples. She would later apply her taste for soul music as a member of her high school gospel choir.

Johnson attended Thornridge High School in Dolton, Illinois.[1] Her music career was inspired by her music teachers, who are still working there as of June 2007.

Johnson's road to music was hardly easy. Her father, Syl, was not encouraging, as his own lackluster success with his craft led him to think little of the music industry. On top of that, Johnson suffered from vocal nodules and had to go through speech therapy. And when Johnson was fifteen, her parents split up. Despite these setbacks, Johnson's relationship with both her parents and her music remained strong: she contributed as a singer and songwriter on her father's 1994 album Back in the Game. After having nodes removed from her vocal cords, she took two years of speech therapy. She has seven years of vocal training.

That same year, Johnson began attending Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, where she worked in classical and gospel choirs as well as jazz ensembles. Originally a psychology major, success at a talent show convinced her that her strength had always been in music. She switched to a music major and began recording her own songs. In 1996, she transferred to Normal's Illinois State University, and majored in music. In September 1997, Johnson met an assistant scout for Jive Records at a charity basketball game. That contact allowed her to send in a demo tape, which had an immediate impact; days later, she got a callback from a Jive executive with an offer for a deal. "That's a miracle", Johnson later observed. "Demo tapes don't get heard like that." The experience renewed her resolve.


Johnson is the daughter of 1960s R&B Hi Records singer Syl Johnson and Brenda Thompson (America's first black female police commissioner).[2]

In August 2000,[3] Johnson married former Illinois State University college basketball player Marcus Betts. Betts graduated in December 2000 and became her manager for her first two albums.

In July 2006 she became engaged to basketball player Kiwane Garris.[4] Garris, a fellow Chicagoan, is a former player for the Sacramento Kings. On August 1, 2007,[5] after forty-four hours of labor, their son Kiwane Garris Jr was born.

Musical career

Before the Chapters

Before being signed by Jive Records Syleena made a number of assaults on the R&B music scene. In 1995, Syleena released an album with her legendary father Syl Johnson, 'This Time Together By Father And Daughter', featuring songs such as 'Keep On Loving Me' and 'Piece of the Rock'. A rare video of an early song 'It's On' has appeared on video-sharing website YouTube.[6]

Her "official" debut recording 'Love Hangover', was released on January 26, 1999. The album featured Johnson singing classic R&B songs such as 'Love Hangover' by Diana Ross and 'Baby I'm Scared Of You' by Womack & Womack.[7] The album is hard to come by, often being sold at an extortionate price on eBay and Amazon. Both 'Love Hangover' and 'This Time Together By Father And Daughter' were released on the Independent Twinight Records.

Not long after 'Love Hangover', Syleena Johnson would sign a Record Deal with Major Label Jive Records, where she would begin writing the chapters of her life.

Chapter 1: Love, Pain & Forgiveness (2001)

A hiatus from school in 1998 coincided with the collapse of her relationship with an abusive boyfriend. The ordeal gave Johnson the raw material for her debut album Chapter 1: Love, Pain & Forgiveness, which traced a young woman's failed relationship and the healing that followed. Johnson's soulful rasp, reminiscent of old school R&B singers, set the tone for her confessional songs about the pain she endured in a bad relationship with a then-27-year-old man in 1997. Johnson grew from the experience and put it behind her, finding strength in a sense of forgiveness and from the spiritual guidance she says she received from God.[8]

Johnson counted on her own honesty and real-life experiences to produce her compelling music. The young Chicago native confronted her own romantic pitfalls and coming of age story on her debut CD, which featured guest appearances by blues guitarist Buddy Guy and contemporary R&B artist R. Kelly.

Johnson wrote all the songs on her debut CD except her first single, "I Am Your Woman," penned by R. Kelly. Johnson began writing songs for her debut CD at age 20 in 1997 and sent her demo to Wayne Williams, V.P. of Artist Development at the Chicago office of Jive Records. He signed her and paved the way for the release of her debut album in May 2001. The album received much praise, but despite its No. 1 position on Billboard's Heatseekers chart the week of its release, the album was not a commercial success.

