Zeta Phi Beta Inc. is an international and historically Black sorority began by five women at Howard University on Jan. 16, 1920. According to the organization’s website, the founders wanted the organization to be “a movement, a belief system that reflects, at its core, the desire to provide true Service, to embrace Scholarship, to set a standard for Sisterly Love and to define the noble concept of Finer Womanhood.”
The sorority has 850 chapters throughout the U.S., the Caribbean, Europe, Asia and Africa, where it became the first Greek-lettered organization to charter on the continent.
Since its beginnings, Zeta Phi Beta has focused on addressing social issues. In celebration of Founders’ Day, EBONY.com shares the prominent singers who are members of the esteemed group.
Riperton is most known for her 1975 chart-topping hit “Lovin’ You,” which she co-wrote with her husband, Richard Rudolph. The song was produced by Stevie Wonder and features the singer's impressive whistle register, the highest register of the human voice, lying above the modal register and falsetto register.
For her five-octave vocal range, Riperton is regarded as the “Queen of the whistle register.”
The singer-songwriter grew up on Chicago's South Side, where she studied music, drama and dance at the Lincoln Center. As a teen, she joined the local girl group Gem. Riperton later attended Loop College, where she became a member of Zeta Phi Beta before dropping out to pursue a music career.
In the ’60s, she worked as a background singer for legendary acts including Muddy Waters, Etta James and Chuck Berry. From 1967 to 1971, the singer-songwriter was the lead vocalist for the rock-soul group Rotary Connection.
Three years later, she released her debut solo album, Perfect Angel, which went gold.
In January 1976, Riperton was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a mastectomy. She was one of the first celebrities to publicly share her diagnosis, becoming a spokesperson for the American Cancer Society in 1977.
The soprano died on July 12, 1979, at 31, leaving behind two children, music engineer Marc Rudolph and SNL star Maya Rudolph.
Syleena is the daughter of R&B/soul singer Syl Johnson and Brenda Thompson, the first Black female police commissioner of Harvey, Illinois.
From a young age, Syleena wanted to pursue music but her father was not encouraging. In 1997, she met someone from Jive Records at a charity basketball game and got her demo tape to a label executive. She was later signed to the company.
From 2001 to 2004, she released two albums: Chapter 1: Love, Pain & Forgiveness and Chapter 2: The Voice. Syleena was featured on fellow Chicagoan Kanye West’s 2004 single, “All Falls Down,” which was nominated for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration at the 47th Grammy Awards.
Since then, Syleena continued to write and record music. The singer-songwriter appeared on three seasons of TV One’s R&B Divas: Atlanta from 2012 to 2014.
The Grammy-winning singer got her start as a part of the family gospel group the Drinkard Singers, who was managed by her mother. She also sang backing vocals for recording sessions in New York City, which lead to her meeting Burt Bacharach, who hired her to demo songs he wrote with Hal David.
In 1962, Warwick released her first single, “Don’t Make Me Over.” From there, she became a superstar with a list of hits including “I Say a Little Prayer” and “Walk On By.”
By 1998, the singer landed 56 singles on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, making her the second most-charted female vocalist in history.
Traci & Towanda Braxton
Traci and Towanda are two of the five Braxton sisters, who
Toni would later develop a successful solo career with her sisters as her background vocalists in the '90s. In 2011, all five sisters began starring in the WE tv reality series Braxton Family Values. Four years later, they released the album Braxton Family Christmas.
In August 2018, Traci released her second album, On Earth.
Vaughn was a jazz singer regarded as one of the greatest vocalists of the 20th century, according to NPR.
She studied piano beginning at age 7, and by her teenage years was an organist and choir soloist at the Mount Zion Baptist Church in New Jersey.
In 1942, she entered the Wednesday Night Amateur Contest at Harlem’s Apollo Theater and won first prize at age 18. That night, she met singer Billy Eckstine and joined Earl Hines’ band with jazz legends Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker.
Twenty years later, Vaughan won the Grammy for Best Jazz Vocalist for her album, Gershwin Live!
Madame Lillian Evanti
Evanti, born Lillian Evans in Washington, D.C., in 1891, was one of the first African-American women to become a prominent international opera performer. She spoke and sang in five languages.
Evanti graduated from Howard University in 1907. The following year, she married her former music professor, Roy W. Tibbs, and combined her maiden and married names to create her stage moniker.
In 1925, she moved to France to avoid racial discrimination she faced in the states. The lyric soprano later became the first Black person to sing with a major European opera company. She made a name for herself traveling throughout Europe and Latin America.
She periodically returned to the U.S. and gave an exceptional performance for President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his wife, Eleanor, in 1934. Nearly six years later, Evanti began performing at The National Negro Opera Company, the first Black opera company founded by herself and Mary Cardwell.