Exploring the Life of Babyface

Angela George, KennethBabyfaceEdmondsHWOFMay2013, CC BY-SA 3.0

Kenneth Brian Edmonds, popularly known as Babyface, may not be as famous as big stars like Boyz II Men, Whitney Houston, Madonna, Janet Jackson, Lil Wayne, and Ariana Grande – but he’s a producer who’s behind some of the hits of these A-list artists in the music industry. Babyface is a legendary music producer with 200 top 10 R&B hits and over 50 top 10 pop hits throughout his career. Here’s everything you need to know about this Hoosier.

Early Life and Background

On April 10, 1958, Kenneth Brian Edmonds was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, to Marvin and Barbara Edmonds. Barbara worked as a pharmaceutical plant manager, and Kenneth was their fifth of six children.

Kenneth hails from a musical family. His brothers, Melvin and Kevon Edmonds, founded the R&B group After 7 in the late ‘80s alongside Keith Mitchell. The group earned nominations for both a Grammy and an American Music Award, and Kenneth collaborated with them. Kevon later on pursued a modestly successful solo career.

In high school, Kenneth attended North Central High School in Indianapolis. He was a shy youth, and he wrote songs to express his emotions. But he somehow overcame his shyness when he posed as a reporter once in 1972 so he could interview Jackson 5, a story he admitted in an interview with Oprah Winfrey. Kenneth said the group inspired him to pursue music.

Tragedy struck their family when he was in eighth grade when Kenneth’s father died of lung cancer, leaving his mother to raise the six brothers on her own. This moment fueled Kenneth’s determination to pursue a career in music.

A New Beginning

During the ‘80s, Edmonds played alongside funk artist Bootsy Collins, who affectionately nicknamed him “Babyface” due to his cute face when he was still a teenager. Though he resisted the nickname at first, he embraced it during a tour in 1985 after his bandmate, Darnell “Dee” Bristol, called him “Babyface” on stage after singing “Sweet November.” After the show, girls were coming up to ask where Babyface was, so he kept the nickname.

He played as a guitarist for the group Manchild, contributing to their 1977 hit “Especially for You” with fellow band member Daryl Simmons. Later, he played as a keyboardist in the light-funk and R&B group The Deele, which included drummer Antonio “L.A.” Reid. Later on, he would form a writing and producing partnership with Reid.

Musical Career

In 1986, when he was taking a break from his band The Deele, Babyface released his debut album, Lovers. He also wrote most of the songs in the album and co-produced it with L.A. Reid.

After Lovers, he continued to produce and write his own albums. His subsequent studio albums include:

  • Tender Lover (1989): A follow-up to his debut album, Babyface produced this album with L.A. Reid for LaFace Inc., and it was his first album with SOLAR. Tender Lover became his highest-charting R&B album that topped the chart for eight consecutive weeks. He wrote all the songs, provided lead vocals, and played the keyboards and guitars for this album.
  • For the Cool in You (1993): Babyface’s third studio album, The Cool in You, reached number 16 on the US Billboard 200 and number two on the Top R&B Albums chart. This album also earned Babyface his first Grammy nomination.
  • The Day (1996): Released by Epic Records, The Day is Babyface’s fourth studio album, peaking at #6 on the US Billboard 200 and #4 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums. This album featured Kenny G, Mariah Carey, and Stevie Wonder.
  • Face2Face (2001): Released by Nu America and Arista Records, this album was different from his previous works as he focused on more uptempo songs.
  • Grown & Sexy (2005): This is an album he co-produced with Gregg Pagani and The Underdogs, and it reached #10 on the US Billboard 200 and #3 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums.
  • Playlist (2007): Featuring eight cover songs and two original works, Playlist marked the inaugural release on the newly re-launched Mercury Records label.
  • Return of the Tender Lover (2015): His eighth studio album, Return of the Tender Lover, pays homage to his classic Tender Lover album and is a follow-up to his Grown & Sexy album.
  • Girls Night Out (2022): Babyface’s first album released through Capitol Records, Girls Night Out includes collaborations with only female artists

Before he released his solo albums, Babyface mostly collaborated with the bands he was in, such as Manchild and The Deele. In 2014, he launched a collaboration album with Toni Braxton, Love, Marriage & Divorce, and it secured a Grammy for Best R&B Album. Furthermore, his induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2017 reflects the enduring impact of his contributions to the music industry.