Jon Azpiri of All Music Guide gave the album 4.5/5 stating "Songs about breakups are a staple of modern R&B, so it's no surprise that Syleena Johnson has dedicated an entire album to a relationship gone wrong. What is surprising is that Chapter 1: Love, Pain & Forgiveness is good enough to keep the listener's attention throughout... Chapter 1: Love, Pain & Forgiveness is a remarkably polished effort and, as the title suggests, Johnson has only just begun."[9]

Chapter 2: The Voice (2002)

Soon after, Johnson got to work on her follow-up album, Chapter 2: The Voice, which was released November 2002. Once again, the soulstress explored her personal feelings to find a thematic thread for the featured songs. This time, Johnson's shrinking self-esteem -- brought about by the lackluster success of her first album and problems with her weight -- provided the inspiration. Johnson realized that her strength came from her talent and her unwavering religious faith. Hence, The Voice is what keeps Syleena going. As with Chapter 1, Johnson got some high-profile help from Busta Rhymes and his Flipmode Squad, who contributed to "Tonight I'm Gonna Let Go", which got airplay at urban radio stations. The single also proved a success in the United Kingdom where it was a Top 40 hit; her first appearance on the UK Charts - she would later reach the Top 10 with All Falls Down, her collaboration with Kanye West.

The album is considered by many a 'Soul Classic' that fell under the radar. Songs such as 'No Words' and 'Faithful To You' provoked much emotion through the lyrics and Johnson's unique and bluesy voice. Johnson has stated in the past that 'No Words' is one of her personal favorites, referring to it as "the best song I never wrote", referring to its use of adlibbing as verses. The first single 'Guess What', another R.Kelly production, garnered much attention in the US and also received airplay in the UK, France, Germany and South Africa. The track was well received by BBC Radio 1 DJ, Trevor Nelson who has consistently labelled Johnson as one of the best soul singers of the modern day era.

'Chapter 2: The Voice' was recently voted #62 in a list of the best Soul Albums of the 2000s,[10] ahead of fellow soul artists such as Jaguar Wright, Adele, Conya Doss, Ne-Yo and Faith Evans.

The December 2002 issue of Vibe Magazine gave the album 3.5 discs out of 5, quoting "Chapter 2: The Voice" as "...A distinctive sound, sometimes sweet, a little tart, and always strong..."

Mojo, in its February 2003 issue also gave "Chapter 2: The Voice" a glowing review - "...A coherent and engaging R&B album that explores love's vicissitudes with a confessional candour...Classy..."[11]

In Between Chapters

In 2004, Johnson appeared on the MTV Video Music Awards to perform "All Falls Down", her chart hit with Grammy winning rapper Kanye West. Chaka Khan would also appear during the performance. The video to the song earned both West and Johnson four VMA nominations, including "Breakthrough Video" and "Best New Artist in a Video". That same year she also earned a Grammy nomination and appeared on The Late Show with David Letterman. The song also brought Syleena to the attention of the public outside the United States. The song was a top 10 hit worldwide, including the UK.

Chapter 3: The Flesh (2005)

2005 saw the return of Syleena Johnson with her album Chapter 3: The Flesh. The record's first single, "Hypnotic", featured friend/producer R. Kelly and rapper Fabolous. The single was relatively well accepted; the video for the single was played worldwide and was noted as being Syleena at her sexiest. The second single, "Another Relationship", became another radio single and a firm favorite amongst fans and critics. Johnson performed the song live at the Apollo, to a standing ovation. The album included Production from Hitmakers R.Kelly, KayGee, & Terence "Tramp Baby" Abney & the Platinum Brothers.

Chapter 3: The Flesh featured production and appearances from some of the most respected artists in the industry. Kanye West produced the heavenly "Suddenly (Bulls-eye)", which featured fellow Chicagoan Common. Further artists to make appearances on the album included Jermaine Dupri, Twista and Anthony Hamilton.

The album is Johnson's highest peaking album on the Billboard 200 chart, peaking at 75. As with Johnson's previous two chapters, she was again the victim of Label politics. Jive did not promote the album to its full potential, and many would argue they did not capitalize on the success of All Falls Down. Regardless, the album was still a roaring success with fans and critics alike.

Following the album, Johnson scored another Billboard R&B hit with Cam'ron and Kanye West on the track "Down & Out", which peaked in the Top 30. Furthermore she featured on female rapper Shawnna's album 'Block Music', on the track 'In The Chi' and on DMX's album Grand Champ on the track 'Untouchable'.

