Born on February 27, 1971, in Atlanta, Georgia, Rozonda "Chilli" Thomas is best known as a former member of the all-female R&B/pop trio TLC, one of the most successful musical groups of the 1990s. After a decade of success with fellow members Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes and Tionne "T-Boz" Watkins, TLC disbanded when Lopes died in 2002. Thomas has continued to perform and has appeared on several television series.
Early Life and Career
Rozonda Ocelean "Chilli" Thomas was born on February 27, 1971, in Atlanta, Georgia. Her mother, Ava Thomas, had met her father, Abdul Ali, when Ali was a soldier stationed at a military base in Columbus, Georgia. Their short romance ended before Thomas was born, and she didn't meet her father until she was 25 years old. Thomas's ethnicity combines her mother's African-American and Native American heritage with her father's Middle Eastern and East Indian background. Raised by a single mother in Atlanta, Thomas attended Benjamin E. Mays High School, where she graduated in 1989.
The TLC Years
A few years after high school, Rozonda Thomas worked as a back-up dancer for the R&B duo Damian Dame, represented by LaFace Records. LaFace had just signed on a new R&B trio called TLC, and the label's executives wanted to replace singer Crystal Jones with another woman. Thomas was selected and was given the stage name of "Chilli," making her the "C" in TLC.
Thomas's smooth vocals and sultry good looks were essential ingredients in TLC's record-breaking appeal. Singing and dancing alongside Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes and Tionne "T-Boz" Watkins, Thomas took part in the group's remarkable success throughout the 1990s. TLC would eventually sell 45 million albums worldwide. The 1994 album CrazySexyCool (referring to Lopes's "crazy" personality, Thomas's "sexy" allure and Watkins's "cool" edge), established TLC as a crossover success on the R&B and pop charts. CrazySexyCool and the group's following album, FanMail, both won Grammy Awards. Four singles, including "No Scrubs" and "Waterfalls," were No. 1 hits.
After Lopes's untimely death in a car accident in 2002, Thomas and Watkins finished work on TLC's final album, 3D, which was released later that year. TLC's success, genre-blending musical style and public image—a well-tuned message of sisterhood and female independence—influenced other female groups, from Destiny's Child to the Spice Girls.
Career After TLC
In the 2000s, Thomas and Watkins released a TLC greatest-hits compilation and occasionally performed together. The two women also joined up for the reality-television competition R U the Girl? in 2005.
Thomas appeared on her own in the 2010 reality-television program What Chilli Wants, in which she went on dates while media personality Tionna Smalls acted as her matchmaker. She was also featured as an actress in small parts on the television sitcoms That '70s Show and The Parkers, in addition to a recurring role in the series Single Ladies.
Thomas is one of the producers of the 2013 biopic CrazySexyCool: The TLC Story. The actress Keke Palmer plays the real-life Thomas in the production.
During her time as a member of TLC, Thomas was romantically involved with Dallas Austin, the group's producer. In 1997, Thomas and Austin had a son named Tron. Thomas dated fellow R&B singer Usher from 2001 to 2003, also appearing in several of his music videos.
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