Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Exclusive Interview With LeLee (SWV) My Journey

The Lelee Lyons Journey
By Belinda Trotter James 

Leanne Lyons known to friends, family and fans as Lelee, the one third member of the R&B Grammy nominated girl group, SWV, Sisters With Voices. It all started in New York City in the early 90’s.  The group consisted of Lelee Lyons, Coko (Cheryl Gamble) and Taj (Tamara Johnson). They went on to become one of the most successful girl groups with hit recordings that included, “Weak”, “Right Here/Human Nature”, “I’m So Into You” and “You’re The One”.  The group disbanded in the late 90’s and for Lelee that’s when the next chapter of her journey took a frightful turn.  In this exclusive interview with Leanne Lyons she reveals her most inner personal journey into the darkness and how she victoriously won the battle and reunited with Sisters With Voices…

Reality television has once again pulled one of our favorite female groups from the early 90’s to reunite with loyal fans and be introduced to a new generation of fans.  SWV was approached a long time ago to do a reality show, but it just wasn’t the right time.  “I don't think we were in a good place because we had just gotten back together,” explains Lelee.  “When you come back together after being apart for a while, it takes time for us to try to like each other again and then love each other again. When the opportunity came around again, we were approached by WE TV and we felt that we were ready to do it. We felt that we were in the right place with our lives, our relationships, our friendships and our womanhood. We thought, ‘What do we have to lose and it could help a whole lot of people.’ So, we put the word out there and set up some meetings. The network just loved us and they saw something in us that we didn't see. It is hard to put everything on television. Actually we put some stuff on TV that we never had a private conversation about off the record.”

If you watch the first season of the show it looked as if every little thing was a problem which always leads to one of the members wanting to leave the group and not be bothered anymore. The some of the problems that came up really had nothing to do with SWV. At one point it looked as though Coco wanted to leave the group in the middle of their successful reunion tour to start her solo gospel career or tend to personal family matters. It had to be very frustrating to all parties including the fans to live through all the drama.  It was just crazy and entertaining to watch at the same damn time.  Forgive me but at one point I felt Coko needed to be replaced however, that would not have solved the problem plus the sound that we love so much as SWV would be lost.  It is what it is and people just have to learn to get along and move forward. Either you’re in or out.  There is no in between when it comes to keeping a musical group together.

Lelee adds, “And that's where I am with it. We all made a commitment to do this.  My whole thing is if I'm going to sacrifice and commit to doing this, that's what I’m going to do. I'm not saying doing outside projects is bad, but it has to be done in order. This is SWV, this is our job, this is what we are trying to push, this is our brand so of course we all want to build from that and I don't have a problem with that, but when it becomes a conflict, then that's not cool; that's when it becomes a problem.  It's a lot to deal with, but we love Coko to death "
Reality television exposes a lot of personnel issues and sometimes the celebrities forget that they are on camera exposing themselves in front of millions of viewers weekly.  At that point you have to decide if you want your audience to venture deep inside your personal space. Lelee was going through a few things and one of them was with her daughter. Her daughter had a past that no mother would want for their daughter and it was exposed on the show.  Lelee and her daughter had to decide how to face the music.  “Actually it was her decision to reveal everything,” says Lelee. “Someone came to me and told me somebody put this information out there and I really felt like whoever did it I don’t think it was meant for my daughter because my daughter is not a part of this group. It was meant for me; it was meant to hurt me, but what they don't know is that I am very strong. Where I come from it's nothing new under the sun to say something about me, but it's different when it's your kid.”

Lelee continues, “I had a conversation with my daughter and I said, ‘Look, this is what is going on… What do you want to do with this information?’ And she said, “This happened a along time ago. I need to help some other people. I need to reach those girls who feel like they have low self-esteem and those who feel like they are not good enough.’ I said, ‘Then that's all you need to say.  Whatever we have to deal with we will deal with it as a family.’ I applauded her for even wanting to take that leap like that because everybody can't do that. Everyone that knows me knows that I really don't have too much to hide and if I put it out there, I'm doing it to help them… to help somebody. I thought my daughter had a voice. I felt she could help so many different people.  A lot of things I was just shocked to learn as a mother. I went through my own insecurities even now about being a mom. I just kind of blamed myself with things that have transpired and I started beating myself up for choosing to be around the wrong guys and picking the wrong baby daddy. I was a teenager, but I was dealing with this stuff as an adult and it was so hard. It was then that I realized your past could really affect your future.  That's why we have to always at least try to make the best decisions. Not just for us, but for our kids.” 
In this world you can't judge anyone because you have no idea what type of journey a person must go through. Lelee's daughter has been through the fire and she has come out of it stronger than ever with a powerful message to share with others. She has come to terms with her past and has turned it into something really positive that could help thousands of young girls. Today her daughter Margaret is good. "My daughter is great; she is just awesome”, says Lelee. “This girl is so super strong. I mean I think it hit me a lot worse than it hit her. She is just five foot one and a size one.  She is just a petite little girl with this big heart. She just has this level of strength that I don't even have and I'm pretty strong.  You may crack me, but you will not break me and unfortunately people try to break you with information thinking it's going to get you down or whatever, but they don't know I'm from The Bronx, New York and it don't get any worse than that.” She laughs as we both reminisce about living in The Bronx and seeing things that young adults shouldn't have to see.

