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7 Women Who Shape Broadway and Background Vocals

You may not know these background and Broadway vocalists by name, but they deserve to be spotlighted for their immaculate work.

I am such a huge fan of music. It has always been my first passion. And more often than not, what has always made me feel so connected to music were the things happening behind the lead vocalists. The musicians, the lyrics, the mixing, the layering, the engineering, the production. All of this will either enhance or worsen my experience with a song. What has always stuck out most, however, are the backing vocals.

Background singers can make or break a song. And many times—while much less often today, as many mainstream artists, unfortunately, don’t use background vocalists anymore—they are the ones carrying the performance. Most of those singers are women—many of whom are Black—and go uncredited, underpaid, and abused.

Similarly, women who do broadway are often left off of vocal lists, away from music award shows, and generally go ignored by the general public since broadway is not popular.

All of this is unfortunate seeing as how Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, Julie Andrews, Barbra Streisand, and many others come from broadway or singing backup for other artists.

But women carry the industry: both backing vocals and broadway. And while none of these women have made any claims about what I’ve just mentioned above, in light of the Grammys coming up soon, I want to celebrate just seven of my favorite non-mainstream (and horribly underrated) vocalists who come from background singing or broadway (in no particular order):

Kyla Jade

Kyla sang background for Jennifer Hudson for several years before branching out and going on The Voice. She carried the show, but america is racist and anti-fat so she didn’t win (blah). But she most certainly deserved to, and she deserves whatever success she desires!

Jade Novah

You may recognize Jade from her Beyoncé impersonations, but before she became popular from those, she sang background for Missy Elliott and many other artists. She also sang background for and toured with Tyler Perry for his infamous Madea plays. She’s multi-talented and she owns it.

Amber Riley

Maybe she isn’t as “underrated” as some of the others mentioned here, considering she was on Glee and has done other theatre ventures, but she’s very much not a mainstream artist so I’m going to include her here. No introduction needed, really.

Shoshana Bean

She’s a broadway extraordinaire. Her voice is immaculate and she emotes like no other.

Toni “TJ” Scruggs

She has sung with and for Chaka Khan, Mary J. Blige, Lalah Hathaway, and many others.

Patina Miller

You may recognize her from Madam Secretary or from The Hunger Games series, but Patina has been doing broadway for years. Her voice is smooth, her vibrato is aged, and her stamina is stellar.

Anika Noni Rose

She’s best known as Lorrell Robinson from Dreamgirls and as the voice of Tiana—The Princess and The Frog’s Disney Princess. I also know her, however, as one of the most stellar broadway voices of this time. She’s incredible, and her breathing/breath control is unmatched.


editor’s note: this article originally named that Amber Riley had been on Broadway. while she has done musicals and theatre, she has not been on Broadway… yet!

Da’Shaun Harrison is a nonbinary abolitionist and organizer in Atlanta, GA. They write and speak publicly on race, sexuality, gender, class, religion, disabilities, fatness, and the intersection at which they all meet. Harrison is the author of the forthcoming book, “Belly of the Beast: The Politics of Anti-Fatness as Anti-Blackness,” which is expected to be published in July 2021. Their portfolio and other work can be found on their site: dashaunharrison.com.

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