Here are their collaboration albums:

  • Power and Love with Manchild (1977)
  • Feel the Phuff with Manchild (1978)
  • Street Beat with The Deele (1983)
  • Material Thangz with The Deele (1985)
  • Eyes of a Stranger with The Deele (1987)
  • Love, Marriage & Divorce with Toni Braxton (2014)

Writing and Producing Career

Babyface’s journey as a songwriter for other artists began in 1983 when he penned the song “Slow-Jam” for R&B band Midnight Star. Although the track didn’t make waves on the charts, it remains a staple on quiet storm shows. Babyface continued playing and singing for The Deele until 1988, when both he and Reid departed from the group.

In the late 1980s, he played a huge role in shaping the new jack swing genre. He contributed his songwriting and producing talents to artists like Bobby Brown, Karyn White, Pebbles, Paula Abdul, and Sheena Easton.

From the late 1980s to the early ’90s, Babyface wrote and produced R&B and dance hits for a range of artists, including:

  • Bobby Brown – “Roni”
  • Karyn White – “Love Saw It”
  • Pebbles – “Girlfriend,” “Mercedes Boy”
  • The Whispers – “Rock Steady,” “In the Mood”
  • The Deele – “Two Occasions”
  • Johnny Gill – “My My My”
  • After 7 – “Ready or Not”
  • The Boys –  “Dial My Heart”
  • Damian Dame – “Right Down to It”

In 1989, Edmonds co-founded LaFace Records with L.A. Reid. Three of the label’s early artists, TLC, Toni Braxton, and Usher, achieved remarkable success. TLC’s second album, CrazySexyCool, for which Babyface contributed as a writer and producer, became the best-selling album of all time by an American girl group, selling over 60 million albums worldwide. Under his guidance, TLC and Toni Braxton collectively sold over 75 million records.

In 1989, he co-founded LaFace Records with Antonio “L.A.” Reid, where they collaborated with artists like Usher, OutKast, and TLC.

He collaborated with various artists to produce their albums, including:

  • Paula Abdul – Forever Your Girl (1988)
  • Sheena Easton – The Lover in Me (1988)
  • TLC – Ooooooohhh… On the TLC Tip (1992)
  • Johnny Gill – Provocative (1993)
  • Vanessa Williams – The Sweetest Days (1994)
  • Usher – My Way (1997)
  • Aretha Franklin – A Rose is Still a Rose (1998)
  • Ashanti – The Declaration (2008)
  • Monica – Still Standing (2010)
  • Alicia Keys – Girl on Fire (2012)
  • Ariana Grande – Yours Truly (2013)
  • Barbara Streisand – Partners (2014)
  • Jordin Sparks – Right Here Right Now (2015)
  • Foxes – All I Need (2016)
  • Babyface was also the man behind the success of many hit songs we know and love. He penned and produced hits, such as:
  • “I’m Your Baby Tonight” (1990), Whitney Houston
  • “Giving You the Benefit” (1990), Pebbles
  • “My My My” (1990), Johnny Gill
  • “End of the Road” (1992) and “I’ll Make Love to You” (1994), Boys II Men
  • “Another Sad Love Song” (1993), Toni Braxton
  • “Take a Bow” (1994), Madonna
  • “Change the World” (1996), Eric Clapton
  • “Exhale (Shoop Shoop)” (1995), Madonna
  • “Most Girls” (2000), P!nk
  • “Best Thing I Never Had” (2011), Beyoncé
  • “Baby I” (2013), Ariana Grande
  • “Stronger Together,” (2016), Jessica Sanchez

The song “Stronger Together,” performed by Jessica Sanchez, was a notable one, for it was played after Hillary Clinton’s speech at the 2016 Democratic National Convention. It was positively received by listeners, along with endorsements from celebrities like Jennifer Lopez and Kim Kardashian.

Major Achievements and Awards

Babyface achieved great success with his three consecutive multi-platinum albums: Tender Lover (1989), For the Cool in You (1993), and The Day (1996). His notable hits, including “When Can I See You,” “Every Time I Close My Eyes,” and “For the Cool in You,” have earned him multiple Grammy Awards throughout his career.

His remarkable contributions were recognized with three consecutive Grammy Awards for Producer of the Year in 1995–1997.

Babyface played a key role in the formation of the popular late-1990s R&B group Az Yet. He also contributed to shaping and working with acts associated with his then-wife, Tracey Edmonds, including Jon B and producer Jon-John Robinson.

In 1999, Babyface received the Golden Plate Award from the American Academy of Achievement, an honor bestowed by Awards Council member Coretta Scott King at a ceremony in Washington, D.C.

On August 30, 2006, he was celebrated as a BMI Icon at the 6th annual BMI Urban Awards. Over the course of his career, Babyface clinched the BMI Pop Songwriter of the Year title seven times, accumulating a total of 51 BMI Awards. Among these awards was the Song of the Year recognition for his Toni Braxton hit, “Breathe Again,” in 1994.