This mother/daughter duo is pretty strong and it takes lots of love and courage to get through the rough times.  "It is definitely a process”, says Lelee.  "However one piece of advice that I do have for mothers going through it is that you have to leave yourself open for conversations with your kids. You have to know your kids and what they are doing.  You have to pay attention to their behavior patterns and different things around you because you may be successful, but your kids are not you, but they want to be you and they don't know how to quite be who you are. They don't know how to get there. They think, ‘My mom is this or that’ and now they feel pressured. I just think we have to leave that line of communication open so our kids can talk to us instead of talking to the people outside or instead of killing themselves because they feel bad about something. We need to be their counselors. We have to pay attention because you know as parents we get caught up and we want relationships and we want to be happy too and then we forget that we have kids out there who are crying out for help, but we don't hear them. I think that's where I missed the ball. I was just trying to make it big and trying to get my kids in a place that’s comfortable plus just being a mom... I think I was just trying to be a mom who wanted the best for her kids, but I missed it. I missed something and I beat myself up about that even today. So I'm extra careful especially with my grandbaby to the point where I'm paranoid."
Life has lots of complex layers and human nature also has so many different layers to peel in order to understand what's happening in your world. The one thing you cannot do is be paranoid to the point where you don't do anything or you do too much. You have to do something to break that cycle of paranoia and look at the bright side of things "I have to look at the positive stuff that I've done and the positive things that I sowed into my children”, says Lelee.  ‘I remember having dinner with my daughter one day and she said, ‘Mom you are so strong. I could never be as strong as you,’ and this happened when she was really young so I hold onto stuff like that. It keeps me going and I often think about how my kids had a  nice Christmas every year. The fact that they had coats, shoes and I was able to go out and go on the road and provide for them was great. I was the provider. I was the mother and the father so I have to hold onto those things because unfortunately the devil tries to put us in a space where you feel like the bad stuff overrides the good stuff. It can make you feel like you were not good enough as a parent and I refuse to believe that.”

Life can take you on many twists, turns and detours that can just knock you down to the point where you don't want to get up. Some find the strength to get up and then there are some who feel the pain is so bad they have no other choice but to end their life.  Lelee at one time in her life visited that very dark, dark place on the 11th floor at the Marriott where she wanted to commit suicide. Some say that major blessings are coming your way and that's why the devil tries extra hard to knock you out. However Lelee had a very special angel standing on guard. Some people think that when times get hard, they can just check out. However, as long as your heart is beating, you have a purpose to fulfill.   Lelee was gracious enough to revisit that dark day to reveal her thought process to end her life…
LeLee with her daughter Margaret

“My daughter was about 10 or 11 and my son was about eight or nine. The group had just disbanded and RCA gave us a check for $25,000. That was the check they gave each of us to part ways and say thank you for your services, but we have no use for you anymore basically. So you have 25 grand to stand on, but you don't have anything else coming in and after a while it’s going to deplete.   Long story short I was staying in a hotel in Manhattan. I'll never forget it.  It was the Marriott hotel and I was up to my last $200 and that morning they slipped the invoice under the door which basically means that it's time to go and I knew I had nowhere to go.

I have to say this because I don't want anybody to think that I just didn't have any family or nobody that gave a damn, but I kind of went through this darkness by myself. I was prideful. I was ashamed. I didn't want people to look at me in a certain way. I just felt shameful. I wanted them to look at me as Lelee from SWV...That's who I was; that's who they knew. I wanted them to still look at me like that and not some rundown old singer that was on a downward spiral. I didn't want that… I was so full of pride and I didn't want that so I just started crying. I mean the devil really took over my mind and my thought patterns. I felt I couldn't do anything for my kids even though my kids were getting my royalty checks. Sometimes they would be for $1,000, $500 or $200 and that's what I would send to my sister to take care of my kids. But as for me, I was in that dark place and I started crying hysterically and I dialed my older sister Malia’s number and she didn't answer the phone. Then I called my sister, Jeanette and I know it was the power of God on the phone.  I honestly believe this because I never said a word to my sister and she just said, ‘Leanne just come home… just come home’, and we were just crying. She felt my pain and what I was going through without any conversation.  She just felt my pain through the phone and all I remember saying to her was, ‘Okay’.


