When you consider the perfect image of a girl group, En Vogue should come to mind. Terry Ellis, Cindy Herron, Dawn Robinson, and Maxine Jones stepped onto the scene in the early 90s ushering in the kind of style and musical appeal that lasts the test of time.
If you’re ever in need of a refresher course on just how influential the group has been over the years, just check Pinterest, Instagram, and Tumblr, where black women share countless images of them as inspiration and proof of En Vogue’s influence. Beyond the web, their powerful stamp on black culture is now encapsulated at the Smithsonian’s new African American Museum of History and Culture, where the famous costume from their hit video for, “Giving Him Something He Can Feel” now hangs. In short, En Vogue has been the embodiment of black girl magic decades before there was such a phrase.
Like many groups, En Vogue has had its fair share of changes. Today, Cindy and Terry continue to carry the torch as a trio with new member Rhona Bennett since the departures of Dawn and Maxine.
I caught up with Terry Ellis to talk about En Vogue’s trailblazing past, their new music, and how they really feel about being an inspiration to black girls everywhere.
[Listen to our interview via SoundCloud or read the transcript below]
Abi Ishola: So of course, En vogue is a legendary group. Do you ever pinch yourself knowing you’ve been on this ride since the late 80s.
Terry Ellis: Yeah, actually [laughs]. Especially most recently when we were inducted into the Smithsonian’s African American Museum. I think it was so surreal that I just, I think I’m still processing it actually.
Abi: I freaked out when I saw that dress in there by the way. I went nuts. I was not expecting it and I felt like I was that little girl again watching that video. “Giving Him Something He Can Feel,” we’re talking about.
T.E: I did too [laughs….] I was in shock. I really felt like I was in shock.
Abi: Funny enough, I spoke to one of the curators and she told me this story about how she got the dress from you guys. She went to LA and you guys tried it on.
Abi: Really? That must have been a lot of fun.
T.E: That was so wild. It was. We went to storage. We have a storage where we keep all of our costumes and Cindy and I had gone there and we were like, Oh my God, remember this and remember this. We were trying on stuff and we were like, ‘oh, we could still wear it? Okay.’
Abi: Tell me about that video shoot that day. What do you remember about that day. It’s so iconic, that video.
T.E: Oh my gosh. You know funny enough it’s actually a concept I came up with. I suggested it and the director totally expounded on it. We loved that movie. The movie Sparkle is such a part of our African American history and culture.
T.E: So when we got the opportunity to re-record that song, it was just a dream come true for us. That scene in the movie is just so iconic, and we loved it so it just sort of made sense. It was sort of a no-brainer to do the video to be representative of that song and that girl group in the movie, and the red dresses. So it was just awesome for us.
Abi: You guys are amazing
T.E: Thank you
Abi: Yes you are. And you are the subject of countless pinterest boards and throwback tributes. How do you feel about the fact that so many young black girls feel this way about you and watched your career in this way?
T.E: We’re grateful. We’re really really grateful to still be relevant enough for people to even want to talk about us [laughs] I just stand in gratitude. It’s amazing. It really is amazing. We’re looking forward to putting out some new music so they can have something new to listen to and talk about.
Abi: What was the inspiration behind what you used to wear? En Vogue is iconic for the things that you wore, the way you appeared on videos, your makeup, just everything.
T.E: Thank you. We had a phenomenal glam team. Those guys were just amazing. It was them. They just had great taste and of course, always wanting to be on the cutting edge of fashion and magazines, you know, Essence Magazine, and Vogue Magazine, so you know, things like that. Inspiration from that, but our glam team was amazing.
Abi: You looked amazing even in your most natural state, you guys looked amazing. I think the Born to Sing album cover, you looked really natural but just gorgeous.
T.E: Thank you
Abi: You’re welcome.
Abi: So a lot of legendary groups are doing biopics right now. I would love to see an En Vogue biopic. Can we look forward to that?
T.E: Oh my gosh, we would love that too. Since we’re talking about it, maybe it’ll go out there and somebody will say, hey I want to do a biopic on you guys.
Abi: I think you’ve had a lot of wonderful and amazing moments, but you’ve also had turbulent moments where members have left the group and things like that. How have you and Cindy been able to withstand that and continue on?
T.E: Our passion for what we do. We love being able to perform and we consider it a blessing to do it. I think when you are working and when you are in a group, you don’t have control of other members and how we think and feel as you would when you only have to focus on yourself being a solo artist. So I think when other people make decisions to follow their own dreams and aspirations, you have to allow that and you have to respect it and you have to release that. So that’s what Cindy and I had to do. We didn’t want to stop. We wanted to keep going because that’s what we love to do and it’s our livelihood and our passion and our fans. That’s what kept us going.
Abi: I hear that. Tell us about your new song, Deja Vu. I was listening to it before I got here and it has a really nice groove to it. Can we look forward to a new album.
T.E: Thank you
Abi: You’re welcome
T.E: Deja Vu is from our new album which is called Electric Café and there’s an eclectic mix of music on there which is sort of representative of our producers—we got back with our original producers, Denzel Foster and Thomas McElroy. It’s sort of representative of their diverse musical background and ours too because we love all kinds of music and we love just taking chances in the studio and just allowing our creativity to just flow and go where it goes. We just follow it. Dejavu sort of has that international, bosa nova vibe to it. It’s about having ever met someone and they feel there’s something that’s recognizable about them. You don’t know what it is but you feel you’ve met this person before, you had this experience before, and that’s what the song is about.
Abi: I hear that. It sounds really great and I love the groove like I said. I think it’s coming at a really good time because the 90s, for some reason, people are feeling really great about the 90s and you guys have that nostalgic feel but you’re also very current.
T.E: Thank you
Abi: And I saw how you guys killed it on the Apollo special they did recently. Amazing. I almost lost my mind again.
T.E: Oh my gosh we were so excited. When we got the call to do it because one of our earlier performances like in the very beginning was an appearance on the Apollo and that was 26 years ago. I remember we were so afraid, because that was during the time when, if you got booed…New York, they take no prisoners. They’re like, if you ain’t good, get off the stage. We were afraid. We were new. Hold On, it was out there but, I think it was our second single was when we did it, which was Live, Hold On and Live, but we were still kind of new and fresh and we were so afraid that people were going to boo us off stage. They accepted us and the rest is history.
Abi: So what would you tell the Terry Ellis from the late 80s who had no idea about the journey she was about to embark on? What would you say to that woman or that girl?
T.E: What I’ve always told myself: trust the process and go with the flow. That’s how I ended up at the audition for the group. I’ve sort of always done that. I love singing. I’ve been singing all my life. So when I got the call to audition for the group, I was still in Houston at the time. I was at Prairie View A&M University and I was actually a senior so I was about to graduate. So I got the call to come and audition for the group and I told myself, trust the process and go with the flow. I took my rent money, I was living off campus at the time. I took my rent money and I bought an airline ticket to come to California and audition. Thank God it worked out [laughs].
Abi: Amen, hello, Amen. So what would you tell young black girls who look to you guys and who are still inspired by what you’ve been able to accomplish?
T.E: I would tell them, love yourself first. And if they want to be in the business learn the business, understand the business of this business. Practice your craft constantly, and go with the flow and trust the process.
Abi: I just want to say thank you to everyone that supports us; that’s been supporting us since the 90s, the beginning of our career, we really appreciate it and that we understand that it’s because of that support that we’re able to continue today. We’re excited to share our new music and we just hope everybody loves it.
You heard it from the legendary Terry Ellis from the legendary group, En Vogue
Check out the gallery above featuring some of the best En Vogue moments!