Karyn White, R&B superstar and actor tells all [EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW]

Babyface, Benny Medina, Derrick Muhammad, Donald Glover, Gail and the Storm, jeff lorber, Jimmy Star, Karyn White, L.A. Reid, Lame Excuses, Sista, Superwoman, Unbreakable


Karyn White, the beautiful and bold songstress is back!

Karyn White was one of the most talked about singers in the 1980s and '90s and was the first woman to first three solo releases from their debut album hit #1 on the R&B charts. Hits such as ""The Way You Love Me,"" ""Secret Rendezvous,"" and ""Superwoman"" still play daily.

She took some time off to raise her daughter and work on other creative ventures, but now she's back with some cool acting credits and still can wow an audience with her beauty, wit and glorious voice.

Karyn White is the youngest of five children who was born and raised in Los Angeles.  Like many other singers, she got her start by singing in the church choir.  She found work as a backup singer for Jeff Lorber, but it wasn't long before she landed her own record contract with Warner Bros. Records.

Her self-titled album, Karyn White was produced by a couple of giants in the music business:  L.A.Reid and Babyface.  In addition to the tree singles listed above, she scored a number one R&B hit with her duet with Babyface called ""The Way You Love Me.""

She was nominated in the Best R&B/Urban Contemporary New Artist category for the 1989 Soul Train Music Awards and also received nominations for two Grammy Awards.

She followed up her debut album with Ritual of Love in 1991 and then Make Him Do Right in 1994.

By the late 1990s, she left the public eye to raise a family.

She then shot a pilot in 2011 for a reality series also starring R&B singers Shanice and Debelah Morgan. Her next album Carpe Diem was released in 2012, which featured the singles ""Sista, Sista"" and ""Unbreakable.""

In 2017, she tested her acting chops on the BET series Beauty and the Baller.  She also starred in her first feature film Gail and the Storm directed by Derrick Muhammad.

Her recent single ""Lame Excuses"" came out in July 2018 and she has been touring all over the world ever since.

The charming, talented and warm Karyn White spoke with Michelle Tompkins for Stars and Celebs about her early life, how she broke into the music industry, the funny thing her mom said to her after she heard ""Superwoman,"" what she did in the years she was absent from the music industry, how she broke into acting, what are her hopes for the future, how she spends her free time and more.

Thanks to Jimmy Star for introducing us to the kind, talented and hard-working superwoman, Karyn White.

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Michelle Tompkins:  Now, where are you originally from?

Karyn White:  Originally from Los Angeles, a native. South Central.

Michelle Tompkins:  Please tell me a little bit about your childhood?

Karyn White:  Well, I had an amazing childhood, I was the baby of five and I really, really loved being the baby because I got a lot of attention.  so I had a lot of sisters and a step-brother.  But I had a nice, big family and lots of nieces and nephews that are like really close to my age. I love to learn.  I was always very focused and determined, as a child. I knew that I wanted to be an entertainer at an early age, I loved the attention. I had great parents that supported my dreams and I was in pageants growing up in elementary, I was known as Karyn White. I was a track star, a basketball - very competitive. So it was pretty much anything the guys could do, I felt like I could do it, too. I would put together talent shows, I'd put together groups, and I've always loved to, actually just always planning and trying to be somebody. That's all, as I can look back on my childhood; I've always really loved the business and knew that I wanted to do it at an early age.

Michelle Tompkins:  Did you always want to be a triple threat—a singer, dancer, actor? Or did one strike you more than the others?

Karyn White:  Oh, no. I wanted to do it all, because my sister, Angie, had a beautiful voice and she's a singer, my other sister was a choreographer and dancer.  We were very fortunate, there was an underprivileged program in Los Angeles at the time, called the CITA Program in high school, we would go there year-round and we were paid to learn and to put on the programs at the end of the semester. We had to do all of it. They meant dancing, acting, tap, writing, the whole thing. That's where I knew that I would have to do it all. I wanted to do it all. I wasn't as flexible as my sisters, uh-oh, so dancing, for me, was a little harder, because I believe that flexibility is a big part of it.

