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Faith Renée Evans (born June 10, 1973) is an American singer-songwriter, record producer, actress and author. Born in Lakeland, Florida, and raised in Newark, New Jersey, Evans moved to Los Angeles in 1993 for a career in the music business. After working as a backing vocalist for Al B. Sure, and Christopher Williams, she became the first female artist to be signed to Sean "Puff Daddy" Combs' Bad Boy Entertainment label in 1994, on which she released three platinum-certified studio albums between the years of 1995 and 2001. In 2003, she left the label to sign with Capitol Records.

Next to her recording career, Evans is widely known as the widow of New York rapper Christopher "The Notorious B.I.G." Wallace, whom she married on August 4, 1994, three weeks after meeting at a Bad Boy photoshoot. The turbulent marriage led to Evans' involvement in the East Coast-West Coast hip hop feud, dominating the rap scene at the time, and ended with Wallace's murder in a yet-unsolved drive-by shooting in Los Angeles, California in March 1997. A 1997 tribute single featuring Puff Daddy and 112, entitled "I'll Be Missing You", became Evans' biggest-selling hit to date and won her a Grammy Award in 1998.

Also an avocational actress and writer, Evans made her big screen debut in the 2000 musical drama Turn It Up by Robert Adetuyi. Her self-written autobiography Keep the Faith: A Memoir was released by Grand Central Publishing in 2008 and won a 2009 African American Literary Award for the Best Biography/Memoir category.

Early life

Evans was born in Lakeland, Florida, to an African-American mother, Helene Evans, a professional singer.Her father, Richard Swain, was a Caucasian musician who left before Evans was born. A half year later, 19-year-old Helene returned to Newark, New Jersey and left Faith with her cousin Johnnie Mae and husband Orvelt Kennedy, the foster parents of more than hundred children they raised in the time that Faith lived with them. It was not until a couple of years later, Helene's career floundered and she tried to take Evans back home. Faith, however, was scared to leave what she'd "been used to", and instead, Helene moved in next door.

Raised in a Christian home, Evans began singing at church at age two. At age four, she caught the attention of the congregation of the Emmanuel Baptist Church (in Newark) when she sang The 5th Dimension's song "Let the Sunshine In". While attending University High School in Newark, she sang with several jazz bands and, encouraged by Helene, entered outside pageants, festivals and contests, where her voice would be noticed and praised. After graduating from high school in 1991, Evans attended Fordham University in New York City to study marketing but dropped out a year later to have daughter Chyna with music producer Kiyamma Griffin. A couple of months later, she moved to Los Angeles, where she worked as a backup vocalist for singer Al B. Sure, when she caught the ear of musician Sean "Puff Daddy" Combs. Impressed with her persona, Combs signed her as the label's first female artist to his Bad Boy Entertainment in 1994.

Recording career

1994—2004: Bad Boy Records

Newly signed to Bad Boy Records, Evans was consulted by executive producer Combs to contribute backing vocals and writing skills to Mary J. Blige's My Life (1994) and Usher's self-titled debut album (1994) prior to starting work on her debut record Faith. Released on August 29, 1995 in North America, the album saw her primarily collaborating with Bad Boy's main producers The Hitmen, including Chucky Thompson and Combs, but also spawned recordings with Poke & Tone and Herb Middleton. Faith became a hit based on the singles "You Used to Love Me" and "Soon as I Get Home". The album was certified platinum with 1.5 million copies sold, according to RIAA.

Following Biggie's murder in March 1997, Combs helped get Evans out of her gloom to record a tribute song titled "I'll Be Missing You", based on the melody of The Police's 1983 single "Every Breath You Take". The song, which featured Combs, Evans, and all-male group 112, became a worldwide number-one hit and debuted at the top spot on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1997, staying there for eleven weeks. It eventually won Puffy and Evans the 1998 Grammy Award for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group. The next year, she received another two Grammy nominations for "Heartbreak Hotel", a collaboration with singers Whitney Houston and Kelly Price, that reached number two on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

Two years in the making, Evans' second solo effort, Keep the Faith, was released in October 1998. Almost entirely written and produced by her, Evans considered the album tough to complete as she had initially felt discouraged about the progress at first.Upon its release, however, the album garnered generally positive reviews by music critics, with Allmusic noting it "without a doubt a highlight of 1990s soul-pop music". Also enjoying commercial success, it eventually went platinum and produced the top ten singles "Love Like This" and "All Night Long", prompting Evans to start an 18-city theater tour with Dru Hill and Total the following year.

Evans' third album on the Bad Boy imprint, entitled Faithfully (2001), saw her working with a wider range of producers, including The Neptunes, Mario Winans, Buckwild, Vada Nobles, Cory Rooney, and others. Her first project with husband Todd Russaw as executive producer and creative partner, the album reached number 14 on the Billboard 200 album chart and number two on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart, eventually being certified platinum, but spawned moderately successful singles, with the Jennifer Lopez-penned "I Love You" becoming the only top twenty entry.Released amid Bad Boy Records' transition from distributor Arista Records to Universal, Evans felt Faithfully received minimum support by the label, and in 2004, she finally decided to leave Bad Boy as she was convinced Combs couldn't take her career any further due to his other commitments.

