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Contemporary R&B artist Sparkle landed on urban contemporary radio playlists in 1998 with her debut single, "Be Careful." An international hit, the slow jam propelled the understated yet powerful singer's self-titled debut album to gold status. Also a songwriter, Sparkle co-authored much of Told You So, her 2000 follow-up for Motown, but she wouldn't release more solo material until 2018, returning with a single that led to her Obstacle Course EP in 2022. One of the first public figures to speak out against onetime producer R. Kelly, Sparkle is also a public speaker and advocate for victims of sexual abuse. Born and raised in Chicago, Stephanie "Sparkle" Edwards grew up singing gospel with her family. She launched her R&B career in 1994 as a background vocalist on Aaliyah's R. Kelly-produced debut album, Age Ain't Nothing But a Number, and signed a solo contract with Kelly's Interscope-distributed Rock Land label. "Be Careful," the singer's debut single, made an impact in April 1998, eventually topped Billboard's R&B Airplay chart for six weeks, and also became a Top Ten pop hit in the U.K. and the Netherlands. Sparkle, the parent album, peaked at number three on the Billboard 200 and also featured the number 41 R&B/hip-hop single "Time to Move On," along with an update of Minnie Riperton's "Lovin' You." Wyclef Jean's remix of the cover appeared on the soundtrack for the 1999 comedy Life. Creative differences with R. Kelly, who had produced (and written the majority of the material for) the self-titled album, led to Sparkle leaving Rock Land/Interscope for Motown. Working with the likes of Kedar Massenburg and Steve Huff, the singer returned in 2000 with Told You So, a more sophisticated set featuring several songs she co-wrote, including "It's a Fact," her third charting single. The album entered the Billboard 200 at number 121. Meanwhile, her first LP continued to sell steadily, and earned gold certification at the end of the year. Sparkle risked her career and familial relationships in 2002 when she identified her underage niece and R. Kelly in an explicit videotape sent to the Chicago Sun-Times. (She would eventually testify against her former producer in court, and appear in the documentary Surviving R. Kelly.) Supported by the Braxton family, Sparkle relocated to Las Vegas and for years performed with Toni Braxton as a background singer. It wasn't until late 2018, however, that Sparkle resumed solo activity. She reintroduced herself with "We Are Ready," a resolute and empowering ballad she released on her own. Partnering with DNA Entertainment, she continued in 2020 and 2021 with the singles "Easy" and "Open Letter," and in 2022 offered Obstacle Course, an EP containing the three previous singles and two new songs.
© Andy Kellman /TiVo
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