Contact Music gave Chapter 3: The Flesh a phenomenal 5/5 review, stating "Third album for Jive from probably the most under-rated artist in the world is just what you expect from an artist of this quality... Quite simply for sheer quality this is one of the albums of the year."[12]

I Am Your Woman: The Best of Syleena Johnson (2008)

July 22, 2008 saw the release of 'I Am Your Woman: The Best of Syleena Johnson, via Sony Legacy. Johnson was not aware that a Best Of collection was going to be released, however she addressed her fans on YouTube saying that she was embracing the release as a way for newcomers to her music 'catching up' to her music before the release of her new album "Chapter 4: Labor Pains". The album featured the singles Johnson released through Chapter 1-3, and further includes album tracks such as Chapter 2: The Voice's stunning 'I'm Gon' Cry' and the simply beautiful 'Still Open' from Chapter 3: The Flesh.

The album did not feature any new or unreleased music, the tracklisting shocked many fans as a number of fan favorites were not featured on the collection. It did however feature a commentary of her career thus far and information on Chapters 1-3 by "Dream Hampton".

Colin McGuire of Pop Matters stated "Sure, this is supposed to be just a hold-over release, keeping Johnson’s fans busy until her next effort, rumored to be titled Chapter 4: Labor Pains, due in early 2009. But still, I Am Your Woman: The Best of Sylenna Johnson should be more of a reminder of an excellent career-so-far than a simple compilation of tracks. And yes, maybe some spots are missing (Chapter 2‘s “The Voice/Intro” should have been considered, regardless of it being insultingly labeled as a simple intro), but more than anything, this collection is worth a listen. Because after all, as this release proves beyond a shadow of a doubt, it sure would be a shame if all Johnson was remembered for was a Kanye West hook."

Chapter 4: Labor Pains (2009)

Chapter 4: Labor Pains was released physically on January 13, 2009.[13] The album is Syleena's first on her own record label 'Aneelys Records'. The first single to be released from the album was 'It Is True', produced by fellow Chicagoan 'Toxic', who has previously produced artists such as Keyshia Cole and Monica. Due to lack of radio support the single did not appear on any of the Billboard Charts, however it was extremely well received by fans and critics.

The second single to be released from the album was 'Shoo Fly', which immediately drew comparisons to the Jill Scott classic 'Gettin' In The Way'. The track, as with the debut single, was met with critical acclaim. Neither singles got the video treatment and promotion was minimal, which led to the singles and the album going largely unnoticed.

The album debuted on the Billboard R&B/Hip Hop Album Chart at 42 following the physical release. The album peaked at 11 on the iTunes Top 100 R&B/Soul Album chart.

When asked behind the meaning of the title Chapter 4: Labor Pains Johnson said, "Chapter 4 is Labor Pains. As a punishment to Eve, He gave her labor pain. As a woman, in this world, we go through labor pains everyday. It’s not just about having a baby. It’s hard being a woman in our industry. We are expected to take care of kids and household, take care of our husbands, have a job, be adequate in performance, and just as good as the next man at our jobs. That’s a lot of responsibilities, that’s a lot of pressure, and stress for women. So that’s basically what Chapter 4 is about. The album is also about love, and the good things that came of what I went through."[14]

As 2009 drew nearer, Syleena appeared on a single with KRS One, Twista and Crucial Conflict entitled "Self Destruction". According to Grant Parks and Coalmine Music, artists lent their lyrics for a cause they believe in with the statement "The time is now as we approach the holidays and a new year; it will give us all something to think about and reflect on loved ones that lost there life to senseless violent acts."[15]

In February 2009, Johnson appeared on Maury Povich to perform the song of the same name. The writing of the song was inspired by the fact Johnson would watch the show daily during her pregnancy whilst working out, and a recurring theme within the show was that of paternity. Maury Povich commented that it was one of the greatest honors of his career to have a song written about his show.

In 2009, Johnson became a member of the 'Daughters of Soul', featuring daughters of soul legends. Fellow members include Lalah Hathaway, daughter of Donny Hathaway, Indira Khan, daughter of Chaka Khan and Simone, daughter of Nina Simone. The 'Daughters of Soul' tour mostly in Europe, in countries such as United Kingdom, The Netherlands, Spain and France; however they have also performed further afield in places such as Indonesia.[16]

Steve Jones of USA Today gave Chapter 4: Labor Pains 3.5/4 stating "Despite critical acclaim for her ongoing personal chronicles that began with 2001's Chapter 1: Love, Pain & Forgiveness, the soulful Chicago native never found a mainstream niche. Unfairly, she's best known for Kanye West's All Falls Down. Here, with her gorgeous voice and evocative storytelling, she continues to offer some of the decade's most stirring R&B."[17]

2009 will also see Johnson collaborate with Erick Sermon on a track called 'Serious'. The song is said to sample 'I'm Gon' Cry' from Johnson's 2002 album, Chapter 2: The Voice.