2004—2007: Capitol Records

After leaving Bad Boy Entertainment Evans signed with Capitol Records, becoming the first contemporary R&B artist to do so, and started work on her fourth studio album The First Lady, named after her nickname on her former label. As opposed to having an in-house team of producers who supplied most of the previous material, she and Russaw were able to gain more creative control over the album and consulted producers such as Bryan-Michael Cox, Jermaine Dupri, Mike Caren, Pharrell Williams, and Chucky Thompson to contribute to it. Upon its release in April 2005, The First Lady opened at number two on the Billboard 200 and on the top spot of the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart, becoming Evans' highest-charting album to date. It was eventually certified gold by the RIAA.

At the end of the year, Evans released A Faithful Christmas, a holiday album of traditional Christmas songs and original tracks. The effort would become her last release on Capitol Records as the company got bought out in 2007, satisfying Evans' wish to leave the label anyway.

2008—present: Hiatus and E1 Entertainment

Following a longer hiatus, Evans signed a deal with E1 Entertainment in 2010. The company along with Evans and Ten2One Entertainment are to produce a reality series named It's All About Faith chronicling her life and the recording of her sixth studio album Something About Faith, which is scheduled for release on September 14, 2010. Faith has released her new single "Way You Move" featuring rapper Snoop dogg from the album.

Acting

Having previously appeared in stage plays as a teenager, Evans branched out into acting with a supporting role in director Robert Adetuyi's 2000 music drama Turn It Up, starring Jason Statham and Ja Rule. Released to generally negative reviews from critics,who noted it "patently absurd in both the details and larger aspects" the indie film had a short run at the box office and became a financial disappointment, gaining US$1.24 million during its U.S. run only.

In 2003, Evans appeared in the MTV-produced romantic comedy The Fighting Temptations in which she portrayed a single mother and night club singer. Filmed in Columbus, Georgia and headed by Cuba Gooding, Jr. and Beyoncé Knowles, the film garnered mixed reviews by critcs, but reached top top three of the U.S. box office, resulting in a domestic gross of US$30.2 million. In addition, Evans recorded a contemporary cover version of Donna Summer's 1978 hit "Heaven Knows" for the film which her characters performs during one of the first in sequence in the film. The accompanying soundtrack reached the top twenty of the U.S. Billboard 200.

In 2004, Evans earned a short guest stint on the UPN sitcom Half & Half. Evans announced that she had been working on a synopsis for her own sitcom that would be loosely based on her life but with a more comedic aspect. It is unknown whether she has officially pitched the sitcom to any television networks at this time

Writing

Evans released her biographic book called Keep the Faith: A Memoir on August 29, 2008. It detailed the highs and lows of the singer's life, but also shed light on Evans' controversial relationship with her late husband, the Notorious B.I.G.:

"I want people to understand that although he was a large part of my life, my story doesn't actually begin or end with Big's death. My journey has been complicated on many levels. And since I am always linked to Big, there are a lot of misconceptions about who I really am. It's not easy putting your life out there for the masses. But I've decided I'll tell my own story. For Big. For my children. And for myself."

In its initial release, "Keep The Faith: A Memoir" landed in the Top 20 on New York's Best Seller's List two consecutive weeks in a row. In 2009, the book received The 2009 African American Literary Award for Best Biography/Memoir.

Personal life

Prior to Evans meeting and having a relationship with The Notorious B.I.G., she was involved in a relationship with Kiyamma Griffin. She and Griffin had a daughter named Chyna (born April 1, 1993).

On August 4, 1994, Evans married upcoming rapper and label mate The Notorious B.I.G., three weeks after having met him at a Bad Boy photoshoot. The couple had one child together, Christopher Wallace, Jr. (born October 29, 1996), but the marriage was turbulent as Wallace reportedly had several affairs during their union, including relationships with fellow rappers Lil' Kim and Charli Baltimore. Additionally, it led to Evans' involvement in the East Coast-West Coast hip hop feud, dominating the rap scene at the time, which ended with Wallace's murder in a yet-unsolved drive-by shooting in Los Angeles, California in March 1997, and made Evans "Rap's most famous widow".

In early 1997, after her separation from Wallace, but before his death, Evans was introduced to record company executive Todd Russaw. Living with rapper Missy Elliott in a Manhattan apartment at the time, Faith began dating and eventually became pregnant by Russaw and on June 10, 1998, their first son Joshua was born. In the summer of 1998, Evans and Russaw got married, and on March 22, 2007, they had their second son Ryder Evan Russaw.

In January 2004, Evans and Russaw were arrested and charged with possession of marijuana and cocaine and an improper tag violation during a traffic stop in Hapeville, a suburb in Atlanta, Georgia. The couple agreed to spend 13 weeks in a drug-treatment program in exchange for halting any further prosecution in their drug-possession case.[

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