After a string of hits in the 90s and then suddenly breaking up in 1998, SWV is back with their new reality series "SWV Reunited" (Thursday night 10 pm ET/PT on WE tv) and an opening slot on the February 1st Charlie Wilson concert at The Theater at Madison Square Garden. The Sisters With Voices--Cheryl “Coko” Clemons, Leanne “Lelee” Lyons and Tamara “Taj” George hope their reunion is permanent, depending on public reaction.
Lelee says, "If people want us to stay together we will, but people are so fickle."
From 1992-1998 SWV was on fire selling 15 million records, however jealousy and financial disputes led to their breakup. The trio reunited for their fourth CD I Missed Us in 2012 which earned a Grammy nomination in the Best Traditional R&B Performance category for their rendition of Patti LaBelle’s “If Only You Knew." The CD was recorded two decades after their 1992 debut album It's About Time was certified triple-platinum featuring the hits "Right Here," "I'm So Into You" and their number one smash "Weak." They won thirteen Billboard Music Awards and were nominated for a Grammy for Best New Artist.
Since SWV broke up, each member has become a mother with two children. Coko released one solo R&B CD and two solo gospel albums, including the Grammy-nominated Grateful CD. Taj starred with her husband, former NFL running back Eddie George, in their reality series "I Married A Baller." She also appeared on "Survivor" as well modeling and writing three books.
Lelee started her own music production company and is an advocate for the prevention of teen pregnancy. She is also attending school, majoring in accounting with a minor in communications.
At their "SWV Reunited" launch party at The Jazz Room at The General in Manhattan, the ladies reminded the packed audience of their impressive vocal skills, rockin' the house with a live performance of their hits "Right Here," "I'm So Into You" and "Anything." Coko, Taj, and Lelee were thrilled to be back on stage again in their native city, but their joy did not disguise the fact that after being best friends growing up, they've been divided by business disagreements.
Taj blames the breakup on lead singer Coko. "She wanted more money and was greedy." Coko says all three members are responsible for the breakup which left them broke. "Lelee was always late," she states. "The label didn't want her in the group anymore, and Taj and I were not speaking to each other."
Taj remembers, "We absolutely could not stand each other anymore. Things ended ugly." After being on top of the music business, she was financially devastated. "I sold my house to survive. I was living in a cheap apartment with roaches."
Lelee, the youngest member of the group, became depressed and admits she contemplated suicide. "I was living in my car. I was going to end my life," she remembers. "I felt I had nothing to live for."
Now the ladies live in different cities: Coko in Virginia Beach, Taj in Nashville, and Lelee in Atlanta. When doctors discovered a lump in Coko's breast and scheduled tests to determine if it was cancerous, she refused to tell her group members. "We are not close like sisters like we used to be," she reveals, "so I chose not to tell them until I knew whether I had cancer or not. I did not trust them anymore."
Her decision to keep the cancer scare to herself infuriated her fellow group members. "We have been friends since we were nine years old," says Taj. "We were angry that she did not talk to us about it."
Tensions continued to flare up when Taj and Lelee decided they wanted to fire their manager Cory Taylor who is Coko's long time friend. Naturally Coko did not agree with their decision to work instead with Alicia Keys' former manager Jeff Robinson.
Looking back at their career, SWV remembers when they began in 1992 it was a completely opposite situation. They were carefree. "We were three teenagers from the hood (Coko and Lelee from the Bronx and Taj from Brooklyn) who got a break," says Coko. "We just wanted to be famous. I remember the first time I heard our music on the radio, I was on the subway at Prospect Avenue. I heard 'Right Here.' I was screaming 'that is me' and I was singing the words. People did not believe me. Later they knew."
The teenagers were not prepared for their overnight success. "We became instant stars," Coko remembers. "We had to move immediately. Kids were banging on our door. I had to call my mom and tell her we have to move."
Now over 20 years later, as the ladies observe the current music landscape, they are upset that hip-hop has taken the spotlight away from R&B.
"R&B is lost now," comments Lelee. "It is so disappointing. We neglect R&B and real singers are overlooked. Fortunately there are still some women holding it down like Chrisette Michelle, Ledisi, Fantasia, and of course Mary J. Blige. Mary J. is keeping R&B alive."
As SWV looks forward to opening for Charlie Wilson on the eve of the Super Bowl, Taj and Coko are extremely excited to be performing in their hometown, but Lelee has more personal thoughts. Taj says, "Lelee is our little freak." Coko adds, "Although she's the youngest, she taught us everything about sex." Lelee is the only unmarried member of SWV, and she's constantly trying to convince her singing mates to find her a husband. Her ideal man is Barack Obama, but of course, he's not available. She is the flirt of the group, so it does not surprise them when her comments about performing at The Theater at Madison Square Garden are more personal than professional. "Opening up for Charlie Wilson, he is so sexy," says Lelee. "That voice is like butter. I love the way he's transitioned himself from The Gap Band to his solo career. God, I want to bone Charlie Wilson!"
Maybe that explains why security always stops SWV from visiting Uncle Charlie backstage. His wife Mahin would certainly not approve. Looks like that Lelee's lust could provide another dramatic episode if "SWV Reunited" comes back for a second season.