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Famed singer and actor Brandy Rayana Norwood, better known as Brandy, was born on February 11, 1979, in McComb, Mississippi. The only daughter and oldest child of William Ray Norwood Sr., a church pastor, and his wife, Sonja Norwood, Brandy got her start as a singer by performing in her family’s church choir. Recognizing that both of their children were gifted performers (Brandy’s younger brother, Ray J, is also a singer and actor), William and Sonja left Mississippi for Los Angeles, California, in the early 1980s in hopes of helping their children launch their careers.

As Brandy later recounted, she was 7 years old when she first heard Whitney Houston and was immediately transfixed by the singer. “I was like, ‘This lady is mad crazy!'” a 14-year-old Brandy told reporters in the early 1990s. “I just wanted to be like her. Not just the beauty, but her voice … she was very powerful, the way she’d sing a word like ‘love,’ or ‘mine.'”

Before long, with her parents’ help, Brandy was performing at a variety of showcases and talent shows. When she was in the ninth grade, Brandy caught her huge break: She landed a recording contract with Atlantic Records. That same year, she was cast in the short-lived ABC sitcom Thea. While the show failed to resonate with audiences, Brandy and her powerful voice didn’t. From the time she debuted on the show, she was popular with viewers.

Around the same time, Brandy began working on her debut, self-titled album, which was released in 1994. The R&B album featured the hit single “I Wanna Be Down.” The song was immediately popular, quickly climbing to the top of Billboard’s Hot 100 chart, where it stayed for four weeks. Coupled with her rich voice was a sweet innocence that audiences adored. Sonja Norwood managed her daughter’s early career, and Brandy was careful not to sing anything that her mother didn’t approve of. “I’ve been offered a couple of songs I wouldn’t sing at my age,” she stated at that time. “I’ve heard a couple of songs I wouldn’t dare sing.”

In 1996, Brandy returned to acting, starring in the UPN sitcom Moesha. The series remained on the air for six full seasons. Even with her busy acting career, Brandy continued to sing. In 1998, she released her second album, Never Say Never, which featured the song “The Boy is Mine.” The song, performed by Brandy and fellow R&B singer Monica, was a monster hit.

As Brandy evolved from teenager to a young woman, her interests spread into other areas, including modeling. She released her third album, Full Moon, in 2003—the same year that she had her first child, a daughter named Sy’rai Iman Smith, with then-boyfriend Robert Smith, a music producer.

In 2004, Brandy released her fourth album, Afrodisiac. She didn’t treat her fans to her follow-up record, Human, until four years later.

In 2010, Brandy returned to television, performing as a contestant on the hit dance-competition show Dancing with the Stars. That same year, she starred in a VH-1 reality TV series, Brandy and Ray J: A Family Business, along with her brother and parents.

In 2012, Brandy released her sixth studio album, Two Eleven.

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