It may seem like Brandy brought her family into the limelight to a newer generation, but it was her parents who started it all. Her father, Willie Raymond Norwood, Sr., made a name for himself in the music business as a jazz musician in Mississippi, and eventually transformed into a known gospel singer. Willie Sr.’s love for gospel caught the attention of a two-year-old Brandy, who made her vocal debut in her church choir. It would be cliché to say the rest is history, but you can’t help it when it’s true.
Brandy followed her passion for music and signed on as a backup singer for Immature at 13. Then, a mere two years later, she found her first solo album sold out across the nation. While she may have soaked up the family spotlight, her brother, Ray J, wasn’t far behind. He too found himself spending countless hours in a recording studio, only to release his first album, Everything You Want, at 16. From parents to cousins, this family has seen everything music and television has to offer. And as Brandy continues to shine on The Game, they are only going to see more. That’s familial “raydiation.”
The Brother/Sister Duo
Brandy and Ray J have worked as a brother/sister duo since their teenage years. As the ’90s R&B starlet stepped into the limelight singing back up for Immature (now IMx) at the tender age of 13, her little brother, Ray J, was an 11-year-old boy appearing in various television commercials. The two grew up in the entertainment industry, and found themselves acting together, side-by-side, after Brandy acquired her own TV sitcom, Moesha, in 1996. After the first few seasons, Ray J joined the cast of the UPN hit show.
While the two continue to work together, on set or in the studio, they still look at each other as the everyday brother and sister with issues just like everyone else!
The Ultimate Mom-ager
The entertainment world is a cutthroat industry, so just imagine what it’s like for a 13-year-old girl from Mississippi trying to make it to the top. But the worries of Tinseltown didn’t hinder Sonja Norwood, Brandy’s mother, from letting her follow her dreams.
When it became clear that Brandy’s solo act was headed for the road, Mama Norwood did what any mother would do to prevent their child star from transforming into tabloid news—she took on the role of mom-ager the moment the young soulstress started her career in 1992. Due to the excessive travel, the two became extremely close, some would say like sisters instead of mother and daughter. Eventually, Brandy told ABC that the relationship was “destroying” her, and Sonja eventually stepped back as manager for the sanity of their familial relationship.
Remembering the Good Times
Regardless of the hours and weeks spent away from home, the Norwood family never let distance get between them. Willie and Sonja kept both Brandy and Ray J grounded while growing up in the spotlight, and made sure holidays were spent together and readily enjoyed.
Where It All Started
Ray J’s real name isn’t Willie Raymond Norwood, Jr. for nothing. The ’90s songbird and her brother may have grown up as the stars in the family, but they took their cues from their father, Willie Raymond Norwood, Sr., who is a known gospel singer, and got his start in the church just like Brandy.
While he had some success performing in clubs around Mississippi with his jazz group, The Composers, it wasn’t until 2001 that Willie Sr. released his debut album, Bout It, with Atlantic Records. Brandy was of course featured on the album, and the LP made its way to No. 13 on the Billboard Gospel Chart.
Becoming an Icon
In 1994, Brandy released her self-titled debut album, which went on to sell four million copies. Her sophomore album, Never Say Never, which is arguably her best musical compilation to date, sold five million copies. The California-bred singer told EBONY.com, “[At 15], I just wanted to be a star,” and proved to be something much more. At 19, Brandy sold nearly 10 million albums, and now she sits with six studio albums on the market with an estimated 12 million units sold throughout her career.
There’s no doubt the two-year-old church singer from Mississippi grew into more than just a star, she became an icon for many. And if you ask her, aside from God and her parents, she has Whitney Houston—her friend, mentor and childhood idol—to thank.
A Look at Motherhood
With so much going on at such a young age, Brandy found her way into motherhood in 2002, which also introduced her to reality TV. She signed on with MTV to allow them to document the last four months of her pregnancy in a special called, Diary Presents Brandy: Special Delivery. Since then, Brandy has decidedly kept her daughter, Sy’rai—now 12 years old, out of the spotlight, but has no problem showing her love for motherhood.
For the Love of Ray J
Ray J may have spent years known as “Brandy’s brother,” but in 2009 his name became a household commodity for Monday night entertainment. Willie Norwood Jr., signed a television deal with Vh1 during the dating show craze, giving women the chance to win his heart. Viewers fell in love, or readily disdained, Cocktail, Danger, Chardonnay, Unique and Caviar, and Ray simply loved them all while he looked for the ultimate companion on Vh1’s For the Love of Ray J.
While he “found love” by the end of the show, For the Love of Ray J was back for a second season just nine months later.
Mo to the…E to the…Moesha!
Two years after releasing her debut album, Brandy found herself starring in her own UPN (now the CW) sitcom: Moesha. Slightly reflective of her own life—a teenage girl growing up in L.A. and finding her way—the Carson, California songstress-turned-actress unknowingly became a familial icon for families across the country as she and her [TV] friends, Niecy, Kim and Hakeem learned how to handle growing up and face various unwanted scenarios.
Moesha aired for six years, and left fans on the edge of their reclining chairs after the unplanned season finale. While audiences nationwide eagerly awaited the show’s 7th season, the network decided to cancel its top-rated sitcom.
All About That Brother/Sister Love
No matter how many public family feuds or studio blowups Brandy and Ray J may have, it doesn’t seem like their bond will ever diminish. From the family parties to the clubs, they always put it down.
It Runs in the Family
Brandy and Ray J may be at the limelight of their immediate family, but they’re not the only stars in the Norwood bloodline. As the brother-sister duo has seen what it’s like at the top, they’ve had no problems taking notes from their first cousin, Snoop Dogg now known as Snoop Lion.
Brandy and Snoop have collaborated over the years, but never felt the need to tell the world about their lineage. “We never really told the world because we weren’t trippin’ off of that, but that’s my family,” Snoop told MTV in 2006.
Over the years, Brandy has seen what life is like on top, and felt the burning eyes of a scrutinizing public, and after the release of her 5th album, Human, which didn’t fair well with the public, the R&B singer took some time off to figure out if this was the life she really wanted. Realizing music was something she can never live without, Brandy decided to return to the studio and honor her most recent project, Two Eleven, in Whitney Houston’s name.
And while the gift of song may mean everything to her, Brandy has made her return to television as Jason Pitts’ wife on BET’s The Game, and she’s loving every minute of it. Brandy and Coby Bell (Jason Pitts) can’t seem to get through one sentence without smiles or laughter when talking about their roles together.