Harmony comes easily to En Vogue


En Vogue

When: April 14, 6 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.

Where: Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, 1212 Cathedral St.

Tickets: Sold out.

Call: 783-8000.

Listening to En Vogue, it's easy to take the title of the group's debut recording literally; these four women really do sound like they were "Born to Sing." Moreover, their voices blend so perfectly that many fans think the quartet has been harmonizing since birth.

"People, when they hear us live, say we sound like we've been singing together for a long time," says En Vogue member Maxine Jones, over the phone from Los Angeles. In truth, though, En Vogue dates only to late 1988, and a vocal audition for a Foster McElroy album.

"I heard that producers Denzil Foster and Thomas McElroy were looking for singers to sing on their album," recalls Jones. "I also heard they were looking to put together a female trio, and, maybe, they would pick some of the singers for this new group. But when I went to the audition, I was under the impression that I was basically going to sing background vocals on their album. So this was like a job, a studio gig.

"At the time, there were five women there. Denny pulled out the song, and each of us tried leads on the song. Then he tried all five of the girls singing backgrounds, and picked out a really good blend of four girls -- one girl singing lead and three in the background.

"And that was the four of us, the En Vogue members."

At the time, none of them knew they were on their way to becoming En Vogue, and the news, a few days later, came as a surprise.

"Especially for me," says Jones. "I had problems before that blending in with other singers in the studio. I sang background for a lot of years, but when it came to studio work, where the sound was finely tuned and you can hear each voice, I had a real problem blending.

"But when I went in with the girls, my voice fit in with theirs-- like we had the same tone qualities or something. It was amazing; Denny tried every possible combination of the four of us, and it seemed to work. Everything we did seemed to work."

That was equally true on record. In fact, En Vogue's "Born to Sing" took off so quickly that the group hardly knew what hit it. "It seemed like when the record hit, we were just thrown out there," says Jones. "It had to come together really fast."

Not only did En Vogue have to put together a stage show, the group also had to accustom itself to the rigors of the road. Jones remembers touring with M. C. Hammer as being particularly exhausting. "We had six-nights-a-week shows, and different cities every night," she says. "It was very stressful."

En Vogue is lucky, though, in that it has been able to please both rap and R&B; fans -- an audience gap few groups can successfully straddle. "Well, En Vogue can fit in anywhere," says Jones. "We have a young audience and an older audience.

"I feel, though, that we're best at what we're doing right now with the Freddie Jackson tour," she adds. "We were OK on the M. C. Hammer tour, but a lot of the kids really want to see the hip-hop thing -- the jumping, the dancing and the fast-paced, high-energy thing. And we could do that, but I think we prefer to really sing."

Still, after more than a year on the road, the members of En Vogue are looking forward to July, when they finally get to take a break before recording their second album. "So much has happened since last year," says Jones. "We've met all the people we aspired to be like, we've been on all big awards shows. . . . And to have three No. 1 hits, it's just amazing."

En Vogue is not about to rest on its laurels, however. If anything, says Jones, the group has barely begun to match its potential. "I personally feel like we could be a lot better," she says. "Because we rehearse and we practice, but we don't practice like we should practice. We don't have the time. So we want to take

some time, and try and make the next album just 10 times better than the last album."

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