I went to school with some amazing people. Bentley Evans and Stephanie Evans, who are the creators and of the Martin Show and also Jamie Foxx, they went to Trent High School. I was the first to kind of make it out of the pack.  We were all in this play that I did call The Wind that's out of Dorothy in the play. And it's quite an amazing cast, a lot of talented people. It's kind of one of those things that had to define my life as something that I really loved doing.

Eventually, I wanted to do Broadway because I loved incorporating all of the talent and the singing and acting. Hopefully, that'll be the next venture that I will be able to do.

Karyn White talks about her first album

Michelle Tompkins:  Tell me about your first album, please?

Karyn White:  The first album, Karyn White. Amazing time in my life. I had the good fortune of being managed by Larkin Arnold who's the President of CBS Records. I know he was responsible for the big Michael Jackson deal and he had gotten out of the business and started a management company so I was his first artist. Benny Medina was my A&R person as well as my executive producer and producer.

I was surrounded by such an A team and then thanks to Benny Medina hooking me up with these up and coming new guys we were having some success. They just finished the Whispers album and they were working with Bobby Brown. So I met with them, L.A. Reid and Babyface. They had heard my music from Jeff Lorber.

We decided to work together, started to do three songs and they wind up doing six songs. That was an amazing experience, being a part of their success and being such a dynamic duo. For them to go on and write a hundred top ten hits. That album was very, very, LA was such a great time. It was such a great energy and I would work on their background cause I was a background singer too. So I would do stuff with Bobby Brown, with Johnny Gill, with Sheena Easton, whoever the artist that L.A. and Babyface were working on, I would most likely, you would find me doing background singing for all of them. That album was more than I thought it would ever be. I had no idea that it would be as successful as it was.

Michelle Tompkins:  You're the first female artist to have three single releases from your debut album hit number one on R&B charts. That's amazing.

Karyn White:  Yeah, and I couldn't believe that. I was like, ‘Really, wow.’ I'm very honored and very fortunate to have three number ones hit consecutively and I was surprised that I was one of the first artists to do that. That was really really cool.

Michelle Tompkins:  How did you celebrate the first time you song hit number one?

Karyn White:  How did I celebrate? God, it's so long ago. I probably was working because when you're hot, you don't really get a chance to smell the roses. It's just about, ‘Okay, you've got a get another number one.’ That's one thing I kind of remember is that I've never really celebrated, it was always, ‘Okay, you've got to get the next one. You've got to get the next three.’  Since internationally it took off in all these different countries, I just remember being super tired. I toured on the road. I opened for Bobby Brown. We were on the road for two years [laughter], so my celebration was, ‘Hey, let's go.’  My celebration was work. You get to play to a sold-out audience. That's probably what it was.

Michelle Tompkins:  Well, you should know, my dad's a psychologist and he uses your song “Superwoman” with many of his female patients. He even used it in group therapy sessions with some female inmates in a prison.

Karyn White:  Wow, that's what I heard. It’s just so beautiful to know that music is healing and that you have no clue of what music is. It has a life of its own. So to hear that, it's just like, ‘Wow.’ That makes all the heartache, all the stuff that I've been through, it makes it all worthwhile to hear that kind of story. So I love that. I love that fact that I champion in women, and being resilient, strong, and beautiful women. So that's really, really an honor to hear that. I'm so glad that it helps.  The music is healing.

Michelle Tompkins:  It is. Can you please tell me the origin of that song?

Karyn White:  The origin of “I'm not Your Superwoman?” Well, yes. It was written by Babyface, L.A. Reid and Daryl Simmons, so I just performed the song. I remember Babyface and L.A. and telling me, ‘We think we've really got something special here, Karyn, for you.’ And Babyface got on the piano and played it for me. And really it's very beautiful. It made me really kind of well up, tearful. I thought about my mother. Because I was so young, I don't think I really understood the lyrics that I was singing. And maybe that's why. Because not shortly afterward you had Dionne Warwick with Gladys Knight and Patti Labelle to cover the song. it was a big song. It was probably emotionally bigger than where I was. I was only 23 or 24 at the time, so I couldn't really tell you, honestly, what a “Superwoman” was because I hadn't lived enough life yet. But I knew when I did the song,  I substituted what my mother, how I felt about her, so it was for my mother.

Karyn White on why she took some time off

Michelle Tompkins:  Now it seems like after your third album you took a little break. Why did you decide to do that?

