The church is not only a sanctuary connecting us with our spiritual faith – in the African-American community, it is also a breeding ground for some of our best vocalists and musicians.
There is no other institution that can compete with the number of extraordinary talents that our churches have released into the world.
Whether you began with the basics of singing gospel and spiritual hymns and became a successful hip hop lyricist, the foundation of faith is present in the music.
In 2002, we were introduced to the voice of Tweet that graced our urban contemporary radio airwaves stemming from her church upbringing. Her song, Oops (Oh My), was one of the most played songs of that year, racing up the Billboard R&B/Hip Hop Songs chart to No.1 and peaking on the Billboard 100 at No. 7.
Tweet’s debut album Southern Hummingbird was the singer’s first solo effort, produced by platinum producers Missy Elliott and Timbaland. Although, it was her first major label release as a solo artist, it wasn’t her first introduction to the music business.
Before she adopted her stage name – Tweet, Charlene Keys grew up in Rochester, New York. Raised in a family that was strongly rooted in the church, she and her siblings were encouraged to participate in music and play various musical instruments – Tweet’s instrument was her voice. Inspired by her love for gospel and soul music, Keys attended the Rochester’s School of the Arts.
At age 19, after the birth of her daughter, Tashawna, Tweet was challenged with the opportunity to join a new female group, Sugah, formed by Jodeci founder Devante.
With the blessing of her parents, she packed up and moved to Virginia Beach to work with the group – meeting young artists Ginuwine, Magoo, Playa, Missy and Timbaland. After the group dismantled, the relationship that was formed during that time would eventually lead to her record deal with Elektra Records and the release of Southern Hummingbird.
Tweet’s vocal style was unique – strong but subtle and her lyrics dripped with painful honesty. With the success of Southern Hummingbird, fans wanted more. In 2005, her second album, It’s Me Again was released, much to her fan’s anticipation, but different variables played a role in the album’s shortened success.
Over the course of the next 10 years, Tweet went through roller coaster of musical collaborations. However, she gradually began to post unreleased music from her recording sessions of It’s Me Again and Love, Tweet on Soundcloud. It was an ingenious way of staying in touch with her fans and led the way to her EP Simply Tweet in 2013.
Her third full-length album, self-titled Charlene, just dropped on February 26 on eOne Music Group, spawning the lead singles Won’t Hurt Me and Magic. She says this project is different from previous albums.
Back To Her Roots
“I’m really not focused on trying to be hot or trying to compete with what’s with hot right now,” Tweet said. “I’m just putting out music that I love. I’m giving everybody an opportunity to love it or don’t. My thing is, I’m comfortable with who I am. The difference between Southern Hummingbird and Charlene is that I’ve matured.
“I’m grown and I know what type of artist I am, so I’m not going to sway anymore. I think that I swayed on the second album – it was a great album, but I compromised myself a little bit. Right now, where I am as a woman and as an artist, I’m comfortable with that.”
Like other R&B artists who have found themselves challenged with staying true to their art form, Tweet’s musical roots to the church was important to her in bringing back true soul to her music.
“This project is full of soul,” she says. “It felt like I needed to put stronger soul back into the music. Not that I’m the savior of the music, but I felt like it was missing. The emotions and the musicianship. That’s what I feel like I wanted to bring back into the album.”
Her friend and producer, Charlie Bereal, produced the first song she co-wrote, I Was Created, and it hit home for Tweet, who was at the time questioning her situation in the music business.
“It just touched my heart because it was my testimony,” she says. “I didn’t know if I really wanted to do this music anymore so I stayed away. This song will hopefully inspire people to just walk in their moment with whoever God created them to be. That’s what this song means to me and I want to just inspire the world.”
Don’t worry Tweet fans, although the album is spiritually inspired, it still keeps true to its secular dialogue. This is what makes Charlene genuine Tweet – the purity of the lyrical content.
“The song the “Hardest Thing” is about sometimes in life, we hold onto the things that aren’t good for us. The struggle. I think everything for me just needed to have a little of soul and still have those Tweet lyrics, where you really know what I’ve been through in my life with love, love lost, new love and all of that. That was my focus for this album.”
As Tweet gears up to hit the road to push Charlene, she doesn’t forget the people close to her that really inspired her to not give up her craft.
There was the spiritual guidance of Bishop Thomas Weeks III, her long-time assistant and friend Quinten Bond, Missy Elliott, and close friends and family members.
The one person who has encouraged her relentlessly to stay on course has been her daughter Tashawna, an inspirational singer herself.
“She’s always the one to say, ‘Mom, you can’t give up.’ The times when she would see my face, I could never hide my hurt. When we got the physical copy of Charlene, she started crying and told me she was so proud of me because no matter what came my way I made sure to hang in there.”
Tweet paused to take a breath. “That right there is enough for me. That’s my Grammy, my Soul Train Award and whatever else. Those words from her was it.”