Singer Toni Braxton

The six-time Grammy winner discusses her recent and upcoming projects, including her candid memoir, Unbreak My Heart.

Toni Braxton used her blend of R&B, pop, jazz and gospel to become an international star, selling more than 40 million albums and winning six Grammys. She's also had success on Broadway, including as a guest star in the Tony-nominated musical, After Midnight, and headlined her own Las Vegas show. She stars in the WE net's reality series, Braxton Family Values, has a duets album with Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds and penned the memoir, Unbreak My Heart. A minister's daughter, Braxton was raised in a strict religious household and began singing in church as a girl. She's set to star in a new OWN biopic about singer Darlene Love and balances her career with family, health and public service priorities.

TRANSCRIPT

Tavis: With six Grammy awards, seven American Music awards and nine Billboard music awards, Toni Braxton has established herself as one of music’s finest singers.

But along with the success, she’s battled a series of personal setbacks which she chronicles in a new and candid memoir titled “Unbreak My Heart.” Toni, good to have you back on this program.

Toni Braxton: Thank you for having me.

Tavis: You know, I was – two things. I was taken aback when I got a chance to read the book because you are so candid and so transparent on the one hand. So I was like, wow, that’s a lot of her business to put out there.

Braxton: I know. You’re right.

Tavis: That was my first thought. The second thought I had, though, was if you’re going to write a book like this, you might as well tell the truth. I see so many books like this.

People write books and you get into it and you can tell that they’re not really being transparent about it. So I applaud the fact that you wrote a book where you told the truth.

Braxton: Thank you.

Tavis: The question, though, is why tell the truth? Why be so transparent at this point in your life?

Braxton: I know. I thought about that. Actually, when I was writing this book is when I was contemplating retirement. I was talking to my therapist – yes, I’m one of those African Americans that goes to a therapist [laugh].

Tavis: You ain’t the only one in this town [laugh].

Braxton: And she said, you know, it may be time to write your story just therapeutically to get it out and then from there we can – maybe I’ll learn something about you too. I think you’re hiding a lot of things.

My childhood was very much the covered wagon syndrome, you know, especially African Americans. We don’t talk about what goes on in our house.

Tavis: And by covered wagon, what do you mean by that in your life?

Braxton: What goes on inside your house is inside. No one else should see what’s going on.

Tavis: Not no more. Y’all got a TV show now.

Braxton: Well, yeah. That’s the truth, right?

Tavis: Ain’t nothing covered no more [laugh]. Not in the Braxton family.

Braxton: Right, right.

Tavis: You mean way back when.

Braxton: Way back when.

Tavis: When the wagon was covered, okay.

Braxton: Exactly [laugh]. You know, I was a little uncomfortable telling my story because that means you have to tell other peoples’ story. And that family stuff, that can be very challenging, but I talked to my mom about it.

But I thought it was important that people would understand some of my childhood history to understand where I am today.

Tavis: How’d you navigate that? I wrote a memoir a few years ago and I recall…

Braxton: It was good. It was great.

Tavis: Thanks. But I remember the difficulty I had, though, Toni, trying to figure out how I was going to approach my own family. Because, again, you can’t tell your story without your family story being told.

Braxton: Absolutely.

Tavis: And I knew the story had to be told, but I was just trying to find this balance and trying to find the right way in to share with my family what I was going to talk about in the book. How did you figure that out?

Braxton: I didn’t figure it out. I just said I’m just going to write what I feel and I talked to my mom about it. Because a lot of it is my parental situations for me. It’s not as much about my sisters and my siblings.

I’m being raised the way I was raised, a PK, a preacher’s kid and the guilt you always feel associated with religion and trying to find your own way. It’s kind of challenging to find your own way because you’re bogged down with – it’s a sin to do that, so it’s hard to differentiate what’s real for you, your own reality.

Tavis: I know that experience too. I was raised in a Pentecostal Church, as you know.

Braxton: Exactly.

Tavis: I know the story about that feeling of guilt. I’m glad you went there and I’m glad you used the word because I was going to come right behind you with that.

If there’s anything that stands out in this book for me – and there are any number of things – one of them is that you have navigated a life where you have felt a lot of guilt.

Braxton: Absolutely.

Tavis: Guilt about what was right and what was wrong, what you could do and what you couldn’t do based on the way you were raised, guilt about going solo and getting a record deal when you had been singing with your sisters your whole life, guilt about your child who was born with autism and how that might have happened, whether you were in some way responsible.

