Doo Wop Pop Pop: Background Singers Who Became Famous

May 29, 2013  |  
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In order to stand out, sometimes you have to fall back. Though these artists became known in their own right, initially they stood in the background providing background vocals for major artists. Let’s see who we’re talking about.

Source: J Records

Luther Vandross

Before he was collecting Grammys, (He has eight by the way.) Luther had a lucrative career as a songwriter and background singer. In 1974, Vandross cowrote “Fascination” for David Bowie’s Young Americans album. Afterward, he went on tour with Bowie singing background. The tour would serve as Luther Vandross’ big break. From there he wrote the song “Everybody Rejoice” for the 1975 Broadway musical, The Wiz, appearing in the movie as a choir member. After that he sang background on Stevie Wonder’s “Part Time Lover.” And the list didn’t stop there before making it big on his own, Vandross sang back up for Diana Ross, Chaka Khan, Donna Summer, Bette Midler, Roberta Flack and Barbra Streisand.

Source: WENN

Whitney Houston

Before she was “the voice,” as Oprah called her, Whitney Houston started off in the back. At the tender age of 14, she was a backup singer for Michael Zager, lending her talents to his single “Life’s a Party.” Then the very next year she would sing background vocals for Chaka Khan’s “I’m Every Woman.” Now, we know why she covered that song years later, at the height of her own career. According to JET magazine, Houston also sang background vocals for Lou Rawls and Jermaine Jackson’s albums.

Source: WENN

Mariah Carey

Remember that time Mariah Carey checked her background singer in the middle of live performance? In a sing songy tone, the Butterfly Diva said, “Stop singing my part now baby.” She was so quick to jump on that singer because Mariah knows that life. During the lean years when she was working as a waitress and sending out demo tapes, she met pop singer Brenda K. Starr. That was Mariah’s big break. She would eventually sing background for her before Starr took a special interest in making sure Carey’s own career took off.

Thanks Bren!

In case you don’t remember that little background singer confrontation, check out the video below.


Faith Evans

Though we know Faith primarily for her background work with Bad Boy, before she met Diddy, she sang with several jazz bands. She also sang background for Christopher Williams. Diddy discovered her when she was singing with Al B. Sure. Faith would go on to have a career that was longer than both of the men she backed. Go figure.

Image Source:

Tamar Braxton

Though she had solo albums of her own, they never seemed to go anywhere. Instead Tamar was able to eat not only because she married a big producer but because she worked for years singing background for big sister Toni. It wasn’t until We Tv’s “Braxton Family Values” that Tamar let the world know she was no longer satisfied singing “doo wop pop pop.” She wanted to make a successful career as the front woman. And with her recent singles, Tamar has done just that. Seems like she finally has all the ingredients in the right order.

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Michelle Williams

We spoke about this yesterday. People love to come for the last member of Destiny’s Child, attempting to shade her for being a background singer for Monica back in the day. Singing for Monica put her on in a huge way.

Source: Arista

Anthony Hamilton

The soul singer is a true artist, so it should come as no surprise that before his solo career took off, he sang background for another, very soulful man, D’Angelo. In 2000, he went on tour with D’Angelo helping him perform his Voodoo album.

Source: WENN

John Legend

Not did John Legend provide background vocals during the early stages of his career, he also played the piano for Lauryn Hill’s hit song “Everything is Everything.” After that, he graduated from college and went to Boston to work at a consulting firm before finding Kanye West. With Kanye, he sang the chorus on several songs before he dropped the album that gave him his big break in the music industry, Get Lifted.

Minne Riperton

As strong and unique as Minnie Riperton’s voice is, it’s a bit surprising to learn that she was standing behind other artists. Though Riperton sang lead vocals in her girl group, The Gems, as her career progressed and more people started to learn of her talent, she began singing background for legends like Etta James, Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, and Muddy Waters.

Source: WENN

Mary J Blige

Even the Queen of Hip Hop Soul had to take a backseat to several artists signed to Uptown records. In 1989, she sang background for Jeff Reed and then for Father MC’s “I’ll Do 4 U.”

Photo Credit: Dan Jackman/

Brandy Norwood

Brandy was a huge star in the ’90’s but before she took off she sang background for the group Immature.

Source: WENN

Gwen Stefani

Gwen Stefani started her career as a backup singer for her brother’s band. While that might sound like small potatoes, it eventually led to her connection to No Doubt. She was in the right place when unfortunate events transpired. When the lead singer, John Spence, committed suicide Gwen Stefani was there to step in as the new lead.


Sheryl Crow

Though her country music would lead you to believe otherwise, Sheryl Crow sang background for Michael Jackson before launching her solo career.

Source: WENN

Kelly Price

Just like Brenda Starr put Mariah Carey onto the game, Mariah did the same for Kelly Price. When Carey heard Price singing during one of her rehearsals and hooked her up. Price went on to sing background for Mariah’s hit “Fantasy” and Biggie’s “Mo Money Mo Problems.” Price also contributed background vocals for Faith Evans, Aretha Franklin, Brian McKnight, SWV and R Kelly.

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  • lilmissmatched

    Um…Mariah girl, u DEFINITELY needed that back up singer to save your life with that performance. Don’t hate….

  • randomtandem

    I mainly remember Faith singing back up on Usher’s first album

    • Ms.Brilly

      I didn’t have Usher’s first album, lol. I remember first hearing Faith on the “My Life” album.

      • randomtandem

        Usher’s first and second albums were his best in my opinion.

      • Chevonne22

        Yeah, “My Way” was good, but it was too short. It only had 10 songs, but it had some great vids!

    • Chevonne22

      Faith wrote most of Usher’s first album.

      • randomtandem

        She needs to write him another one cuz that was his best lol

        • Chevonne22

          Yeah, I think his first one and “Confessions” gave is his best. He was so cute singing “Just Call Me a Mack”.

          • randomtandem

            Oddly, I didnt like “Confessions” my faves were the first album and “My Way”

            yes I loved him when he sang “Call Me A Mack” so cute in his yellow jacket lmao

  • Chevonne22

    BTW- Kelly Price didn’t just lend background vocals on “Heartbreak Hotel,” she and Faith Evans were actually featured on the song with Whitney.

  • Chevonne22

    HeeHee …Because Tamar “married a big producer…”

  • Chevonne22

    HeeHee …Because Tamar “married a big producer…”

    • randomtandem


  • Bianca

    Wow! This shows you that everyone has to start somewhere. ­čÖé

  • Realityh03$Anonymous….ohwait

    Kelly Price did ‘Fantasy’? Now im seeing the from Rush Hour when Su Young(?) was singing it….lol