Born in St. Louis, Missouri, Winbush grew up singing gospel music in the church choir and learned to play piano as a child. She had no intentions of pursuing a professional music career when she attended Washington, D.C.'s Howard University, where she majored in architecture. To earn money to pay expenses, she began singing on recording sessions and formed a vocal trio that opened for Van McCoy and Al Jarreau. She became interested in the music business and changed her major to music education.
Around 1977, Winbush sent a demo tape to New York DJ Gary Byrd. He played it over the phone for his friend Stevie Wonder, who called Winbush and invited her to Los Angeles. While singing in Wonder's backup band Wonderlove, Winbush learned about writing and producing by sitting in on sessions with Wonder. In 1980, she met singer/songwriter Rene Moore through Wonderlove vocalist Carolyn Dennis and they began writing songs together, eventually forming the duo René Angela. In 1978, former Tower of Power lead singer Lenny Williams recorded one of their songs, "Changes." A friend introduced the duo to Dr. Cecil Hale, a Capitol Records executive who signed the duo to the label. Two LPs were issued, Wall to Wall and Rise. Another René Angela song, the ballad "I Have Learned to Respect the Power of Love," was recorded by Alton McClain Destiny on their self-titled 1978 Polydor LP. In 1985, René Angela signed to the Mercury imprint. Their label debut, Street Called Desire, went gold, yielding the number one R&B hits "Save Your Love (For #1)," which featured a rap by Kurtis Blow, and "Your Smile." An earlier René Angela song would resurface in a big way. The first single from Stephanie Mills' 1985 Stephanie Mills album was "Stand Back"; on its flipside was her passionate cover of "I Have Learned to Respect the Power of Love." Because of its massive radio play as an album track, Mills' version was reissued as an A-side and held the number one spot for two weeks in spring 1986.
By 1987, Winbush was solo and got her first production job on the Isley Brothers' Smooth Sailing LP after the group's lead singer, Ronald Isley, mentioned to Warner Bros. records executive Benny Medina that he wanted to work with the group who did "Your Smile." After working together, Isley became the singer's manager, and he continued to benefit from Winbush's songwriting and production talents. The two married in 1993, but later divorced.
After she released her third solo album, a self-titled Top 12 R&B hit, in 1994, Winbush largely worked in the background. In the early 2000s, she fought -- and beat -- ovarian cancer. The TV One network gave her career some much-deserved attention in 2010, when it made her the subject of one of their Unsung documentaries. ~ Ed Hogan, Rovi
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