How have you navigated just through the guilt that you have felt in your life?

Braxton: Guilt is a very powerful emotion. Is that an emotion or is that…

Tavis: I think so. It certainly plays itself out as an emotion, yeah.

Braxton: Absolutely. It’s been hard. That’s why I wanted to write about it. One of my sisters said own it. Don’t be afraid. Just own it. It’s out there and don’t worry about it. When I talk about my career and how I got here, that’s the most difficult part for me to talk about because I didn’t get the congratulations.

I got the spiritual, the devil’s raging, the religious overtures. The devil’s raging; it’s breaking up our family. So it was hard for me to be an artist. All throughout my career if I’m winning Grammys and awards, I would feel guilty…

Tavis: About winning.

Braxton: About winning because my family wasn’t included or if I was hanging out being an artist, my mom, don’t forget about your sisters. So it’s always that suppression to me. I can’t really show happiness.

So my whole life, I mean, I was a perfect artist actually, if I think about it, because you have to suppress a lot of feelings you have being an artist. You can’t say everything you think.

Tavis: You know, the part that struck me – again, as long as I’ve listened to you and been in your company and, you know, known you here and there over the years, it didn’t really hit me in this way until I got into this text which is that you had people – I’m not condemning your family or others.

But there were people who were making you feel guilty about singing secular music when what you were singing about – I could list the names of a bunch of other people who were singing a bunch of other stuff. What you were singing about more than anything else was love.

It just hit me last night going through the book. I’m like why do you make somebody feel guilty for singing a secular song about love? We’re not talking about, you know, gangster rap. Am I making sense?

Braxton: Absolutely.

Tavis: That just kind of hit me last night that why make somebody feel guilty about singing about love? If God is love and you’re singing about love and he ordains these relationships, how can you not sing about love?

Braxton: I think a lot of times tradition, you think, okay, you’re not supposed to do that. That’s not what true Christians do. More so is the people in the church, the congregation, that had problems with it.

But by the time I got a little older, I used to say in my career we were United Methodist, so that was just a little helpful.

Tavis: You can do anything now. I take that back [laugh].

Braxton: Just joking [laugh].

Tavis: Yeah, yeah, just joking [laugh]. Well, as opposed to the Pentecostal Church, you can do a lot more. I’ll leave it at that.

Braxton: Exactly. There you go.

Tavis: Yeah, yeah. Again, you’re candid about a lot of things including the bankruptcy. And my question about that – and people can read all the details in the text, of course, in the memoir – but how do you navigate privately a bankruptcy a couple of times when all of that is public?

There are a lot of people in this country who filed bankruptcy and it doesn’t get to be a front page story.

Braxton: Absolutely.

Tavis: You file bankruptcy and it’s a front page story. So the bankruptcy is what it is, but how do you navigate through that when everybody knows that Toni Braxton, having sold all these records, has filed for bankruptcy?

Braxton: You don’t. I was embarrassed and ashamed. I felt like I was a walking cliché. There she is, another artist has all this success and now she’s bankrupt. But what I explain in the book is the reason. I think when you read the book, you understand.

Okay, it wasn’t her who spent her money. There was no money to spend and I had to pretend I had all this money. That’s the toughest thing as an artist pretending, oh, I have bazillions of dollars and you don’t.

Tavis: How grateful are you for what you have learned now about, as they say, the business of show business as a result of that? This won’t happen again now, will it?

Braxton: No. Well, this happened again after, but that was health.

Tavis: But it won’t happen again, though.

Braxton: No, not for that reason.

Tavis: Okay, ’cause you’ve learned what?

Braxton: I’ve learned a lot. If I had to do it all over again, the same thing would have happened. I’m very clear of that. But what I’ve learned is it’s okay to be greedy. It’s okay to have all that stuff happen to you because, had I known, I wouldn’t have wanted to get into this wonderful world of music.

Tavis: Your first bankruptcy was about a business deal and it is what it is. Again, people can read about it. And you’re not the first person in the music business to, you know, to file bankruptcy. But the second bankruptcy which you referenced a moment ago was for health reasons.

Braxton: Oh, yeah.

Tavis: And anybody who’s paying attention knows that the number one reason that most Americans file for bankruptcy is health.

