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Faith Renée Evans, (born June 10, 1973), is an American singer-songwriter, record producer, occasional actress and author. Born in Florida and raised in New Jersey, Evans relocated to Los Angeles in 1993 for a career in the music business. After working as a backing vocalist for Al B. Sure and Christopher Williams, she became the first female artist to contract with Sean "Puff Daddy" Combs' Bad Boy Entertainment recording company in 1994, for which she collaborated with several label mates such as Mary J. Blige and Carl Thomas and released three platinum-certified studio albums between 1995 and 2001, including Faith (1995), Keep the Faith (1998) and Faithfully (2001).
In 2003, she ended her relationship with the company to contract with Capitol Records. Her first album released on the label, The First Lady (2005) became her highest-charting album at the time, reaching the top of the US Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums charts, while the holiday album A Faithful Christmas, released the same year, would became her last release before the company was bought in 2007. Following a longer hiatus, Evans released her fifth album Something About Faith on the independent label Prolific/E1 Music in 2010.
Other than her recording career, Evans is mostly known as the widow of New York rapper Christopher "The Notorious B.I.G." Wallace, whom she married on August 4, 1994, a few weeks after meeting at a Bad Boy photo shoot. The turbulent marriage resulted in Evans' involvement in the East Coast–West Coast hip hop rivalry, dominating the rap music news at the time, and ended with Wallace's murder in a unsolved drive-by shooting in Los Angeles on March 9, 1997. A 1997 tribute single featuring Puff Daddy and the band 112, named "I'll Be Missing You", won Evans a Grammy Award in 1998. Also an actress and writer, Evans made her screen debut in the 2000 musical drama Turn It Up by Robert Adetuyi. Her autobiography Keep the Faith: A Memoir was released by Grand Central Publishing in 2008 and won a 2009 African American Literary Award for the Best Biography/Memoir category.
1973–1994: Early life and career beginnings
Evans was born on June 10, 1973, in Lakeland, Florida to an African-American mother, Helene Evans, a professional singer. Her father, Richard Swain, who was Caucasian, was a musician who left before Evans was born (Evans has said "I've heard people mumble something about him being Italian, but I don't know for sure"). A half-year later, 19-year-old Helene returned to Newark, New Jersey and left Faith with her cousin Johnnie Mae and husband Orvelt Kennedy, the foster parents of more than 100 children they raised during the time that Faith lived with them. Faith had known Johnnie Mae and Orvelt Kennedy as her grandparents. It was not until a couple of years later that Helene's career floundered and she tried to take Evans back home. Faith, however, was afraid to leave what she'd "been used to," and instead, Helene relocated next door.
Raised in a Christian home, Evans began singing at church at age two. At age 4, she caught the attention of the congregation of the Emmanuel Baptist Church in Newark when she sang The 5th Dimension's song "Let the Sunshine In". While attending University High School in Newark, she sang with several jazz bands and, encouraged by Helene, entered outside pageants, festivals and contests, where her voice would be noticed and praised. After graduating from high school in 1991, Evans attended Fordham University in New York City to study marketing but left a year later to have daughter Chyna with music producer Kiyamma Griffin. In 1993, she relocated to Los Angeles, where she worked as a backup vocalist for singer Al B. Sure, when she was noticed by musician Sean "Puff Daddy" Combs. Impressed with her, Combs contracted her as the company's first female artist to his Bad Boy Entertainment during 1994.
1994–2001: Faith, Keep The Faith, Biggie, motherhood and marriage
Newly contracted to Bad Boy Records, Evans was consulted by executive producer Combs to contribute backing vocals and writing skills to Mary J. Blige's My Life (1994) and Usher's self-titled debut album (1994) prior to starting work on her debut studio album Faith. Released on August 29, 1995 in North America, the album was a main collaboration with Bad Boy's main producers, The Hitmen, including Chucky Thompson and Combs, but it also resulted in recordings with Poke & Tone and Herb Middleton. Faith became a success based on the singles "You Used to Love Me" and "Soon as I Get Home". The album was eventually certified platinum with 1.5 million copies sold, according to RIAA.
