Monday, October 19, 2009

On Her Own

After Zhane', Jean Baylor Continues to Evolve

When a singing group hits the scene and delivers a string of explosive hits that causes you to move your head side to side, turn your radio up as loud as possible or hypnotically snap your fingers at the slightest sound of your favorite song, you have questions when the group splits. Will the sound be dramatically different? Can an artist formally part of a duo stay creative and survive in the music industry? Will fans follow?


All of those questions swirled around Jean Baylor’s head in 1999, when she decided to break ties with Renee Neufville. The two were founders of the group Zhane' (pronounced Jah-Nay). “We own our name, says Baylor. “No one can tell us we can’t use it,” she adds. Baylor says her split was for creative reasons and not one laced with animosity, financial problems or overblown egos, which commonly tear a group apart. “It was a nice decision to leave the group. I have no regrets,” says Baylor.

On her independently produced CD “Testimony: My Life Story”, Norris-Baylor delivers the energy and authentic sound, fans of the group miss, embrace and associate with Zhane'. However, her lyrics, over eclectic beats push mental buttons more than butts and hips to a dance floor. “I have to establish myself as a solo artist,” says Baylor. Her music is motivational, fun and inspiring, produced on the “Be a Light” record label.


From 1993 to 1999, Baylor and Neufville’s hits like “Hey, Mr. D.J.”, “Groove Thang” and “Sending My Love” carved the women a spot in the music industry and the hearts of fans. Their image, lyrics and delivery equaled the total package but not in an industry assembly-line way, where hip-shaking, hair slinging and butt strutting get more attention than talent. How did Zhane' survive? It comes down to just good manners and parenting. “ We were not going to get butt naked to look sexy,” says Baylor. “My mom would have come onstage and beat me down,” says Baylor.

Zhane’s approach was to project sexy with an alternative mixture of talent and class. The group’s name was a salute to themselves. “We just put together our names and put the French connection together,” says Baylor. On their first CD both women rocked short and nearly bald haircuts. “We weren’t really trying to make a statement. We just had short hair,” says Bailey. They shunned tight, short, revealing outfits and flashy looks, to define their sexual appeal.


While there’s surely no cookie-cutter way to break into the music industry, the two Temple University students started out on a bit of traditional track. “We competed in a lot of talent shows around the city,” says Baylor. “A lot of times, we did it for the $50 prize because when you’re in college, you feel like you’re rich with that kind of money.”

They entered and won enough talent shows to get a buzz going in the entertainment industry. “We’d been to five different record labels in New York,” says Bailey. A chance meeting with Kay Gee of the group Naughty by Nature, sprung open a door of opportunity that would change their lives.“We sang acappella for him. He liked us and he was looking for a female group,” says Baylor.


As Zhane’s success took off, Baylor says it was easy for them to avoid the grip and lure of drugs, bad financial and personal decisions that so often grip and destroy entertainment freshmen. “We were kind of grown up. We were 23 and 24 years old with degrees,” says Baylor. Baylor was a Performing Arts student at Temple. Neufville majored in English.

Baylor’s solo project and her longevity in the music is a testament to her preparation, education and desire to learn everything about the industry, from marketing to branding and sales. Those skills, she says, are essential to succeeding in the male-dominated business. “You should have a vision and not just run through the door looking to make hit records,” says Baylor.

Baylor says the record industry is all about business and the more informed you are about other people’s mistakes, the less you’ll make. Her advice to anyone considering the entertainment business is blunt. “Get a good accountant that understands the industry,” says Baylor. “Be organized and conscious of your budget because every dime the label spends on the artist is charged to the artist.”


These days, Baylor’s life and music continue to evolve in a positive direction. As much as she loves music, Baylor loves to make a difference. Her concern for young people is spiraling into a non-profit venture through “Be a Light”. The focus is mainly on middle school students. “Be a Light’ was created not just to do music but we wanted to be able to positively affect communities through a mentorship program,” says Baylor.

Her music gives you a sophisticated blend of neo-Soul, jazz and a sprinkle of rhythm and blues. She fits in perfectly with the style of artists like Jill Scott, India.Arie and Ledisi. All of the women are well-respected artists and are confirmation that there is room for a break from the norm.

Jean Baylor’s story is part of the “She Rocks” series on Newsheels.blogspot.com. For more information and to listen to samples of tracks on Baylor’s independently produced CD, “Testimony: My Life Story,” log on to www.jeanbaylor.com. Please forward all comments about this story to Maniko Barthelemy at newsheels@gmail.com.

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