He may not write the songs that make the whole world sing, but he comes pretty darn close. Babyface--a.k.a. Kenneth Edmonds--is a writer and producer best known as the man behind the enormous success of others. With his prolific pen and his knack for crafting melodies that insinuate their way into memory, Babyface has written for, among others, Madonna, Toni Braxton, Mariah Carey, Aretha Franklin, Celine Dion, TLC, Tevin Campbell, Gladys Knight, Bobby Brown, and Bell Biv DeVoe. And here's one for the record books: Babyface wrote and produced Boyz II Men's "End of the Road" and produced Whitney Houston's version of "I Will Always Love You," both of which established records for the longest stay at No. 1 on the Billboard charts.
Babyface is a performer, too, with four solo albums and his own record label, the Atlanta-based LaFace. But he's tried to stay out of the spotlight. "I'm a writer, then a producer, then an artist," he has said, and credits other performers for creating masterpieces from his writing: "Most of those songs, the people usually deliver them so well that I say, 'Gee, I couldn't have done that. . . . There is actually a version of me singing "End of the Road," but I'll never play it for you. What Boyz II Men does with it is just too good." His tour de force was the hugely popular Waiting To Exhale soundtrack (1995), which featured diverse female voices united by one thread--Babyface wrote or co-wrote all but one of the album's tracks and produced the entire collection. The "chick flick" audience only reinforced Babyface's fan base--young women who prefer the silky sounds more appropriate to the sheets than the streets. Whitney Houston was reported as saying, "He's the only guy I know who can write about how a woman feels. It's very strange that a male can do that. But somehow he's able to reach down in the core of his soul and pull it out."
The source for his empathy for women's emotions is enigmatic. He was born in Indianapolis, the youngest of six brothers. The showbiz bug bit him early, when he sat in with brother Melvin's band at a high school dance. As a shy youth, he used songwriting as an outlet for his emotions; he wrote his first love song about a girl named Rhonda when he was in sixth grade. The song didn't win him the girl, but it did get him grief from his brothers. Nonetheless, young Ken kept on, playing with funk superstar Bootsy Collins (who tagged him "Babyface") while still a teen. Babyface also played in the groups Manchild (which had a 1977 hit "Especially for You") and then in the light-funk band the Deele, which recorded three albums during the eighties. Towards the end of the Deele's run, Babyface signed a solo deal with Solar Records, releasing his debut, Lovers, in 1987. He also began collaborating with Deele's drummer, Antonio "L.A." Reid, and they became one of pop's hottest production teams, scoring No. 1 R&B hits for Bobby Brown, Whitney Houston, Johnny Gill, and Pebbles. Babyface and Reid established their own label, LaFace Records, in 1989, and signed a distribution deal with Arista. In a few short years, the company achieved multi-platinum success with two of its acts, TLC and Toni Braxton. Babyface and Reid gave Braxton her big break when Anita Baker declined to record two songs they had written for the soundtrack to the Eddie Murphy film Boomerang in 1992. Braxton's self-titled 1993 debut album went on to sell seven-million copies, and earned her a Grammy Award as the year's Best New Artist. The duo, meanwhile, shared the Grammy for Producer of the Year with Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno. Meanwhile, TLC's three albums on LaFace-1992's Ooooooohhh . . . On the TLC Tip, and 1994's CrazySexyCool and 1999's FANmail have combined to sell more than twenty million copies.
The partnership with Reid has quietly faded, and while Babyface--who lives in Beverly Hills with his wife, Tracey, and their baby--keeps his writing and production dockets busy (he's won or shared two Producer of the Year Grammys on his own), he's also pushed his performing star a bit harder. He dueted with Madonna on her 1995 Top 10 hit "Take a Bow," and he shares billing with Eric Clapton on the chart-topping Grammy winner "Change the World" from the Phenomenon soundtrack. His fourth solo album, The Day, was released in the fall of 1996.