A year before, on August 4, 1994, Evans married rapper and label mate Christopher "The Notorious B.I.G." Wallace, after having met him at a Bad Boy photo shoot. The couple had one child together, Christopher Jordan Wallace, born October 29, 1996, but the marriage was turbulent as Wallace reportedly had several affairs during their union, including relationships with fellow rappers Lil' Kim and Charli Baltimore. Additionally, it led to Evans' involvement in the East Coast-West Coast hip hop feud which dominated the rap music news at the time and ended with Wallace's murder in a yet-to-be-solved drive-by shooting in Los Angeles, California in March 1997. During early 1997, after her separation from Wallace, but before his death, Evans' friend Missy Elliott introduced her to record company executive Todd Russaw. Faith began dating Russaw during her and Wallace's separation and after Wallace died, Evans became pregnant by Russaw. The couple had their first son Joshua on June 8, 1998. During the summer of 1998, Evans and Russaw were married, and on March 22, 2007, they had their second son Ryder Evan Russaw.
After Biggie's murder on March 9, 1997, Combs helped Evans produce her tribute song named "I'll Be Missing You", based on the melody of The Police's 1983 single "Every Breath You Take". The song, which featured Combs, Evans, and all-male group 112, became a worldwide number-one success and debuted at number one on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart during 1997, scoring that for eleven weeks. It eventually won Puffy and Evans the 1998 Grammy Award for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group. The next year, she received another two Grammy nominations for "Heartbreak Hotel", a collaboration with singers Whitney Houston and Kelly Price, that scored number two on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. \.
Two years in the making, Evans' second solo effort, Keep the Faith, was released in October 1998. Almost entirely written and produced by her, Evans considered the album difficult to complete as she had initially felt discouraged about the progress at first. Upon its release, however, the album earned generally positive reviews by music critics, with Allmusic noting it "without a doubt a highlight of 1990s soul-pop music". Also enjoying commercial success, it eventually went platinum and produced the top ten singles "Love Like This" and "All Night Long" (released March 30, 1999) prompting Evans to start an 18-city theater tour with Dru Hill and Total the following year.
2001–2007: Faithfully, legal issues, Capitol Records and The First Lady
Evans' third album on the Bad Boy imprint, named Faithfully (2001), involved her working with a wider range of producers, including The Neptunes, Mario Winans, Buckwild, Vada Nobles, Cory Rooney, and others. Her first project with husband Todd Russaw as executive producer and creative partner, the album scored number 14 on the Billboard 200 album chart and number two on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart, eventually being certified platinum, but yielded moderately successful singles, with the Jennifer Lopez-written "I Love You" becoming the only top twenty entry. Released amid Bad Boy Records' transition from distributor Arista Records to Universal, Evans felt Faithfully received minimum assistance by the company, and during 2004, she finally decided to end her business with Bad Boy as she was convinced Combs couldn't improve her career any more due to his other commitments. During January 2004, Evans and Russaw were arrested and charged with possession of marijuana and cocaine and an improper tag violation during a traffic stop in Hapeville, a suburb of Atlanta, Georgia.
After ending with Bad Boy Entertainment Evans contracted with Capitol Records company, becoming the first contemporary R&B artist to do so, and started work on her fourth studio album The First Lady, named after her nickname on her former label. As opposed to having an in-house team of producers who supplied most of the previous material, she and Russaw were able to gain more creative control of the album and consulted producers such as Bryan-Michael Cox, Jermaine Dupri, Mike Caren, Pharrell Williams, and Chucky Thompson to contribute to it. Upon its release in April 2005, The First Lady scored at number two on the Billboard 200 and number one on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart, becoming Evans' best-charting album to date. It was eventually certified gold by the RIAA. At the end of the year, Evans released A Faithful Christmas, a holiday album of traditional Christmas songs and original tracks. The effort would become her last release on Capitol Records as the company was bought during 2007.
