En Vogue: The Return Of The Funky Divas
By Tim Parks
In the early 90’s, En Vogue burst onto the music scene with “Hold On,” then came the album, Funky Divas, and En Vogue exploded, setting the bar high with both a sultry prowess, matched by exceptional vocal talents. Armed with a cache of in your face pop tunes, such as “My Lovin’ (You’re Never Gonna Get It), “Giving Him Something He Can Feel.” “Free Your Mind,” “Whatta Man (featuring Salt-N-Pepa),” and “Don’t Let Go (Love),” the quartet set out to live up to their diva moniker.
Although the group went from a quartet to a trio, when original member Dawn Robinson left in 1997 to pursue solo efforts; the remaining members held on, weathering other changes in the lineup and they are continue to strut out onto stage; where you know there will be some ‘heartbreakin,’ ‘some soul shakin,’
I spoke via phone with the group, now a trio consisting of two original members, Terry Ellis, Maxine Jones and Rhona Bennett, who has been with the group since 2003. And, let me tell you this, there are no diva hang ups with these ladies; they were gracious, honest and fun to chat with.
TPMH: How did the group initially form?
Terry Ellis: The group officially formed in 1989, the producers Foster/McElroy brought us all together, and we all showed up on the same day at the audition.
TPMH: What is it like to have a strong gay fan base?
Maxine Jones: It’s awesome, it’s totally awesome. It’s great to have a gay fan base. Also, all of our, the crew that puts us together, is mostly gay. So, we’ve learned so much and we are who we are, I’d would like to say, just as far as, like, our look and part of being on the cutting edge of fashion that we were known for; it’s definitely because of the people who were around us.
And, we’ve had some really awesome, awesome, awesome talented people. Yeah, we learned a lot…
Rhona Bennett: Tuck it in! Tuck it in! (Laughing)
TE: …Everything, walking, make-up, wardrobe, everything that En Vogue was about.
TPMH: When Dawn left the group in 1997-how difficult of a decision was it to continue on as a trio?
MJ: It was very difficult, because we were put together as a foursome, you know, and there was a magic to that particular formula. It felt, I can honestly say for each of us at the very moment we had to make that choice, it was, like ‘Wow, how can we do this?’
The first performance without her was, like, oh we did it. We were able to pull it off after all these years, there’s still a little spot there (gentle laughter), that is definitely missing when she’s not around, if any of us are not there.
TPMH: What does the term ‘funky diva’ mean to each of you?
TE: When we all came up with that name, us and our producers, originally we were, the girls, felt really leery because ‘diva’ had such a negative connotation.
And so, I think each one of us had a moment with that name. And I know for me, I looked it up in the dictionary and when I saw what Webster’s said it meant, which is a lead vocalist in theatre; I thought, ‘well, you know, this particular record, the music is funkier this time around and we all sing lead, and I think it’s appropriate.’
So, I found a way to justify it…it was very hard for us to live up to in the gay community, it being a very high, high thing. So, it’s like, ‘oh my God,’ so we had to deliver!
MJ: We had plenty of help to be ‘divas’ and live up to that word. And just for me the same, like Terry said, we all felt leery about that word, because it means the same thing to everybody. When you say ‘diva,’ you know you think of people like Diahann Carroll, Lena Horne-real divas.
RB: Shoot, can I just say ditto? (laughing)
TPMH: What can audiences expect from seeing you in concert?
TE: Oh lots of high energy, this particular version has a lot of energy…We’re looking forward to it, too. It’s going to be a lot of fun!
TPMH: What’s on the horizon for En Vogue?
MJ: We are looking for music, right now, to possibly do a reunion album with the original members. And also, doing spot dates, of course, with Rhona as well in the future and original members. And, you know, just kind of keeping the energy going, reuniting and reconnecting with our fan base and putting out great music.