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.
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 fight anyway. She was in his back pocket. He made that very clear. He said it exactly like that: “She is in my back pocket. She is not your girl; there is no group.” It was divide and conquer, and unfortunately, Terry took the bait. That divided the group from the very beginning. But I was blamed, because how can the three of them not be as smart as one person by herself? “Dawn can’t outshine us. She can’t make us look stupid, like we just are willing to deal with pennies.”
EBONY: Will we see any of that En Vogue drama play out on the show? There was a recent lawsuit that made it out there in the news over the group’s name.
DR: First of all, that drama had nothing to do with me. I happened to work with Maxine, but that lawsuit was her. Cindy and Terry sued her. I wasn’t included in that. It’s sad that this had to happen in the first place. We all worked hard for that name, we all built that name together.
A couple of us have left because, like I said, I didn’t want two pennies an album. I’m not going to stay there and be mistreated and abused and watching everybody else make the lion’s share. So by me leaving, they considered themselves the pillar holders of the En Vogue name.
OK, well you can stay in En Vogue all you want. I chose to go out and find out other things about my life. Prayer really helped define who I am as an artist. And going in to do [Lucy Pearl] was also something that put my name out there for another generation who does not know who En Vogue is. I’m grateful for that.
But yeah, we were never drama. I’m ashamed that even had to play out in front of the world the way it did. I think Maxine was ashamed of that as well. But unfortunately, lawsuits do get public knowledge, so that’s why it was out there like that. It wasn’t like the girls did a bunch of press to say, “Hey, we’re suing Maxine” and Maxine saying, “Hey, they’re suing me!” We did one interview and she talked about that, but that was about it. When we’re in the public eye, our lives play out in front of the world.
I will always represent En Vogue in a classy way. That’s why I finally decided to do this show, because I was under the stipulation that there was not going to be any drama. [A producer said], “I want this to be like a Waiting to Exhale situation where all the women are supporting each other and there’s love and there’s drama with your man and whatever, but you guys support each other.” And I thought, OK. If that’s the truth, then I’m going to do the show.
EBONY: And did it stay drama free?
DR: It didn’t always stay that way, unfortunately, but you know… What can I say? I can’t give up too much. I’m just grateful I have my integrity is all I have to say. I was raised a certain way, and that integrity remains with me. It’s something you learn at home. You don’t really give up the structure of how you’re raised. I’m proud to say that I represented my parents very well.