Karyn White:  Well, after the third album, Warner Brothers exec Benny Medina had left and the industry was changing. Hip-hop was coming in real strong. And I was married to iconic super producer Terry Lewis of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis.  I found myself not really feeling like I was happy with my achievements in life, that I wasn't happy as a person, in total. Terry and I had an AM and a PM nanny raising my daughter. And I had such an amazing childhood and mother, I couldn't see that that's how I would raise Ashley. Because when you have a husband more famous or just as famous as you, somebody has to step back. And so I kind of stepped back and wanted to be there and raise Ashley.

As time happened, I wound up getting a divorce, unfortunately, and I went into a depression. And honestly, I didn't realize it was depression. My mother was passing of cancer. I just lost whatever that desire was to sing at that time. I'd always been very driven to know that that was what I wanted to do. I'm very focused, so that was a big part of the strength of me making it, being a part of that 1 percent that kind of accepted my focus. And I had a really hard time splitting myself.

Being a wife, a mother of a performing artist, it was hard for me to be great at it all. So I just stepped back and then wound up turning into a couple of years, four years. After a few years, you start feeling like, ‘Oh, well who cares? I've had my success.’ And you know how you can talk yourself out of things and make it okay? ‘I'm raising my daughter and I'm doing what's right.’

I could have done both, but I believe I really wanted to grow as a person in total because I didn't have that chance in my 20s. Since I've always known that I wanted to be an entertainer, my focus has been driven to do that. I felt like I needed to grow up. But spiritually, I wasn't happy with my life. So I needed to get in balance. I'm a Libra, so being in balance is important to me [laughter].

Michelle Tompkins:  Now tell me about your role in BET's Beauty and the Baller.

Karyn White:  Ah, Beauty and the Baller. Well, first, I wanted to say that Michael Ajakwe, he's an Emmy award-winning writer and producer, he just passed last month. He cast it and he wrote and developed it. He did this four years ago. Ray Parker Jr. was a producer. We had Sly Stone in it. Deniece Williams was in it. And we had Anu Cash. This was shot four years ago. We did it in Los Angeles. And I was cast as one of the best friends of a Baller’s wife. We wound up getting it picked up on BET. This happened last summer on Centric.

It was my first TV appearance in acting. I played the comic relief. It was a fun role for me—playing a baller's wife who was divorced, had kids and we lived in this gated community and kind of showed the baller's life. It was great because I had been to a lot of auditions in Los Angeles as an actress, I was re-emerging and the five years training and so, this really meant a lot because I thought it was had to be a singer, but the acting was, whoot, my God. It was so much competition and I really had to take my hat off to actors and actresses have to wait all their lives and they commit themselves and some never, never get a sitcom. I am very blessed to have done that and am looking forward to doing more sitcoms in the future.

Michelle Tompkins:  And what is Gail and the Storm?

Karyn White:  Gail and the Storm is us. My partner Derrick Muhammed and I, we have a film company. We decided that we wanted to, instead of audition for these roles that I was telling you about we were going to create our own platform and do our own movie and we were going to use college students from Moorehouse and we were going to use a small budget, pretty much just $20,000, which is what a film company would probably use for one day of catering.

That's what we used to shoot this movie. This is loosely based on my life.  It's about a legendary funk singer who walked away from the business at the height of her career, thanks to feelings of betrayal. She hooks up with a revolutionary music producer who was once famous and he's trying to get back in the game. He wants to get her back into the game. So, this is our first independent film. I'm very proud of it because it's a little cult film. I'm glad that I did it. We did it in seven days, in Sacramento. We cast it with people from L.A., and we used a lot of locations in Sacramento. We shot the soundtrack at the same time, two days I did seven songs.

I would do vocals from five in the morning until noon and then from two to two in the morning, we would shoot it. For a week and it was magic that whole week. Because we couldn't have been able to do this had not everything happened the way it was supposed to, because we had an amazing cast and everything happened—we were able to do the vocals.  It was a really fun project, and we wanted to do this to show that we could do it. With technology today, that it doesn't take all this money that people say that it's going to—it can be done much cheaper. And we proved that and we're excited about it and we're promoting it now. We're on Amazon and on we're selling it through our own site GailandtheStorm.com. We are very excited about the possibilities for it. I hope will get in cult classic film status that people will discover.


