Born in Maryland in 1967, Toni Braxton's big break came after Bill Pettaway overheard her singing to herself at a gas station, and subsequently helped Braxton land a record deal with Arista. In 1992, she caught another big break when she was asked to fill in for Anita Baker and sing on the soundtrack for the film Boomerang. The following year, Braxton released her debut self-titled album, garnering wide acclaim for singles like "You Mean the World to Me" and "Breathe Again." She later scored a megahit with "Un-Break My Heart," included on her second studio album, Secrets (1996). In addition to her successful recording career, Braxton made history in September 1998, when she became first black actress to play Belle in the Broadway production of Beauty and the Beast.
Toni Michelle Braxton was born on October 7, 1967, in Severn, Maryland, to parents Michael Braxton, a minister, and his wife, Evelyn. Brought up in a strict, religious household that prohibited any sort of engagement with popular culture, Toni and her four younger sisters began singing at an early age at their father's church. Over time, Michael and Evelyn Braxton eased their household rules, allowing their daughters to gain more exposure to soul and rock singers like Stevie Wonder and Chaka Khan.
For Toni especially, music became a central component in her life. She entered a number of local talent shows, and also collaborated considerably with her sisters. Following her graduation from high school, Braxton planned on becoming a music teacher, but was easily swayed to leave college when songwriter Bill Pettaway overheard Braxton singing to herself at a gas station. Pettaway, who had recently penned Milli Vanilli's "Girl You Know It's True" hit single, was moved by Braxton's husky, driving voice. With his help, Braxton landed a record contract with Arista Records for both her and her sisters.
The Braxtons, as the sisters called themselves, released the single "The Good Life" in 1990. While not a huge hit, it did manage to catch the ear of producers Antonio "L.A." Reid and Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds, who signed Toni to a new deal to the Arista subsidiary, LaFace Records.
In 1992, Braxton caught her first big break when she was asked to fill in for Anita Baker and sing for the soundtrack to the Eddie Murphy movie, Boomerang. The album gave Braxton significant exposure and helped her secure her first big hit: the single "Love Shoulda Brought You Home."
A year after the Boomerang soundtrack, Braxton released her eponymous debut album. The record more than met the enthusiasm that had built up around it prior to its release. With hits like "Breathe Again," "You Mean the World to Me" and "Another Love Song," the record went on to sell more than 8 million copies. It also earned Braxton a pair of Grammy Awards, for best new artist and best female R&B vocal performance.
In 1996, Braxton released her second studio album, Secrets, which included the monster single "Un-Break My Heart" and the hit "You Make Me High." At the 1997 Grammy Awards, Braxton won two Grammys: one for best female R&B vocal performance and one for best female R&B pop vocal performance.
But instead of getting the chance to dig into the hard work of creating a third album, Braxton got into contract wrangling with Arista. At issue was Braxton's claim that she deserved to receive a larger cut from her record sales. To further drive home the point that she wasn't making enough, Braxton filed for bankruptcy in 1998.
Unable to reconcile her contractual issues, Braxton suspended her studio work and headed to acting, where she made history in September 1998 by becoming the first black actress to play Belle in a Broadway production of Beauty and the Beast. The musical, which featured a song written specifically for Braxton, was a huge success.
Soon, Braxton and record executives were back at the negotiating table, and following an agreement in 1999, the singer-songwriter released her third album, The Heat. Largely stripped of the "lost love" themes that had greatly shaped her two previous studio releases, Braxton's new album gave the singer's fans a fresher, more confident Braxton. It also featured two hit singles: "He Wasn't Man Enough for Me" and "Just Be a Man About It."
In 2010, Braxton released her seventh studio album, Pulse, which was issued by Atlantic Records. She also continued to pursue other types of performance work. The lineup included her own reality television series, Toni Braxton: Revealed, and a short stint on the hit dance-competition show Dancing with the Stars.
In January 2011, media outlets began reporting that Braxton would be returning to the small screen with a new reality series, Braxton Family Values. The show, which debuted in April 2011 on WE tv, follows Toni and her sisters as they pursue their respective careers in show business.
Health Issues and Bankruptcy
She accomplished all of these successes while also battling health issues. She's been treated for hypertension as well as pericarditis, a viral infection of the sac surrounding the heart. More significantly, in November 2010, the singer told the world she was battling Lupus. The announcement shook her fellow recording artists, most notably Lady Gaga, who has family members who've dealt with the deadly autoimmune disease. "Toni, your strength is admirable," Lady Gaga wrote in a message to Braxton. "As a woman whose family as been affected by Lupus, I understand your struggle and have you in my thoughts."
More bad news followed in late 2010, when Braxton announced that she was again filing for bankruptcy. Some reports stated that she owed as much as $50 million.
Saying 'Goodbye' to Music Career
In early 2012, Braxton announced that she had begun working on a new album. That spring, she released the single "I Heart You"—thought to be the first single off the singer's new project at the time. But fans' excitement over what would be Braxton's eighth studio project soon fizzled out when, on February 8, 2013, Braxton announced plans to retire from her career as a recording artist. Signaling the end of her 20-year recording career, Braxton's announcement, made during her guest appearance on Good Morning America, came as a big shock to many—especially since the singer-songwriter's previous statements regarding her future retirement seemed to center on a final album release.
Braxton went on to explain her decision, citing, among many things, a loss of musical inspiration, a disinterest in making any future recordings, and shifting sentiments surrounding her future goals. "It's not affecting me, making me feel that thing I've always felt when I perform. It's leaving me. I'm not sure what's going on in my life. Maybe a female mid-life crisis? My heart isn't in it anymore. I hate to say that," Braxton said. "For what I do I have to love it. I have to feel that excitement and it's gone. I'm just not going to do any albums anymore; maybe touring occasionally here and there because I love performing, but not as much as I did in the past. But no new projects."
Despite her announcements, Braxton did return triumphantly to the music scene in 2014 with a studio album with longtime collaborator Babyface. The R&B/adult contemporary-styled Love, Marriage & Divorce earned the pair a Grammy in 2015 for Best R&B Album.
Braxton married musician Keri Lewis in 2001. The couple split up in late 2009. They have two sons together, Denim and Deizel.
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