Got a question? Dawn Robinson is going to answer it. The former En Vogue/Lucy Pearl singer doesn’t hold back on anything you toss out at her—an entertainment writer’s dream, thank you very much—and she’s got a lot to talk about. (Recently, for example, En Vogue was in the news over a lawsuit regarding the group’s stage name and who exactly is allowed to use it.)
Robinson will answer more questions for everyone soon enough, by way of her new reality TV show, R&B Divas: Los Angeles, premiering on TV One on July 10. She joins a cast of other female singers who soundtracked our lives during the 1990s: Chanté Moore, Kelly Price, Claudette Ortiz, Lil’ Mo and Michel’le.
EBONY.com speaks with Dawn Robinson about the show, En Vogue, and why she had to get all Norma Rae on folks.
EBONY: Why did you want to do reality TV?
Dawn Robinson: Initially I didn’t want to do reality TV. I was afraid of it. I think a lot of artists today are afraid of it, probably for the same reasons. It seems like the playing field was pretty negative. It’s catty, fighting, women fighting each other. It’s a joke; it’s become a parody, as opposed to women supporting each other and being positive. So I really initially didn’t want to.
They approached me last year to do Atlanta R&B Divas and I said two things: “I can’t. I don’t live in Atlanta. I live in L.A. and I represent L.A.” And I was working on a project with Maxine [Jones of En Vogue], so I didn’t want to abandon that project. And then they came back about eight months later and said, “OK, what about R&B Divas: L.A.?” I just prayed about it, talked to my mom like usually. My mother said, “Look, it could be a great way to interact with women and prove that women can work together.”
EBONY: Will we see you working on music throughout the series?
DR: No, not on this particular season. Things were happening too fast and I couldn’t get it together in time. But you know, there’s always another season, another day.
EBONY: I’ve read that you feel like people have misunderstood you over the years. What is something that people have misunderstood about Dawn Robinson over the years?
DR: Well, I’ve been considered a troubled artist, a troublemaker, a problem, a difficult artist over the years. And I have been. I agree! I’ve totally been very difficult because we only made two pennies per album. I think anybody would be postal if they were only making two pennies and everybody else was making millions every album for what their hard work manifested. We’d work and everybody else was rich.
We’re in the public eye, our lives play out in front of the world. [But] I will always represent En Vogue in a classy way.
So there was a problem and I wouldn’t sit down. I just couldn’t take it, watching everybody else making the lion’s share of the money and we did the lion’s share of the work. So I was the one. There’s always one at every job… Norma Rae! I don’t know if you’ve seen the movie?
DR: Right. So I’m the Norma Rae of En Vogue. I stand up like, “How is it that our producer bought this mansion for $20 million?” And he said it was an $8 million foreclosure, trying to justify why he has it. I’m thinking: “$8 million, I would love to have that. I would love to have $800,000!”
EBONY: That’s such a common narrative of a lot of music groups. How did that affect the music that En Vogue put out?
DR: It didn’t affect our music at all. It should have. I didn’t start to get wind of things, and stand up for myself and the group, until after the second album [1992’s Funky Divas]. I’m thinking, “OK, the first album was multiplatinum. This album is bigger than the first. Where’s the money?”
I felt like I became a woman during the time of En Vogue. I’m the youngest one in the group, and they’re like, “Well, Dawn, you’re right, but we can’t fight the record company.” Everybody thinks that the major labels and the corporations are so big, and that they don’t have the pockets to fight these labels. I’m like, “No! We have the power because we have the music.”
Without our voices on those songs they don’t have the revenues that they usually have. Our albums are very powerful if not doing an album considerably changes how much money they make that year. But… not everybody is a fighter. Not everybody has that warrior mentality to do what it takes to make changes happen. And I soon found out that I was very powerful in that sense, and not everybody was with me on that.
A lot of fear went over the group. And Terry [Ellis] was dating the producer at the time, so she wasn’t looking to