Syleena Johnson counted on her own honesty and real-life experiences to produce her compelling music. The young Chicago native confronted her own romantic pitfalls and coming of age story on her debut CD, Chapter 1: Love, Pain & Forgiveness (Jive Records), which featured guest appearances by blues guitarist Buddy Guy and contemporary R&B artist R. Kelly.
Johnson’s soulful rasp, reminiscent of old school R&B singers, set the tone for her confessional songs about the pain she endured in a bad relationship with a then-27-year-old man in 1997. Johnson grew from the experience and put it behind her, finding strength from a sense of forgiveness and from the spiritual guidance she received from God. In 2000, Johnson married a former college basketball player, Marcus Vetts, who became her tour manager.
Johnson wrote all the songs on her debut CD except her first single, “I Am a Woman,” penned by R. Kelly. Johnson began writing songs for her debut CD at age 20 in 1997 and sent her demo to Wayne Williams, V.P. of Artist Development at the Chicago office of Jive Records. He signed her and paved the way for the release of her debut album in May 2001.
Johnson is the daughter of ’60s R&B/blues singer Syl Johnson, part of the famed Hi Records roster. She grew up listening to Aretha Franklin, Al Green, Tina Turner, the Dells, and Mavis Staples. Early on, she developed a love for music. She performed in local bands in Chicago. She sang in her church choir at Greater Christian Unity. She worked in classical and gospel choirs as well as jazz ensembles at Drake University and at Illinois State University, where she majored in music. After having nodes removed from her vocal cords, she took two years of speech therapy. She has seven years of vocal training. All the hard work made Johnson one of her generation’s most soulful and realistic R&B singers.