Michelle Tompkins:  Oh, I love that. I also love that you filmed in Sacramento because I'm from Sacramento. I saw that you lived in Rocklin for a little while.

Karyn White:  Yeah, I lived in Rocklin, I lived in El Dorado Hills, Roseville because I just got a home. I moved every two years there, you know the market was great up until 2007—til it started changing. I moved there in 1997. And I love Sacramento. A lot of my musicians and producers are from Sacramento.

I worked with Jay King from Club Nouveau. He's the producer on the film and Derek Allen, who's DOA, who is legendary here in Sacramento as well. We did our premiere there at the Tower Theater downtown.

Michelle Tompkins:  Oh, wow. That's exciting. I love that place.

Karyn White:  Yes. It was. We had a great turnout and a standing ovation [laughter].

Michelle Tompkins:  Now, where do you live now?

Karyn White:  I live in Atlanta. I've been here for almost three years now. I moved here from Los Angeles and wanted to be able to be in the new Black Hollywood. So I'm putting roots down here, and I'm also flipping homes as well because, in Los Angeles, it's very expensive to live there. So I was able to come to Atlanta. And we have a company here, and we hope to be doing more projects in Atlanta with film, as well as music, here.

I love the cultural city here in Atlanta. We say that Atlanta, I realized how much culturally it has influenced the world. So I'm really excited to be here at a time with all the film, TV and music being here.

Karyn White talks about her current work and future plans

Michelle Tompkins:  And what's going on with your music now?

Karyn White:  Okay. Well, I have the soundtrack right now. We just released the second single” Lame Excuses.” And I will be working with some other producers here in Atlanta. And I realize that I've been away. I got to get back out here. So a lot of people are here and a lot of producers. I'm looking forward to one of my favorite artists right now here in Atlanta. I love Donald Glover aka Childish Gambino, him and Janelle Monáe. I'm putting that out there. I would love to do something with them and working with some other pop producers here in Atlanta.

I should be probably doing more singles, and those film projects, and plays, and just getting out here touring again. People don't realize it, but I have to really get back out there. It's been so long, so although I have iconic music, we know that you're only a product of your last record. And then my last record has been a long time.  I've been approached for reality shows. We'll see. I'm looking for the right project because it has to be the right fit for my brand. So who knows? We'll see what happens here in Atlanta.

Michelle Tompkins:  Well, my dad said he hears you on the radio every single day. He said he was hoping that you're rolling in residual money.

Karyn White:  Oh, wow. Really? Then that's good to hear because a lot of the music today is timeless as far as on the classic radio hits. They call that an Evergreen catalog. I'm proud that I have an Evergreen catalog [laughter]. Thank God for that.

Michelle Tompkins:  Now please tell me about our upcoming trip to Africa.

Karyn White:  Yes. I'm looking forward to it. Going back to South Africa, we're going to be doing Cape Town and some other surrounding cities. I went there a couple years ago and I had no clear how popular my music was there, and I'm so excited about singing in Africa.

It's so funny how the music just transcends nationalities and transcends countries. To hear that the music is so powerful and still loved and evergreen in these countries. I'm excited to sing all of my hits over that probably aren't as popular over here because they like me for more of my ballads as supposed to uptempo, so I'm excited about doing more shows in South Africa.

I've been rehearsing and I’m really looking forward to it. I'm going to be playing live there and they really welcome the artists from the States with open arms.  They just treat you like royalty even though—sometimes I feel like the States—we have so much music over here, that you get kind of like, ‘No, okay.’ You what I mean. They don't have that love that they do over there, so they really appreciate having the older artists or what would I call old-school artists to come and perform. That makes me feel really good. I'm excited about going there and performing.

Karyn White dishes on her favorite things

Michelle Tompkins:  Now, is there anything you want to add about your personal life?

Karyn White:  That I'm just a go-getter. I'm 52 and I'm loving getting back into the industry and appreciating who I am. I'm always encouraging, and stretching, and reaching, and trying to be better than I was, and taking lessons. I feel like my best days are ahead of me. I just love to encourage people that are dreamers to dream, and you're never too old to start again. So that's how I feel about life right now.

Michelle Tompkins:  What do you like to do for fun?

