5 solo stars who started out as backing singers

As an unsigned artist you want be successful and known for your songs, your band, your music. That’s great, that’s why you’re doing this and here at Spinnup we sincerely wish you the very best. Not least so we can boast to our friends that we knew you before you were famous.

But musical success is a long and winding road and you want to be open to every opportunity to advance that you can possibly find. For example don’t think that you have to be the the featured artist right from the word go. Some of the most successful solo artists we know and love today started off doing backing vocals for other people. It can be an excellent way to build up experience and contacts, so keep in mind it’s something you’re doing on the road to the limelight, not instead of it.

1. Mary J. Blige

Before her first album came out in 1992 on Uptown Records, Ms Blige was a backing vocalist for the label’s roster of R&B singers including Father MC and Jeff Redd who were big shots in what was known as ‘New Jack Swing’. In fact it was Redd who brought the young Mary J Blige to the attention of the label in the first place having worked alongside her father in a car factory.


2. Whitney Houston

With a voice like Whitney’s it’s no surprise that lots of other artists wanted to share some of that vocal power. As a teenager in the 1970s she performed back up duties for soul and R&B artists including Jermaine Jackson, Michael Zager Band, Lou Rawls, Material as well as Chaka Khan’s monster hit single ‘I’m Every Woman’ which Whitney herself later turned into an even bigger hit courtesy of The Bodyguard soundtrack.


3. Luther Vandross

Ok deep breath… David Bowie, Bette Midler, Barbra Streisand, Donna Summer, Carly Simon, Judy Collins, J. Geils Band, Ben E. King, Ringo Starr and Chic all benefited from the silky smooth-as-chocolate voice that belonged to Luther Vandross before anyone outside of the music industry really knew who he was. In fact it was only after he featured as one of the main vocalists on early 1980s studio project/dance act Change that his solo career finally took off.


4. Sheryl Crow

When the 1995 Grammy Award for Best New Artist went to Sheryl Crow for her breakout album ‘Tuesday Night Music Club’ if the artist herself was a new name to many her voice certainly wasn’t. Not only had she sung with the likes of Don Henley, Stevie Wonder and Rod Stewart but had spent the latter part of the 1980s touring the world as Michael Jackson’s backing vocalist including being his duet partner for each night’s performance of ‘I Just Can’t Stop Loving You’.


5. John Legend

Now a very successful American singer-songwriter with no shortage of awards and honours. Before all that he could be heard in the background of hits from artists including Kanye West, Jay-Z, Dilated Peoples and Alicia Keys on her 2003 hit ‘You Don’t Know My Name’. He also let his fingers do the talking, so to speak, when he was brought in to play the piano on Lauryn Hill’s hit from her 1998 album ‘The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill’.

Check our The Music Business – Decoded section for an essential guide to the music business.


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