It is thought that Syleena is currently in the studio beginning work on Chapter 5 and it is hoped that Kanye West and Carvin & Ivan will be among the producers on the yet-to-be-titled fifth installment.


Johnson is a member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc.[18]

Johnson was a plus-size model briefly represented by Wilhelmina Models. She appeared in advertising for the New York-based Ashley Stewart (clothing) chain.

Johnson appeared in cabaret show Soul Kittens [19] [20]. Soul Kittens Cabaret is a musical revue written and produced by Brownstone (band) singer Nichole\Nicci Gilbert.

In late 2008, Syleena wrote a song titled Power of Love for South African pop singer Kelly Khumalo. The song was featured in Kelly Khumalo's 2008 EMI release Simply Kelly.



Love Hangover
  • Released: January 26, 1999
  • Chart positions: N/A
  • Singles: "Scared of You", "So Confused",
Chapter 1: Love, Pain & Forgiveness
  • Released: April 17, 2001
  • Chart positions: #101 U.S., #16 U.S. R&B, #1 U.S. Top Heatseekers
  • Singles: "Ain't No Love", "I Am Your Woman", "Hit on Me"
Chapter 2: The Voice
  • Released: September 10, 2002
  • Chart positions: #104 U.S., #19 U.S. R&B, #1 U.S. Top Heatseekers
  • Singles: "Tonight I'm Gonna Let Go", "Guess What", "Faithful to You"
Chapter 3: The Flesh
  • Released: September 13, 2005
  • Chart positions: #75 U.S., #15 U.S. R&B
  • Singles: "Hypnotic" (featuring R. Kelly and Fabolous), "Another Relationship"
I Am Your Woman: The Best of Syleena Johnson
  • Released: July 22, 2008
  • Chart positions: —
  • Singles: —
Chapter 4: Labor Pains
  • Released: January 13, 2009
  • Chart positions: #42 U.S. R&B
  • Singles: "Is It True", "Shoo Fly"


Year Single Chart positions Album
U.S. R&B UK Singles Chart[21 ]
2001 "Ain't No Love" Chapter 1: Love, Pain & Forgiveness
"I Am Your Woman" 43
"Hit on Me"
2002 "Tonight I'm Gonna Let Go" 53 38 Chapter 2: The Voice
"Guess What" 29
2003 "Guess What (Guess Again)" (Remix) (featuring R. Kelly) 75
"Faithful to You" 68
2004 "All Falls Down" (Kanye West featuring Syleena Johnson) 4 10 The College Dropout
2005 "Hypnotic" (featuring R. Kelly and Fabolous) 81 Chapter 3: The Flesh
"Another Relationship" 118
"Down and Out" (Cam'ron featuring Kanye West and Syleena Johnson) 29 Purple Haze
2008 "It Is True" Chapter 4: Labor Pains
"Shoo Fly"

Award nominations

Year Award
2001 Billboard Music Video Award nomination for Best Adult Contemporary New Artist Clip of the Year ("I Am Your Woman").
2004 BET Award nomination for Viewers Choice Award for "All Falls Down" (shared nomination with Kanye West). [1]
2004 Vibe Award nomination for Reelest Video for "All Falls Down" (shared nomination with Kanye West). [2]
2004 MTV Video Music Award nomination for Best Breakthrough Video for "All Falls Down" (shared nomination with Kanye West).
2004 MTV Video Music Award nomination for Best Male Video for "All Falls Down" (shared nomination with Kanye West).
2004 MTV Video Music Award nomination for Best New Artist for "All Falls Down" (shared nomination with Kanye West).
2004 MTV Video Music Award nomination for Best Hip-Hop Video for "All Falls Down" (shared nomination with Kanye West).
2005 Grammy Award nomination for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration for "All Falls Down"
2005 Chicago Music Award win for Best Female Vocalist
2005 Truth Award win for Top Single for "Hypnotic" [3]


External links

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