In 1992, powerhouse quartet En Vogue took the world by storm with their smash hit sophomore album, Funky Divas. The divas flew high from the set’s success, appearing in television shows, touring the world and racking up hit after hit. So it was only right that they took a much-deserved sabbatical. Well, the majority of the ladies did. Come 1995, soul sister Terry Ellis struck out on her own with her debut solo album, Southern Gal.
The album found the native Texan songbird teaming up with En Vogue’s usual producers, Denzil Foster and Thomas McElroy, to craft an album that, surprisingly, sounded nothing like the previous work of the funky divas’ two previous albums. Rather than numbers melding club-ready grooves with flawless harmonies, Southern Gal was a more laid-back affair. That was probably because the album paid tribute to her musical roots and her Houston, Texas upbringing.
She introduced the set to the masses with the emotional ballad “Where Ever You Are.” The song took advantage of Terry’s measured alto with a piano- and guitar-driven arrangement that picked up the notes of longing in the song’s lyric. The song was also the album’s biggest hit. It peaked on the Billboard Hot 100 at No. 52 and on the Hot R&B Singles chart at No. 10. She followed up that success with “What Did I Do To You?,” the set’s second and final single. Borrowing its silken bass line from Norman Connors “You Are My Starship,” the song was Terry’s kiss off to a suitor that wanted to get too close. A more polite, less brassy take on the situation presented in Cherrelle‘s “Didn’t Mean To Turn You On,” it registered with R&B listeners, charting on the R&B singles chart for 10 weeks and peaking at No. 41.
But Southern Gal wasn’t just about the singles. Several quality songs were included among the set’s 12 tracks. Many focused on love, with a fair share of slow jams (“It Ain’t Over,” “Slow Dance,” “I Don’t Want To Wait Until Tomorrow,” “It’s You That I Need”) making the cut. Chief among them was the duet “I Don’t Mind.” It paired Terry with singer Ricky Valentino LaFontaine, who complimented Terry beautifully, and also featured her band mate Maxine Jones contributing backing vocals. Meanwhile, she made sure to make it clear to bring it home with the song “Back Down Memory Lane.” Over a funky, low-key groove, she sings about her younger days, including her teenage years and her time spent at her alma mater, Prairie View A&M University. Still, for all the quality, there were also a few clunkers among the bunch, namely album opener “She’s A Lady,” the run of the mill “You Make Me High” and the ho-hum call for sisterly solidarity “Sister Sister.” And 20 years later, it’s still unclear why she decided to end the album on the misguided pseudo-country “Southern Gal Interlude.”
The album was a very moderate hit among audiences, raising Terry’s profile a bit even though its reception wasn’t what was expected. However, her bread and butter has and will always be En Vogue. She returned to the fold for the group’s third album, EV3. Unfortunately, her band mate Dawn Robinson didn’t follow suit. In past interviews, Dawn has mentioned that Terry’s solo jaunt was a factor in her decision not to return (Dawn was also promised a solo turn, but with Terry’s sales not matching the standard of En Vogue’s success, the label opted to scrap her project in favor of a new EV album). Despite that setback, EV3 was successful, making platinum certification and spinning off two Top 40 singles. However, it failed to meet the high expectations set by Funky Divas and after one more underperforming set, Masterpiece Theatre, the group was dropped from their record label.
But, despite that setback and the group’s well-publicized breakups, makeups and infighting, En Vogue still soldiers on. And though Southern Gal was the only time her solo star got to shine, with Terry being the only member who has never left En Vogue’s lineup, she’s gotten plenty of time in the spotlight since.