2008–2012: Hiatus, arrest, divorce and Something About Faith
Following a hiatus, Evans signed a deal with independent record label E1 Entertainment in 2010. Her fifth studio album Something About Faith was released on October 5, 2010 in the United States, where it debuted and peaked at number fifteen on the Billboard 200 and number one on the Independent Albums chart. Something About Faith has spawned the leading single "Gone Already", which spent over thirty-three weeks on the US Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart, where it peaked at number twenty-two.
In August 2010, Evans was arrested on suspicion of misdemeanor drunken driving, after being stopped at a checkpoint in Marina del Rey, California. In 2011, Evans filed for divorce against Russaw. The couple agreed to spend 13 weeks in a drug-treatment program in exchange for halting any further prosecution of their drug-possession case. In May 2011, Evans and Russaw announced they were getting a divorce, and stated they would like to keep it quiet for the children's sakes.
2012–present: R&B Divas: Atlanta and Incomparable
In 2012, Evans became a cast member of TV One reality show R&B Divas Atlanta alongside Nicci Gilbert, Syleena Johnson, Keke Wyatt and Monifah. Evans also co-executive produces the show. The album R&B Divas Atlanta, led by Evans was released on October 2, 2012. Proceeds from the album will benefit the Whitney E. Houston Academy of Creative & Performing Arts in East Orange, New Jersey.
On August 6, 2013, Evans confirmed she had begun work on her 6th album, tentatively titled Incomparable. Evans also revealed guest appearances for the album are slated to include Missy Elliott, KeKe Wyatt, B.Slade and Karen Clark Sheard of The Clark Sisters.
Having previously appeared in stage plays as a teenager, Evans began acting with a supporting role in director Robert Adetuyi's 2000 music drama Turn It Up, featuring Pras Michel from the The Fugees, Jason Statham and Ja Rule. Released to generally negative reviews from critics, who noted it "patently absurd in both the details and larger aspects", the indie film had a short play and became a financial disappointment, gaining US$1.24 million during its U.S. run only.
During 2003, Evans acted in the MTV-produced romantic comedy The Fighting Temptations in which she appeared in a brief but major role portraying a single mother and night club singer. Filmed in Columbus, Georgia and headed by Cuba Gooding, Jr. (her character is his mother) and Beyoncé Knowles, the film garnered mixed reviews by critics, but scored top three of the U.S. box office, resulting in a domestic gross of US$30.2 million. In addition, Evans recorded a contemporary cover version of Donna Summer's 1978 success "Heaven Knows" for the film which her characters performs during one of the first in sequence in the film. The accompanying soundtrack scored the top twenty of the U.S. Billboard 200.
During 2004, Evans earned a brief guest stint on the UPN situation comedy Half & Half. Evans announced that she had been working on a synopsis for her own situation comedy that would be based largely on her life but with a more comedic aspect. It is unknown whether she has officially pitched the sitcom to any television networks at this time.[when?]
Evans released her autobiographic book called Keep the Faith: A Memoir on August 29, 2008. Written with Aliya S. King, it detailed the singer's life, but also discussed Evans' controversial relationship with her late husband, the Notorious B.I.G.:
"I want people to understand that although he was a large part of my life, my story doesn't actually begin or end with Big's death. My journey has been complicated on many levels. And since I am always linked to Big, there are a lot of misconceptions about who I really am. It's not easy putting your life out there for the masses. But I've decided I'll tell my own story. For Big. For my children. And for myself."
In its initial release, Keep the Faith: A Memoir landed in the Top 20 on New York's Best Seller's List two consecutive weeks in a row. During 2009, the book received The 2009 African American Literary Award for Best Biography/Memoir.
Faith has recently shown support for Little Kids Rock by graciously donating items for auction to raise money in support of music education in public schools.
Evans is noted for her "urban-edged honeyed soprano." Her vocal range extends from the low note of C#3 to high soprano B5. Washington Post writer Craig Seymour called her "angelic yet hearty soprano" as showcasing emotion that is defined by Evans' personal experiences of tragedy, love, pain and heartbreak. Her official website also references "her soaring soprano" vocals when speaking about her second album.