A Gifted Young Singer, Became a Star, Recorded Hit after Hit, Found Greater Success with Albums
"I always wanted to be a singer," Tamia told the New Pittsburgh Courier. "Ever since I was six years old and I stepped in front of the congregation, I knew that that's what I wanted to be." From her home in the McDougall Street Projects of Windsor, Ontario, Tamia has sung her way from church choirs to amateur contests to the top of the R&B charts. Getting her start as a teenager singing for musical legend Quincy Jones, Tamia has established herself as a formidable musical force on her own. With three albums to her credit, the singer seemed set to carve herself a lasting place in the music industry.
A Gifted Young Singer
Born Tamia Renée Washington on May 9, 1975, in Windsor, Ontario, Canada, she grew up in a poor section of town with her mother and three younger brothers Tajhee, Tiras, and Trajan. Tamia's hometown of Windsor is a small factory town in western Ontario. Its population is also very ethnically diverse. Tamia, who has an African American mother and a white father, told Mic Check that she "had the best of both worlds," and added "that she's related to most of the black people in Windsor…. My family comes in all shades from really light to very dark."
Aside from the music she heard and sang at church, Tamia was exposed to diverse music from an early age by her mother and stepfather, Barbara Washington Peden and Frederic Peden. She enjoys a wide range of music, especially ballads. She told Teen, "I don't care about labels-country music, rock music, it's the way it makes me feel that counts." "Naturally witty, comical, talented … and a bundle of energy," is how Ebony Man described Tamia. Tamia also possesses a great deal of creativity. She told Mark Scheerer of CNN, "I used to staple two paper plates together and put rice in them to make a tambourine…."
It was not long before the gifted young singer began receiving recognition for her talent. John Vacratsis, director of the arts program at Walkerville Collegiate Institute in Windsor, recruited Tamia to the school when she was in eighth grade. Vacratsis had seen her perform in community musicals, such as The Little Shop of Horrors, and was blown away. Tamia made several appearances in local theater and choral concerts before winning Canada's prestigious YTV Vocal Achievement Award in 1993 and the Steve Ross Music Scholarship at the American Academy of Achievement's Annual Salute to Excellence in 1994.
Became a Star
The early presence of music in her life helped to plant the seeds that would sprout into superstardom. Many young people dream of meeting a big music executive, impressing them with a song, then skyrocketing to fame. In Tamia's case, her dream came true when she sang at a birthday party for Luther Vandross in 1994 that was hosted by her manager, Brenda Ritchie. One of the guests, music legend Quincy Jones, took note of Tamia and was moved by the passion in Tamia's voice when he saw her perform.
Jones contacted Ritchie, and offered Tamia the opportunity of a lifetime. "Quincy had a song on his album that he had tried six or seven singers for, and they couldn't do it." Ritchie told The Record, "He asked Tamia and she did it." Jones also invited Tamia to Los Angeles to appear on his album, Q's Jook Joint. Tamia remarked in Essence, "Can you imagine being 18 years old in the vocal booth with Quincy Jones waiting for you to sing his song? What an experience!" "I had so much fun," Tamia told the New York Beacon. "Quincy made me feel comfortable the whole time. He made me feel that he was excited to work with me as I was to work with him." Her work on the album was the spark that ignited her career.
Recorded Hit after Hit
Tamia won a Grammy nomination for "You Put A Move On My Heart" in the Best Female R&B Vocal Performance category in 1996. The song was the first single on Quincy Jones' album, Q's Jook Joint. "You Put A Move On My Heart" established Tamia as a major new recording star. Songwriter extraordinaire, Babyface, then asked her to perform a duet with him, which would also be featured on Jones' album. Babyface chose Tamia to share the spotlight with him on Jook's second single, the romantic duet "Slow Jams," which earned them a Grammy nomination for Best R&B Performance by a Duo. Tamia also collaborated with Chaka Khan, Gladys Knight, and Brandy on the song "Missing You" for the Set It Off soundtrack. "Missing You" was later nominated for a Grammy. All of these hits were released before her debut album, Tamia, hit the stores in 1998.
Tamia has worked with some of the music industry's greatest artists, including Quincy Jones, Chaka Khan, Gladys Knight, Babyface, Brandy, R Kelly, Eric Benet, Daryl Simmons, Mario Winans, and many others. She is treated as a peer by other recording stars. "I've fallen victim to seeing people on TV and thinking that's how their personalities are. I think you just kind of put them on a higher level, and when you meet them, you realize they're just like you … It's all still kind of weird to me to have people acknowledge me as a peer," Tamia stated in Ebony Man.
Tamia is grateful to those who have helped her to stardom, including Quincy Jones. She told Ebony Man, "he [Jones] introduced me to the world … I felt very honored to have him take time out of his busy schedule. He's one of the most humble people you'll ever meet, and he has everything going for him." Tamia has had her share of doubters and critics, but has been able to impress the right people at the right time. Being nominated for three Grammy awards before the release of her debut album has increased the pressure on Tamia. As she remarked to The Atlanta Journal and Constitution, "That's when having Quincy Jones introduce you to the music world is not such a great thing … because people tend to listen to you harder—and judge harder. Man, the expectations!"
Working with the likes of Quincy Jones and numerous other music legends has taught Tamia that making an album is not all fun and games. As she told Ebony Man, "I thought that you just got up on the microphone and sang. There's a lot that goes into getting that person onstage, contract negotiations, and then there's the technical work." She added in Essence, "It got to the point where I just stopped telling people when my album was coming out. I'd record a lot of songs, write a few, then throw them all away and start again! Finally I had to let go and let God in on the process."
