Her name might conjure a certain plucky cartoon character, but not long ago R&B singer Tweet felt like a caged bird. Frustrated after six years of working with a failed singing group and having recently split from her boyfriend of eight years, “enough was enough,” she says. “That’s when I started contemplating suicide. I was really, really in pain. That was the heaviest I’ve ever felt.”
That was then, in late 1999. Now Tweet—a 31-year-old whose real name is Charlene Keys—is feeling better and has a gold debut album, Southern Hummingbird, and a No.1 R&B hit, “Oops (Oh My).” Tweet thanks rapper-producer Missy Elliott, a pal she first met in 1994, for dispelling the gloom. After enlisting Tweet to sing backup on last year’s Miss E…So Addictive, Elliott offered her a recording contract. “As soon as I heard her,” Elliott says, “I was like, ‘Wow.’ ”
The youngest of five children born to Tom, 63, a retired union foreman, and Shirley, 58, a missionary minister, Tweet can’t recall how she got her nickname growing up in Rochester, N.Y., where her gospel-singing parents introduced her to music. As a kid, “she used to write lyrics all over the wall,” says Shirley.
After attending a performing arts school in Rochester, Tweet married her high school sweetheart; they divorced within three years. Their child Tashawna, 12, “wants to be a singer,” says Tweet, who lives in Atlanta and isn’t dating at the moment, “but I don’t know if she’s ready.” Don’t tell Tashawna that: As Tweet notes, “She’s wearing all my clothes and shoes.”