Terry Ellis, a founding member of legendary R&B group En Vogue, has a morning ritual that she likes to stick to as much as possible.
“I wake up, meditate, write in my gratitude journal and then I go workout,” she shares over the phone with Rated R&B. It’s a little after nine in the morning and Ellis gives some insight on her morning thus far. “I had a Zoom interview at 5:40 a.m., so I had to get up at three o’clock for hair and makeup to be prepared because it was live television,” she says.
For someone who has been up way before the crack of dawn, she sounds enthusiastic — a contrast to her mood on her latest solo single “Angry Black Woman.” The anthem, which was recorded in 2016, hears Ellis letting out the pain she feels witnessing racial inequality and injustice happen in America.
“It was born from an outpouring of emotions felt regarding the continued police brutality towards Black people,” she explained in an Instagram post.
When it came to recording the heart-wrenching song, Ellis didn’t hold back. “I wasn’t trying to shy away from the way that I was feeling or that title because anger is a natural human emotion,” she tells Rated R&B. “If it’s harnessed properly, it helps you to be self-empowered.”
As a Black woman, Ellis knows the phrase is a stereotype that many other Black women try to avoid. “People call us angry Black women but no one has ever stopped to ask us why,” she says. “If you’re a human being and you have a heart, then you are going to get angry when you see something ain’t right or something’s being done wrong. Period.”
“The problem is that we’re not being listened to,” she believes. “People want to keep shoving the real issues under the rug and give you a title like, ‘Oh you’re just an angry Black woman.’ That’s to shy away from having a real conversation about it.”
On “Angry Black Woman,” Ellis sings a chilling line, “I don’t wanna watch TV and find another casualty / I don’t wanna read the news / My heart’s already black and blue.”
“All of the emotions that I was feeling, while I was recording that song, I was just thinking about our history, our culture and everything we’ve been going through and linking that to over 400 years of slavery, all of the way up to this point and how slavery didn’t disappear, it just evolved into something else which is what we call systemic racism,” she explains. “It’s embedded in laws and statutes and bylaws and everything else you can think of and written in ways to disguise itself but it’s never gone away and it’s just rearing its ugly head again.”
She continues, “I was thinking about the fact that here’s a man (Eric Garner) — I had ever experienced ‘Oh my God. Here’s this man saying he can’t breathe and they’re not allowing him any ease.” Then I started thinking about all of the Black men, women and children that have died from the hands of police brutality and what their families must be feeling like. I could never totally convey what they could be feeling like because I’m not in those shoes but as a Black woman in seeing this happening right before my eyes is painful.”
Ellis admits that the process of writing and recording “Angry Black Woman” was a cathartic experience.
“I just wanted to give a voice to all of those thoughts and emotions that I have felt,” she adds.
As of now, there are no plans for “Angry Black Woman” to be tied to a future project.
In the meantime, Ellis and her fellow En Vogue members are gearing up for their performance at the 2020 Billboard Music Awards. The Grammy-nominated group celebrated the 30th anniversary of their debut album, Born to Sing, in April.
When she thinks back to that era, the first thing that comes to mind is when she first heard the lead single “Hold On” playing on the radio. “It was so crazy. Dawn [Robinson] called me screaming and hollering on the phone. I said, ‘Wait what’s going on?’ She’s like, ‘You have to turn the radio on. The song is on the radio.’ I got up, cut it on and we were both just screaming and hollering in the phone. That’s what I think about when I think about Born to Sing.”
The 2020 Billboard Music Awards will air on Wednesday, October 14 at 8 p.m. EST on NBC.
Rehearsing for the @BBMAs…tune in this Wednesday 10/14 at 8/7c on NBC! It’s going to be EPIC! #BBMAs #EnVogue #EV30 pic.twitter.com/E6xSc9xAtc
— En Vogue (@EnVogueMusic) October 12, 2020