Also Credited As:Toni Michelle Braxton
|Toni Michelle Braxton on October 7, 1967 in Severn, Maryland, USA|
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Braxton's deep voice, mature material and tendency to shy away from vocal acrobatics resulted in the marketing of the performer as an adult contemporary artist, all glamour and sequined gowns at the relatively young age of twenty-five. This smart marketing matched with Braxton's undeniable talent led to multiplatinum sales for the record, but Braxton's follow-up album "Secrets" (1996) had the artist skewing younger with a fresh, more playful look and attitude. Still, alongside slinky beat-driven songs like "You're Making Me High" stood the tried and true melancholic ballads like "Un-break My Heart". In the year after the release of the multiplatinum success "Secrets", Braxton was involved in contract disputes with her record company over what she saw as an unfair lack of compensation considering the sales she was generating for the label. Explaining that she only saw something in the neighborhood of thirty-five cents per unit sold, Braxton sought a way out of her contract, and in February of 1998 filed for bankruptcy.
In the midst of contract talks with LaFace and Arista and unable to put out another record, Braxton headed to Broadway, where she took over the role of Belle in Disney's "Beauty and the Beast". Promising to add some edge to the sunshiny role, Braxton was presented with a new song written especially for her in the production, and enjoyed a successful run on stage. Reconciling with LaFace and Arista in 1999 meant that her third album "The Heat" was set for a 2000 release. Boasting the vocal abilities that made her a superstar and showcasing a new more proactive attitude, Braxton wasn't lamenting lost love on this release so much as asserting her own power. With two hit singles in succession questioning the subject's masculinity ("He Wasn't Man Enough" and "Just Be a Man About It"), Braxton no longer seemed the beautifully tragic victim, but rather a mature woman coming into her own. Wearing a dress to the 2001 Grammys that rivaled the previous year's scanty offering by Jennifer Lopez, Braxton went out of her way to shrug her previous image and succeed both in raising eyebrows and selling records.
Braxton more literally took on a whole new character later that year, making her feature acting debut in "Kingdom Come" (2001). An irreverent but heartwarming comedy, the film chronicled the events and emotions surrounding an African-American family reuniting for their patriarch's wake. Playing the glamorous cousin who marries the Mister Right that the deceased's daughter-in-law (Jada Pinkett Smith) let get away, Braxton succeeded in making the most of both her snarky sultriness and graceful elegance, and turned in a fine performance. Studying under trained stage actor and former "Roc" (Fox) star Ella Joyce and counting singer-actress Vanessa L Williams as an inspiration, Braxton seemed to be taking the possibility of pursuing an acting career seriously, and could ostensibly emerge as a viable double threat.