Last night Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds kept his word and hosted a celebration the 25th anniversary of Waiting to Exhale’s soundtrack, which he wrote and produced. Originally scheduled as a virtual treat for Mother’s Day, the moment was postponed after news of Andre Harrell’s untimely passing. In the early aughts, Edmonds and Harrell created Nu America record label and they were “dear friends.” On Instagram May 9, the producer somberly shared, “I thought I could handle it, but there was no way I could get through this at 100%.”
On Saturday evening, the multiple Grammy award winner bounced back in top form. Dressed in a loose white button-down, backlit by candles and channeling a Quiet Storm deejay, Edmonds told never heard before stories from his time producing the music for the 1995 film.
Adapted from Terry McMillion’s bestselling book and starring Whitney Houston, Angela Bassett, Loretta Devine and Lela Rochon, the movie would be a watershed moment for Black female friendships. Edmonds said of the book and film’s impact, “These women didn’t feel like they were alone, their struggle was real and they finally put a face on it.” The music from the film was equally memorable, featuring songs that quickly became classics “Exhale (Shoop Shoop),” “Let It Flow,” “Sittin’ Up In My Room” and “Not Gon’ Cry.”
Edmonds wrote and produced 16 original songs for the movie, but during his Instagram Live he shared one important fact: he wasn’t the first choice for the soundtrack. “I found out recently, who was responsible for me getting the gig. Forest Whitaker went to Quincy Jones initially but he told them to come see me. I found out last week,” he said to nearly 45,000 viewers. “I’ll take Quincy’s leftovers any day. Thank you Quincy. Thank you for the vote of confidence.”
For nearly three hours, Edmonds told more behind the scenes moments from working with music greats such as Chaka Khan, Patti Labelle; hot acts Toni Braxton and SWV; and then newcomers Faith Evans and Brandy. Here’s what we learned from Edmond’s tribute to Waiting to Exhale.
Babyface Wasn’t Sure Whitney Houston Would Sing On the Soundtrack
“I had to write a theme song [Exhale (Shoop Shoop)] and I wasn’t sure Whitney Houston would ever sing it. It was left without words for a long time. I had the verses but it didn’t have a hook yet. Finally, Whitney said she was ready to sing [but] I only had ‘shoops’ there. I ended up staying with it. Whitney came in and heard the song and said, ‘Face, finally ran out of words.’ I told her it feels good, so why not just go with it?”
After Recording Exhale (Shoop Shoop), Whitney Houston Wanted More Songs
“Initially Whitney wasn’t going to sing anything and finally agreed to sing [Exhale (Shoop Shoop)]. Then said, I want something else. She talked to Clive [Davis] and she did ‘Why Does It Hurt So Bad.’ Then she said, ‘Face, I want to write a song with you about the ladies supporting each other.’ I said, let’s do that. We wrote ‘Count on Me.’ CeCe Winans was her sister. CeCe Winans is the most spiritual person I’ve ever been around in my life. You cannot be around Cece and not feel like you’re closer to god. I watched her lift Whitney’s spirit while we were singing this record.”
Toni Braxton Was a Little Jealous of Her “Musical Husband” Working with So Many Talents
Unlike the tech missteps during Edmonds Verzuz battle, Edmonds came fully prepared when he called up Toni Braxton via video chat to share her memories recording “Let It Flow.” Braxton said, “I thought it was beautiful. I love this song,” but the producer poked fun at Braxton’s initial bland accolades working with him on the soundtrack. “I was good jealous because you’re my Babyface. You’re my guy…. You’re my musical husband.” And in a fun twist, Edmonds asked Braxton to give her best impersonation of Tamar Braxton doing Toni Braxton.
Brandy Was the Best Young Singer He’d Ever Heard
On recording “Sittin’ Up In My Room,” Edmonds shared this about working with Brandy, then a teenager. “She came in ready. She was prepared. She did the backgrounds in three seconds. I got chills from the way she sang the song. Trust me, I’ve worked with so many singers over the years—and the best—but this little girl was one of the best singers I’d ever worked with and seen. She’s underrated and I don’t think people appreciate her voice enough. I was so glad Whitney Houston said yes to Brandy being on this because she made a difference.”
Andre Harrell Didn’t Think Mary J. Blige Was the Right Choice for “Not Gon’ Cry”
Before Harrell passed, he had coaxed Edmonds into revealing this anecdote about Harrell’s hesitation of having his Uptown Records artist record the song.
“I was parked outside the Four Seasons and played ‘Not Gon’ Cry’ for Andre in the car. Andre bopped to it and then said, ‘I don’t think that works for Mary.’” Edmonds wanted an explanation, to which Harrell said “Well she ain’t been married for 11 years, she don’t have kids….” Luckily, Edmonds disagreed with his friend.
“There was only person who could record this. I was nervous. She called me Mr. Face and made me feel important. She sang the song like she been through it, like she wrote it. I’m surprised she didn’t sue me.” And then in true effortless cool, Edmonds dropped Mary received her first top 10 single with “Not Gon’ Cry.”
Like a class act, Edmonds ended his storytime with a heartfelt toast: “To all the ladies who performed on this album. You were amazing. You brought the world to a place and people needed the love. You brought the pain and the heart.”
Take your own walk down memory lane with the soundtrack, here.