 “I went back in my room and I looked in the mirror in the bathroom and I just cried hysterically.  I just started beating myself up saying, ‘How could you do this to yourself? What are you thinking; you have kids, you have people who love you, you have people who care about you, get yourself up!’ I mean I was literally talking to myself like a crazy person.  I was saying to myself, ‘Get yourself back up! Get your ass up!  Pick yourself up and get over it and grow up. How dare you do this to your kids. How dare you do this to your family’.  God will never put anything on you more than you can bear.  How can anyone help you if they don't know your situation and that was a life-changing experience for me. I dried my tears and I looked in the mirror and I said, ‘I'm going to choose life! I choose life over death.’ I will not die today, but I can tell you this… if my sister had not answered the phone the second time, it would have been a done deal for me. I didn't feel it was any need for me to be here anymore. I felt bad about myself. I felt really bad about my decision-making. I have minimum support or no support from my kid’s father and it was just a bad time where I just beat myself up. I still think about it to this day and I have just gotten to the point where I can talk about it and I think, ‘Wow, you are one crazy fool’. There are so many people who go into that dark place. They have visited that dark place once or twice in their life.  I still have people that worry about me and are concerned about how am I doing or they'll asked me am I okay and I have to tell them I am not suicidal. If I didn't do it the first time, I'm damn sure not going to do it the second time."

Lelee can breathe a sigh of relief about it now and she adds, "I was two seconds from doing it. I was outside in the hallway on the 11th floor and I was going to jump. I really was and the funny thing about it is that you are talking to a person that's afraid of heights. When I left the hotel I looked up and I thought to myself, ‘What the heck was I thinking?’ It was the craziest thing. I got in my car and I chose life. I started listening to positive music and I made myself smile. This experience showed me that you cannot rely on anyone but God to make you happy. If you're looking for other people to make you happy, you are going to run into a dead end street. That's one thing I learned… you can't get happiness from people; you have to bring happiness to a situation and that's what I learned and I operate in that today. I talk to my kids and other kids with low self-esteem about learning to love yourself because everyone is not going to like you. Everyone is not going to love you.  Everyone may not think you're a great singer. Everyone is not going to like you or appreciate you and that's the bottom-line. When you feel that there are a lot of people that don't like you, just know that there are also a lot of people that do like you. You should never fail to tap into people who love you like your family, your peers, your fans and other artists.  We always hold onto that dark place and tend to forget about the people who really support you."

Thank you for the victory and now fans can watch Lelee, Coco and Taj continue on their crazy, fun and challenging journeys. "I'm in a great place right now with my spirit and my soul,” confesses Lelee.  “I can talk about it now because I refused to give the devil any victory over my life. He has no control and he will not make me feel like my past is who I am. I refuse to have him make me believe that. So I know and I understand how important it is to get the message out there and that's what I want to do. There are so many people out there who need help and we are messengers. We have a responsibility as entertainers, as people and as women to help each other. We are in all kinds of crazy relationships that we don't know how to get out of, we’re unhappy and we have kids that won't f*&king listen.  How do we get through it and still keep our sanity? The only way to do that is to help each other. We have to talk to each other.” 

“One thing I do realize about women is that most of us are so conservative that we don't want people to think that we're going through nothing in fear of being judged. I don't give a damn. I really don't care because it's that pride; it’s not about you. When you go through something and you come out of that stuff, it is not about you anymore.  You need to help that little girl who is getting beat up by a pimp.  You need to help that woman who's being battered.  Oooh child, don't get me to preach it in here,” concludes Lelee.
The good thing for the fans of S WV is that they are going to stay around for as long as the people love them and want to hear their music. As for what’s in the future for Lelee and SWV, “We are women and we want to get into different things.   As for myself, before I leave this earth I do want to take a stab at doing a solo record, but it’s going to be jazzier and totally different from SWV.  I definitely want to write a book and I definitely want to do something more. I feel as an artist I just have not done enough. I have not gotten my feet wet enough as far as helping people. I don't want to always be known as Lelee the girl from SWV.  That's just not enough for’s just not. I want to show my executive side as well. It's not always about me being in the front. I want to give other people a chance to do what I was so blessed to do. I want to show people how money works and how to do what I do and make a career out of their passion."

Lelee’s son, Khiry is showing signs of following in his mother's footsteps as an entertainer.  He has been perfecting his style of rapping for years and made a guest appearance on the show last season and he did very well. "I'm helping my son work on his music. He was on the show a couple of times. He did a good job however; he does not get an easy pass. I wanted to see some passion. Now I see he lives and breathes it and I think he's ready. I see the passion now that he's older. I just have to think differently now and put things into perspective because I'm a grandmother now and he's a father. It's all about my granddaughter at this point so every decision I make at this point has to make sense.”

Watch SWV’s reality show every Wednesday on WE TV and follow Lelee on twitter Instagram   for updates on her new website and children’s clothing line.

Catch up with SWV

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