Found Greater Success with Albums
Tamia's debut album was very successful. It featured several hits, including "So Into You" and "Imagination," which was produced by Jermaine Dupri. Tamia told Ebony Man, "I really believe that it's not about your voice. It's the anointing that God puts on your voice that separates you." Her manager, Brenda Ritchie, recalled in The Record that when she first heard Tamia sing "she had the voice of an angel…. Immediately, you just know upon listening to her that she is going places."
Tamia's career took off. In addition to her career as a recording artist, she appeared as a model in Tommy Hilfiger ads and made her acting debut in the 1997 film Speed II: Cruise Control. Following the release of her debut album, Tamia signed a recording contract with Elektra Records.
In 2000, Tamia released her second album, A Nu Day. The tracks included a number of songs Tamia co-wrote with her producers. The New York Beacon heralded it as a "storybook," adding that "the songs have all of the makings of becoming R&B classics." Among the album's critically acclaimed songs, "A Stranger in My House," stood out as a crossover hit, mixing Tamia's rhythm and blues sounds with pop music. Ebony called the song "the pinnacle of the recording." For her work on this second album Billboard labeled Tamia "truly one of tomorrow's divas."
Maintained Stable Personal Life
As Tamia's star rose, she remained a spiritually grounded person, which has helped her to handle her phenomenal success. "She hasn't changed a bit," Vacratsis told the Detroit Free Press. He added, "she was always kind of a little devilish; always smiling, full of energy … and other than the fact that she drives a much bigger car now, it's like talking to the same old Tamia." She handles her success by keeping things in perspective. As Tamia told Essence, "Los Angeles is like Disneyland. When I go home to Windsor, my mom is like, 'Clean your room, and don't forget to do the dirty dishes!'"
One aspect of Tamia's life has been a stable relationship with basketball superstar Grant Hill. On July 24, 1999, after a three-year courtship, Tamia a tune recorded by Celine Dion. Tamia first met her future When asked about her marriage, Tamia remarked to Deborah Gregory in Essence, "I'm not one for flowers and stuff, but I love staying in bed all day with Grant, relaxing, and watching movies together. That's what I find romantic." The couple had their first child, daughter Myla, in 2002.
Dealt with Life's Blows
While working on her third album in the early 2000s, Tamia noticed that her body did not have the energy it once did. Her legs felt numb and she tired easily. She slowed down her work schedule to figure out what was wrong. A number of visits to the doctor and tests revealed that she suffered from multiple sclerosis, a disabling disease of the brain and central nervous system. She described the shock of the onset of MS for her in an interview with Extra "I mean literally, I went from being physically active to not being able to get out of bed," Tamia recalled. "I cried for maybe 20 or 25 minutes." Her husband offered her a great deal of support and Tamia learned to manage the disease with medication, diet, and exercise.
Diagnosed in 2003, Tamia kept the news private for two years, taking the necessary time to let the reality of the news sink in. "Initially, I thought I was not going to tell anyone because I didn't know exactly what it was," Tamia told Jet. "I didn't want anybody to take it as my being weak or anything. I just didn't want to tell anyone because I didn't have a lot of information on it." In 2005 Tamia and Hill began speaking out about MS in order to educate people about it. ""I just felt it was important to get it out there and let people know it's not a sign of weakness," Tamia explained to Extra. "You have good days and bad days."
Unwilling to let her health derail her plans for living a good life, Tamia learned to manage her health and focused on all the good things in her life: her husband, daughter, and her music. "Adversity builds character," she noted in Jet. Tamia resumed her musical career, releasing her third album, More, in 2004 and joining in on the soundtrack for Tyler Perry's hit Diary of a Mad Black Woman in 2005.
"You Put A Move On My Heart," on Q's Jook Joint, 1995 (With Babyface) "Slow Jams," on Q's Jook Joint, 1995.
(With Chaka Khan, Gladys Knight and Brandy) "Missing You," for Set It Off soundtrack, 1996.
(With Eric Benet) "Spend My Life With You," A Day In The Life, 1999.
(With Fabolous) "Into You," 2004.
Tamia, Atlantic, 1998.
A Nu Day, Elektra, 2000.
More, Elektra, 2004.
Atlanta Journal and Constitution, April 16, 1998.
Billboard, October 21, 2000, p. 25.
Detroit Free Press, July 23, 1999.
Ebony, October 1998, p. 50.
Ebony Man, June 1996, p. 30; November 2000, p. 34; October 2003.
Essence, March 1998, p. 60; February 2000, p. 60.
Jet, September 6, 1999, p. 60; January 15, 2005, p. 14.
Mic Check, April 1998, p. 24.
New Pittsburgh Courier, April 15, 1998, p. B4.
New York Beacon, June 25, 1997, p. 34; October 18, 2000, p. 23.
The Record, May 11, 1998, p. 9.
Seventeen, December 1996, p. 127.
Teen, November 1998, p. 53.
"Tamia and Grant Hill Fight MS," Extra, http://extratv.warnerbros.com/v2/news/0505/27/3/text.html (accessed January 6, 2006).
Tamia Online, www.tamiaonline.com (accessed January 6, 2006).
Additional information for this profile was obtained from a CNN interview with Mark Scheerer on August 7, 1998, and Lycos Music: RollingStone.com, January 2000.