Childhood & Early Life
Tionne Tenese Watkins was born on April 26, 1970, in Des Moines, Iowa, into a family of African-American, Native American and Irish descent. Both her parents, James and Gayle Watkins, were musicians and singers.
Her parents divorced when she was three years old. Thereafter, she was raised by her mother, who taught her to be “confident and independent”. At the age of nine, they moved to Atlanta, Georgia, where her maternal grandmother used to live.
As a child, she was diagnosed with sickle cell anemia (SCA), as a result of which, she had to spend a lot of time in hospitals. Nonetheless, she developed a passion for dancing early in her childhood and knew that someday she would become a performer.
Sometime in her teenage, she began working as a hair model, eventually serving as a manicurist and shampoo girl at a popular Atlanta hair salon. Whenever she found time, she visited the popular skating ring, Jellybeans.
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In 1990, Tionne Watkins heard that a teenager named Crystal Clear was planning to open an all girls group similar to Bell Biv DeVoe, having a tomboyish, hip-hop image. Eventually, she appeared for an audition and joined the three member band, the third one being Lisa Lopes.
Calling themselves ‘2nd Nature’, they soon started working with Jermaine Dupri and Rico Wade on demo tape material. Meanwhile, Watkins came into contact with Perri "Pebbles" Reid, the owner of the management and production company, Pebbitone, and managed to arrange an audition with her.
Impressed by the girls, Reid arranged an audition with the local record label, LaFace Records, co-founded by her then husband Antonio Reid and Kenneth “Babyface” Edmund. She also changed the group’s name to TLC with ‘T’ representing Tionne, ‘L’ Lisa, and ‘C’ Crystal.
Although Antonio Reid was impressed by Watkins and Lopes, he did not approve of Clear, who was eventually replaced by Rozonda Thomas in April 1991. Very soon, Watkins became "T-Boz", Lopes became "Left-Eye", and Thomas became "Chilli" so that ‘TLC’ continued to be the acronym of their names.
Their debut album, 'Ooooooohhh... On the TLC Tip' was released on February 25, 1992, by LaFace Records. It peaked at number 14 on the US Billboard 200, selling six million copies worldwide, and was certified quadruple platinum RIAA.
'Ooooooohhh... On the TLC Tip' scored three top-ten singles on the Billboard Hot 100 with ‘Baby-Baby-Baby’ peaking at number two, ‘Ain't 2 Proud 2 Beg’ at number six and ‘What About Your Friends’ at number seven. Moreover ‘Baby-Baby-Baby’ also peaked at number one at Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks.
In 1993, the group started working on their second album, ‘CrazySexyCool’. But because of Lisa’s personal problems, it took time to complete and was ultimately released on September 15, 1994. Certified Diamond, the album helped TLC to become the number one girl group.
In spite of becoming number one, TLC was forced to file for bankruptcy because of poor contracts they had signed in 1991. Eventually, the group signed a new contract with the same company and went back to work.
On February 23, 1999, the group released their third album, ‘FanMail’, which debuted at number one on the US Billboard 200, remaining there for five weeks. Certified six-time platinum by RIAA, it has sold over 10 million copies worldwide. Also in 1999, Tionne Watkins published her first book, ‘Thoughts’.
Concurrently, while with working with Lisa Lopes and Rozonda Thomas, Watkins has also released two solo singles, ‘Touch Myself’ in 1996 and ‘My Getaway’ in 2000. Meanwhile in 1998, she debuted in films with Hype Williams' film, ‘Belly’. Earlier, she had also appeared in two episodes of television sitcom, ‘Living Single’.
On April 25, 2002, Lopes passed away, leaving behind some recorded material. Eventually, Watkins and Thomas decided to use some of Lopes’ recorded materials in their forthcoming album, ‘3D’. It was released on October 10, 2002, in Europe, and on November 12, 2002, in the United States.
’3D’ sold 143,000 copies in its first week of release, debuting at number six on the US Billboard 200 and at number four on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart. Certified platinum by RIAA, it earned them two Grammy Award nominations.
After '3D’, they did not record any new album for fifteen years, but released a compilation album, ‘20’ in 2013. Also in the same year, she appeared in ‘Totally T-Boz’, a reality documentary miniseries and produced a biopic, entitled ‘CrazySexyCool: The TLC Story’.
Their fifth and final album, ‘TLC’, was released in 2017. Her second book, ‘A Sick Life: TLC 'n Me: Stories from On and Off the Stage’ was also published in the same year.