To be a Brandy fan is like belonging to an exclusive club. Membership requires what choir directors in black church call a “good ear,” as the details of her raspy but pure voice are incredibly intricate: effortless and precise riffs, and layers in even the stillest of notes. In less than a minute, Brandy Norwood can do more with her voice than many of her peers can do in a full song. Hell, a full album. It’s this gift — because it’s much deeper than a talent — that, in the words of super producer Rodney Jerkins, “revolutionized the sound of R&B” and anointed her The Vocal Bible by loyal fans and fellow artists. So when BET awarded her Soul Train Lady of Soul Award, the honor was long overdue.
Before accepting her award, Brandy performed a medley of hits from her fire-ass catalog. Every note pitch-perfect, every run fluid and effortless. At one point during “Baby,” her eyes welled up as she tried to keep from crying, which she’d later do in her acceptance speech. This 20-plus-year journey has been a long one for Brandy. She successfully navigated into film, TV, and music, had her own Barbie, and landed a CoverGirl campaign in the '90s, representing an often overlooked face of black-girl beauty for girls with melanin-rich skin and braids. She also publicly endured many setbacks (a fake marriage and a fatal car crash) that would affect her picture-perfect image and ultimately her career. Brandy’s lived out her highs and lows before the world, and still selflessly gave us records that would be a soundtrack to our own lives and influence so many other artists, like Ariana Grande, Sam Smith, and Rihanna. This performance and award was so special because too often we wait until the greats are no longer here before we honor them. With Brandy, though, we got it right and gave her her flowers while she’s still around to smell them! —E.G.