I’m sure by now most of you are familiar with the interview former SWV member Leanne “LeLee” Lyons gave to Jamie Foster Brown of Sister 2 Sister magazine. In the interview LeLee talked of being penniless and homeless, eventually turning to the gay community just to put a roof over the head of herself and her children. Like many of you, I wondered why Coko and Taj, who seem to personally and financially be doing quite well, did not step in to help out their former bandmate and friend. Well Coko sat down to talk to AOL Black Voices about just that and asserts she was just as shocked as the rest of the world to learn of what LeLee had been going through for the past few years.
Below is the article in it’s entirety as told to Jawn Murray:
When the April issue of Sister 2 Sister magazine hit newsstands recently, it sent shockwaves through the music industry with its tell-all interview with SWV founder Leanne “LeLee” Lyons. In the Jamie Foster Brown exclusive, LeLee detailed how she was nearly “destitute” after the group broke up in 1998 and how she would “go to gay clubs and meet girls just to have someplace to sleep.”
The alarming fall from grace story had online chat rooms and blogs buzzing about the state of LeLee and her fellow Sisters With Voices singers. The group’s lead singer Cheryl “Coko” Clemons told me in an exclusive interview that she was just as surprised as everyone else by many of the stories LeLee disclosed in the interview.
“I was not aware of the interview prior to it coming out,” Coko said. “When the magazine first came out, I got a few phone calls from people telling me about the interview and they read some of the things she said in it. I went to get it myself and discovered it was…quite something! I was shocked! I never expected her to say all of that stuff.”
LeLee told Sister 2 Sister’s publisher that she was financially strapped following the group’s demise and was “homeless” for some time. Those allegations have many questioning why Coko or fellow group member Tamara “Taj” George didn’t step in to help. “I didn’t know any of that stuff because we weren’t speaking during that time. We didn’t really start talking again until like 2003,” Coko offered.
The 34-year-old, Bronx-bred LeLee also confessed that when SWV disbanded in 1998, she only received a check for $25,000 from RCA Records and was sent on her way. “I was still on the label as a solo artist so that’s not what happened to me,” explained Coko, who in addition to releasing a solo record ‘Hot Coko’ in 1999 went on to collaborate with everyone from Will Smith (“Men In Black” theme song) to L.S.G. (“All The Times” featuring Faith Evans and Missy Elliott). “I’ve been blessed! I’m not broke and if its God’s will, I’m never going to be broke,” said Coko.
As disheartening as LeLee’s reality is, Coko said that LeLee’s situation isn’t a reflection of her or Taj. “I can’t really speak for Taj, but LeLee’s situation is unique only to her,” explained Coko. Apparently during SWV’s heyday, LeLee’s reputation for missing dates and causing trouble on the road had RCA ready to replace her, a la Destiny’s Child style. “That’s true,” Coko admitted, before adding: “Taj and I were against that. We didn’t want to replace her with anybody. It was going to be the original members or we weren’t going to do it at all. She put the group together and we weren’t going to sing with anybody else.”
The hoopla surrounding this Sister 2 Sister story has shocked Coko. “We ain’t have this much buzz when people learned we were getting back together,” she laughed. And while they’ve been performing regularly with acts like After 7, Bobby Brown and Blackstreet since reuniting in August of 2005, Coko shared that their Toronto tour date with New Edition in late June will serve as an indefinite hiatus for the girls again. “It’s not where I am right now. The reunion dates over the last two years offered us a chance to fix our friendship and helped us launch individual projects of our own,” she confessed. “Spiritually, I couldn’t perform some of those songs we used to sing before and I felt as though if we kept taking songs out the show, we weren’t going to have anything left to sing after a while. That isn’t fair to the fans that are coming out to see us. The next chapter of my life is focusing on my gospel project, ‘Grateful,’ which came out last fall.”
Will the group ever perform together again? “Yeah, we may occasionally reunite for some major events or television specials or something. But just doing spot dates for sake of doing spot dates isn’t where I am right now,” she said.
Coko, who is married to percussionist/producer Mike Clemons and has two sons, just received two GMA Dove Award nominations for ‘Grateful.’ She’s also been doing spot dates on Fred Hammond’s “Free To Worship” tour along with Kenny Lattimore and Chante Moore. Her latest single, “I Get Joy,” was the most added song at gospel radio last week.
Taj is still married to former football player turned sports commentator Eddie George and they have two sons. Their life is being detailed in the TV One reality series ‘I Married A Baller,’ which debuts April 21. This summer, the singer will publish her first book, ‘Player HateHer: Why Can’t Women Just Get Along?’ (Amistad/Harper Collins). She also runs Visions with Infinite Possibilities (VIP), a non-profit organization founded by her husband to enrich the lives of women and children affected by domestic abuse.
LeLee has plans on launching an entertainment company to develop new artists. In addition, she recently shot a pilot for a syndicated radio show that she hopes will get picked up. She also commented about the online backlash from her Sister 2 Sister interview on her MySpace page. She wrote: “Lelee is not homeless. I sleep very well at night (smile). PS. The media is really concerned about who I’m f@&#in. Is she gay or what? To satisfy everyone’s curiosity who is interested please go to www.kissmyass.com.”