Karyn White:  What do I like to do for fun? I love to go to the movies. I love to hike and—what else do I like to do for fun? I love finding great antiques. I like to antique. I love interior design. I like to do that for fun.

Michelle Tompkins:  So what shows and movies do you like to watch?

Karyn White:  What shows and movies? Well, I'm really loving Love Is right now on OWN. I love that show. I love Queen of the South. I love Power what else? Oh, Atlanta, Donald Glover's. I love what he's doing there. I love This is Us, Younger. It's a lot of great TV on, so—oh, and a guilty pleasure is Love and Hip Hop Atlanta. I got to say [laughter]. It is a guilty pleasure.

Michelle Tompkins:  We all have a couple of those.

Karyn White:  Exactly. And Housewives. I love Housewives too, actually. Housewives. Moreso than Hip Hop Atlanta. Yeah, I love Housewives of Atlanta.

Michelle Tompkins:  Who are some of your favorite musicians?

Karyn White:  Wow. Favorite musicians. Let's see. Stevie Wonder, Prince, Luther, Marvin Gay. A lot of men. Al Green. Those are some of my favorite. Diana Ross, Donna Summer, Gladys Knight. Annie Lennox. I like Annie Lennox too and Chaka Khan. I forgot to say that.

Michelle Tompkins:  Oh, they're great. I love them too. Where is somewhere you want to visit but haven't gone to yet?

Karyn White:  Gosh. I want to visit Italy. I haven't been to Italy. So I want to go to Italy.

Michelle Tompkins:  How do you like your fans to connect with you?

Karyn White:  How do I like them to connect? Through my website karynwhite.me and also through Facebook, and Instagram, and Twitter.

Okay. Social media karynwhiteofficial and that's K-A-R-Y-N whiteofficial at Facebook and at Instagram and then karyns_world at Twitter.

Michelle Tompkins:  Now what's next for you?

Karyn White:  What is next? Well, I'm in talks with doing a theatrical play in October, so that's something that I'm going to do. It'll get me closer to my dreams of Broadway. And I also am looking forward to doing a sitcom in London. Can I say what it's called? I don't know. It's kind of early. They actually don't have everyone signed yet, but, yeah. But I'm looking forward to doing a sitcom in London hopefully this year. I have a reoccurring role.

Michelle Tompkins:  Sounds like you're nice and busy. I love that.

Karyn White:  Yeah. And what else? Yes. I am also finishing up a home I'm flipping here in Atlanta, and once I'm done with that, always looking for another property to flip. I will also be blogging about it. I'm going to be blogging about how I flip these homes and that's something else that will be in the future.

Michelle Tompkins:  We covered a lot of bases. I think you have an interesting life.

Karyn White:  Aw, okay. Well, thank you. Yeah. It's funny— not funny, but yeah, it's interesting, when you think about it. Just the fact, for me, coming back after so long. It's like woo, my God. I'm not coming back for vanity. I feel like I got a lot more music left in me. So I'm kinda driven by this thing. Before when I was doing it, I was younger and I had big dreams. But now, it called me back. I'm just doing what I can and trying to stay busy and just being grateful and thankful.

Karyn White can be found here.


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Michelle Tompkins

Michelle Tompkins is an award-winning media, PR and crisis communications professional with more than ten years experience with coverage in virtually every traditional and new media outlet. She is currently a communications and media strategist and writer, as well as the author of College Prowler: Guidebook for Columbia University. She served as the Media Relations Manager for the Girl Scouts of the USA where she managed all media and talking points, created social media strategy, trained executives and donors and served as the organization’s primary spokesperson, participating in daily interviews with local, regional, and national media outlets. She managed the media for the Let Me Know internet safety and Cyberbullying prevention campaign with Microsoft, as well as Girl Scouts’ centennial Year of the Girl To Get Her There celebration in 2012, which yielded more than 800 million earned media impressions. In addition to her extensive media experience, Michelle worked as a talent agent in Los Angeles, California, as well contracting as a digital content developer and her writing has appeared in newspapers and online. She is passionate about television, theater, classic movies, all things food and in-home entertaining. While she has lived and worked in NYC for more than a decade, she is from suburban Sacramento and gets back there often to watch the San Francisco Giants on TV with her family.

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