Talk about Hold On!
It’s been nearly 30 years since En Vogue first formed as an R&B girl group, taking the ’90s music scene by storm with hits like “My Lovin’ (Never Gonna Get It).” In those days original members Cindy Herron-Braggs, Terry Ellis, Maxine Jones and Dawn Robinson earned comparisons to the Supremes and helped inspire groups like Destiny’s Child.
Now music’s Funky Divas are back with their first studio album in 14 years, Electric Café, out April 6, and a lot has changed, including the members.
In this week’s issue of PEOPLE and on People Now (watch above), Herron-Braggs, 56, Ellis, 54, and newest member Rhona Bennett, 41, talk about their hit new music, the split that almost tore the band apart and how sisterhood has carried them through decades of struggles.
“I can’t believe how fast the time has flown. If you would have told me, ‘In 27 years you’re still going to be performing with En Vogue,’ I would have been like, ‘Shut up, no.’,” says Herron-Braggs of the band’s longevity. “Nobody lasts long.”
In their case, En Vogue recently made it to the Top 10 on the Billboard airplay charts with their sexy new single “Rocket” written by Ne-Yo. Says Ellis, “It feels like a big achievement, you know? We’re so grateful and honored to have lasted this long.”
For more on En Vogue ups and downs and major comeback, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.
En Vogue formed in 1988 when a group of Oakland producers held auditions to create a girl super group. Back then, Herron-Braggs, Ellis and former original members Jones and Robinson, beat out thousands of hopefuls for a coveted spot.
“I came from Texas right out of college and moved to the Bay Area to be a part of the group, so it was really exciting for me. I was like, ‘Wow, I’m following my life’s dream’,” recalls Ellis. “The girls were great, the music was amazing, and the producers were awesome and respectful of women.”
Herron-Braggs, a San Francisco native, looks back on their early days in Oakland fondly. “I was pretty surprised when I found out that I was accepted to be a member. Max and Dawn and Terry became roommates. Max was braiding hair; Terry was working at a bank. It was cool being at the house, walking around barefoot, pulling braid hair from out of your toes,” she says. “And there was always music blasting.”
Adds Ellis, “It was like a college dorm. I remember hearing “Hold On” on the radio. I lost it. We were just screaming and hollering.”
Around that same time, Bennett was equally excited about the band, but from afar. “I was a fan of the group before joining,” says Bennett. “[I remember] “Hold On.” Especially for the black community, that was our anthem.”
A number of hits followed, but an infamous rift that caused Robinson to depart in 1997 and Jones to follow suit in 2001, left the group forever changed. The two later claimed they exited En Vogue over bad contracts and payment issues.
“You know, I thought we had good deals. I thought we had fair deals,” says Herron-Braggs. “We made a good living. I had no problem with that.”
Says Ellis, “That was never an issue for me. I think the misconception comes when artists say, ‘Oh, you’re going to be in the band; they’re going to take care of you.’ I wasn’t expecting anyone to take care of me. We negotiated our deal, made a great living and had huge success. Now what happens with individuals and what they do with their money is another story.”
When drama hit, Herron-Braggs and Ellis banded together. “I would say that we got closer when Max and Dawn left,” says Ellis. “Where there was four, now there was two, and having to make the decision to carry on the brand, we basically became husband and wife. A lot of decisions had to be made.”
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Though the originals tried their hand at reuniting over the years, both Ellis and Herron-Braggs say they couldn’t be happier now with Bennett, who first joined in 2003, rounding out the band’s latest iteration. “I’ve been on and off with the group for 14 years,” says Bennett. “When I flew up to the Bay to meet with Terry and Cindy, we just clicked.”
Now touring Europe before a slew of shows back in the states, the group says they’re living the life, but keeping their curfews. “Even back in the day, after we performed we wanted to go to our rooms and go to bed,” says Ellis. Bennett adds, “I’m probably more the partier than anybody.”
Herron-Braggs, a mom of four, who’s been married to former baseball pro Glenn Braggs for 24 years, knows her position. “I’m the mom of the group. And Terry’s in bed by 8,” she says. “It can be a short-lived business, but we’re very fortunate. And fortunate to have shared so much life together. … We’re having a great time.”
En Vogue’s new album Electric Café is out Friday.