Braxton: I didn’t know that. I’m gonna use that.

Tavis: That’s a fact.

Braxton: I didn’t know that.

Tavis: My point is, that’s what I mean when I say you aren’t that different than most Americans. Healthcare costs have been for years now the number one reason that bankrupts people just trying to stay alive, trying to take care of their mother, their father, their kids, and they can’t afford to do it.

Braxton: Yeah. Well, here I am.

Tavis: So in that regard, you’re not that different from most other people.

Braxton: No, not different, but embarrassed. It’s still embarrassment, again, for me because, oh, she filed bankruptcy again. Misappropriation of her funds. Don’t give her a nickel or she’ll spend $10.

It kind of makes people – I mean, I never really cared about being in the clique, never really cared, but moments like that made me care.

Tavis: How have you managed to deal with peoples’ opinions of you?

Braxton: That’s why I wrote the book. Because now maybe they’ll judge me differently.

Tavis: Does that matter to you?

Braxton: It doesn’t, but sometimes you do have to paint your own picture because people can paint it any way they want if there’s nothing out there about you. There’s not really a lot about Toni Braxton. I mean, I don’t drink – well, I have a champagne on Sundays.

But I don’t really drink, I don’t do drugs. I don’t have a scandalous life as such, so what do you say about me? All you have is money problems and bankruptcy. So I thought it was important that I put my own colors on the canvas.

Tavis: Your health challenges which you talked about before, we know. The lupus, your child. Although I understand your son is doing pretty well.

Braxton: Very lucky. Early diagnosis changed everything. He’s in his first year in private school.

Tavis: Right.

Braxton: It’s been struggles, but I’m really excited. I’m one of the lucky parents.

Tavis: That must give you hope, though.

Braxton: It does. Very hopeful.

Tavis: I think everybody on this set would agree that you couldn’t be ugly if you wanted to be.

Braxton: Oh, there are days. I have a great makeup artist. A little makeup, a little paint, make you are what you ain’t [laugh].

Tavis: If you had long hair or short hair or no hair, you just fine and you can’t help it.

Braxton: Thank you.

Tavis: There you have it. All right. I was curious as to why you went with this photo when – I mean, you look good either way, but that short haircut – I think if you asked your fans to pick out a Toni Braxton picture that they just – it would be a short haircut.

Braxton: It probably would be.

Tavis: A short haircut. Why did you go with the long hair?

Braxton: We were torn between both. And the publisher thought that this would be a broader audience. I know.

Tavis: I don’t get that.

Braxton: I like them both. You know what I mean?

Tavis: I like them both too. That’s why I’m trying to say…

Braxton: I’ll put some hair in; take it out [laugh].

Tavis: Okay, you fine. We grant you that. I was just curious.

Braxton: You like it better short?

Tavis: I didn’t say better. I just asked, you know.

Braxton: Let me see. I’ll hold it up.

Tavis: But I do like it better short.

Braxton: Like it better short?

Tavis: What y’all like? What do you vote for?

Braxton: Short?

Tavis: Mikey, what do you say? Short or long?

Mikey: Short.

Tavis: Brian, short or long?

Brian: The booth says short.

Tavis: The booth says short. Dave?

Dave: Short.

Tavis: Everybody says short.

Braxton: Short, okay. There it is.

Tavis: Who published this book?

Braxton: HarperCollins.

Tavis: Y’all were wrong [laugh]!

Braxton: Love you!

Tavis: Y’all were wrong about the cover! But don’t judge a book by its cover [laugh].

Braxton: There you go.

Tavis: It’s a great book especially if you are a Toni Braxton fan which most of us are, given that she’s sold millions and millions. “Unbreak My Heart” is still the number two most sold single by a woman ever.

Braxton: Yeah, very lucky.

Tavis: That’s a big deal. That’s a lot of records.

Braxton: Very blessed.

Tavis: It’s a great song. The new memoir from Toni Braxton is called appropriately enough “Unbreak My Heart.” Whether you like the long hairdo or the short hairdo, it still reads the same and it’s a lovely read. Toni, we love you. Good to have you back on the program.

Braxton: Thank you, thank you.

Tavis: That’s our show for tonight. Thanks for watching and, as always, keep the faith.

Announcer: For more information on today’s show, visit Tavis Smiley at pbs.org.

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Last modified: August 21, 2014 at 12:23 pm