carved out a lengthy recording career in her own right, her name will forever remain linked in the minds of many to her late husband,
was an active session singer and songwriter before signing her own solo deal and marrying
, and while she never matched the level of his stardom, she continued to come into her own as a vocalist in the years after his untimely death. Each one of her first four studio albums reached the Top Five of Billboard's R&B albums chart, and she attained twice as many Top Ten R&B singles.
was born on June 10, 1973, and grew up in Newark, NJ, where she began singing in church at the mere age of two. A high school honor student, she sang in her school's musical productions before winning a full scholarship to Fordham University. After just one year, though, she left college to put her jazz and classical training to use in the field of contemporary R&B. It didn't take her long to find work, and over the next few years, she sang backup and wrote songs for artists like Hi-Five
, Mary J. Blige
, Al B. Sure!
, Tony Thompson
, and Christopher Williams
. Thanks to her work on Blige
's 1994 sophomore effort, My Life
met producer/impresario Sean "Puffy" Combs
, who signed her to his Bad Boy label. In 1995, Evans
released her debut album, Faith
, which went platinum on the strength of the hit R&B singles "You Used to Love Me" and "Soon as I Get Home." The same year, she met fellow Bad Boy artist the Notorious B.I.G.
(some accounts say at a photo shoot, others a phone conversation) and married him after a courtship of just nine days; shortly thereafter, she guested on a remix of his smash single "One More Chance."
Over the next couple of years, Evans
continued her behind-the-scenes work, performing and writing for records by the likes of Color Me Badd
. She and Biggie
also had a son, Christopher Wallace, Jr., in late 1996; however, by that point, their marriage had already become strained. Biggie
had publicly taken up with rapper Lil' Kim
and rumors had been spreading about an Evans
liaison with Biggie
's rival 2Pac
(alluded to on 2Pac
's venomous "Hit Me Off"). The couple had unofficially separated when Biggie
was shot and killed in March 1997. A grief-stricken Evans
was prominently featured on the Puff Daddy
tribute single "I'll Be Missing You," which with its cribbed Police
hook zoomed to the top of the charts and became one of the year's biggest hits.Evans
' sophomore effort, Keep the Faith
, followed in 1998 and spun off several R&B hits over the next year, including "Love Like This," "All Night Long," and the Babyface
-produced R&B number one "Never Gonna Let You Go." In the meantime, she worked with Aaron Hall
, Tevin Campbell
, and DMX
, among others, and also made high-profile guest appearances on two 1999 hits, Whitney Houston
's "Heartbreak Hotel" and Eric Benet
's cover of Toto and Cheryl Lynn's "Georgy Porgy." She eventually married record executive Todd Russaw
, who took an active role in helping manage her career.
In 2001, Evans
released her third album, Faithfully
, a more uptempo record that received her strongest reviews to date; it also produced hit singles in "You Gets No Love" and "I Love You," and her duet with Carl Thomas
on "Can't Believe" was nominated for a Grammy. However, it would be her last Bad Boy album. The First Lady, released on Capitol in 2005, missed the top spot of the Billboard 200 by one position. Singles-wise, it didn't perform nearly as well. After a five-year hiatus from recording -- during which she penned the African American Literary Award-winning memoir Keep the Faith -- Evans
released Something About Faith on the independent eOne label. It topped Billboard's Independent Albums chart, went Top Five R&B/Hip-Hop, and debuted at number 15 on the Billboard 200. Its first single, "Gone Already," was nominated for a Grammy in the category of Best Female R&B Vocal Performance. After appearing on El DeBarge's "Lay with You" and Rahsaan Patterson's "Crazy (Baby)," she starred on the 2012 TV One reality series R&B Divas
beside Nicci Gilbert, Monifah, Syleena Johnson, and Keke Wyatt. A tie-in compilation for the show was released by eOne that October; its proceeds went to the Whitney E. Houston Academy.