The Hollywood Walk of Fame welcomed Babyface with the 2,508th star on October 10, 2013, located at 6270 Hollywood Boulevard.

Recognizing his illustrious career in music, Indiana University Bloomington conferred an honorary doctorate degree upon him on October 18, 2018.

His extensive resume includes writing and producing for a myriad of artists in the music industry, such as:

  • 3T
  • After 7
  • Aretha Franklin
  • Ariana Grande
  • Backstreet Boys
  • Beyoncé
  • Bobby Brown
  • Boyz II Men
  • Brandy
  • Bruno Mars
  • Céline Dion
  • Chaka Khan
  • Chanté Moore
  • Damian Dame
  • Deele
  • Diana Ross
  • Dru Hill
  • En Vogue
  • Eric Clapton (“Change the World”)
  • Faith Evans
  • Fall Out Boy
  • Honeyz
  • Janet Jackson
  • Jessica Mauboy
  • Johnny Gill
  • Jordin Sparks
  • Katharine McPhee
  • Karyn White
  • Kelly Clarkson
  • Kenny G
  • Kevin Abstract
  • Kristinia DeBarge
  • Lil Wayne
  • Madonna
  • Marc Nelson
  • Mariah Carey
  • Mary J. Blige
  • Michael Bolton
  • Michael Jackson
  • NSYNC
  • P!nk
  • Patti LaBelle
  • Pebbles
  • Phil Collins
  • Samantha Jade
  • Sheena Easton
  • Shola Ama
  • Sisqó
  • Tamia
  • Tevin Campbell
  • The Boys
  • The Whispers
  • TLC
  • Toni Braxton
  • Vanessa L. Williams
  • Whitney Houston
  • Xscape
  • Zendaya

Acting and Other Ventures

Besides being productive in the music industry, Babyface also dabbled a little in acting and producing for TV and film.

TV Appearances

In 1994, Babyface made a guest appearance and performed on an episode of Beverly Hills, 90210, titled “Mr. Walsh Goes to Washington (Part 2).” Babyface also participated as a duet partner on the Fox reality show “Celebrity Duets” (2006).

In 2016, Babyface took on a different kind of competition as he joined season 23 of “Dancing with the Stars,” where he was paired with professional dancer Allison Holker. They were eliminated on the fourth week of competition, finishing in 11th place alongside Vanilla Ice and Witney Carson.

Film Ventures

During the mid-1990s, Babyface and his then-wife Tracey Edmonds ventured into the film industry. They established Edmonds Entertainment Group, producing movies like “Soul Food” (1997), “Josie and the Pussycats” (2001), and handling the soundtrack for “The Prince of Egypt” (1998), which featured songs from artists like Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston. Additionally, they served as executive producers for the BET reality series “College Hill” (2004-2009). Babyface collaborated with David Foster to compose “The Power of the Dream,” the official Song of the 1996 Summer Olympics, with lyrics by Linda Thompson.

His life has been portrayed on screen, with Wesley Jonathan playing him in the 2015 Lifetime biopic Whitney and Gavin Houston portraying him in the Lifetime biopic based on Toni Braxton titled Un-Break My Heart, which premiered in early 2016.

Personal Life

Babyface met his first wife, Tracey McQuarn, during her audition for the music video of his song “Whip Appeal” in 1990. They tied the knot on September 5, 1992, and welcomed two sons, Brandon and Dylan. Unfortunately, their marriage came to an end when Tracey filed for divorce on January 7, 2005, citing irreconcilable differences. In October 2005, Babyface and Tracey announced the end of their thirteen-year marriage.

In 2007, Babyface found love again with his backup dancer, Nicole “Nikki” Pantenburg, a former backup dancer for and personal friend of Janet Jackson. The couple welcomed a daughter, Peyton, in 2008. They exchanged vows on May 17, 2014. However, in July 2021, they announced the end of their marriage after seven years.

Legacy

Babyface has made a significant impact in the music industry, especially in the modern R&B genre in the US. He was recognized by New Musical Express (NME)’s “50 of the Greatest Producers Ever.” As co-founder of LaFace, he contributed to the success of big artists like TLC, Toni Braxton, and Usher.

Babyface also pioneered new jack swing in the ‘80s, as he was described as one of the founders of the genre.

In 1999, a 25-mile stretch of Interstate 65 in Indianapolis was renamed the Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds Highway.

His extensive collaboration with many prominent artists in the genre has resulted in an impressive 26 #1 R&B throughout his career, many of which hit the pop charts at either #1 or in the top ten.