The Norwood Family: (L to R) – Willie, Sonja, Ray J. and Brandy.
Ray J. and Brandy
The family meeting with the Sentinel’s editorial board
(Photos by Jason Lewis)
The Norwood Family drops by the Sentinel to chat about their hit VH1 reality show and much more!
By Brandon Brooks
Sentinel Staff Writer
Sentinel Interns: Elzena Rankins, Biko Poindexter-Hodge, Kaylee Davis
The Sentinel recently had the pleasure of sitting down with the Norwood Family: Willie Norwood, Sonja Bates-Norwood, Brandy Norwood and William Raymond Norwood Jr. aka Ray J. The Norwoods came to talk about their VH1 hit series, Brandy and Ray J: A Family Business, Life and the Future.
The atmosphere was very warm and refreshing. This celebrity family was actually down-to-earth and real, as if they would fit right in at a family barbeque or picnic. The Norwoods joked, laughed, poked fun, and expressed genuine love and appreciation for one another.
The Sentinel got up close and personal with the Norwoods, leaving nothing out. So when asked if Brandy and Sonja could discuss why it seems as if they have a lot of problems with their relationship, they explained saying that, “Our bond is very close and can never be broken. However, like any relationship, you have your ups and downs, and it’s a little different for us because my mom wears two hats, the mom and the manager and sometimes business can overflow into the personal and sometimes that can get hard. Our relationship is based on love and when your relationship is built on love you can pretty much overcome anything.”
They are no strangers to the Sentinel as publisher Danny Bakewell Sr. helped get Brandy’s career started. Bakewell saw talent, in a then young Brandy, and helped introduce her to the right people. It wasn’t long before she became known as the ‘darling of the Brotherhood Crusade’ and a spokesperson for Sabrina’s Castle Foundation.
“It was some celebration that she was doing for Kenneth Hahn
that she met Danny,” said Mrs. Norwood. “From there, he invited her to perform at the Black Family Reunion …where she met some producers and from there is the beginning of the connection.”
It was like a homecoming for the Norwoods as they sat opposite a
Sentinel panel showing a lot of love for each other. They expressed the reason behind the reality drama. It’s about a family operating a business and at the end of the day are able to maintain being family.
Mr. Norwood, an accomplished gospel artist and voice coach, came to Hollywood and found that it conflicted with his religious beliefs. He shared with the Sentinel how that affected his approach to Brandy’s and Ray J’s careers.
“At the time that they [Brandy and Ray J] wanted to get in the business, I was much stronger,” said Mr. Norwood. “I have the faith…that everything is going to work out for Brandy, and everything is going to work out for Ray J, and for Sonja, and for Serah and for everybody else in our family.”
He was also asked about his daily role on the show and how he fits into the dynamics of the family business. “It seems I’m always in the background, but I can see better from the view. I just believe that God gave us two ears and one mouth; I try to listen twice as much as I talk.”
Mrs. Norwood has been managing Brandy and Ray J’s career for years. She gave a lot of credit to Ryan, the family cousin and co-manager, but she’s had to wear “multiple hats” within the family and in the business. “It’s what I’ve done for so long…it’s just not me, there’s a lot of other people involved,” said Mrs. Norwood.
Ryan, their cousin and the family’s co-manager spoke on the family dynamics. “You have someone who’s doing the business and smart…you got Brandy, a star, Ray J’s a star, Ray Sr. keeps everybody together…everybody just has their own role and that’s what brings them all together,” said Ryan.
Although they stated it can be a challenge being a family business, the Norwoods realize the value in their unique enterprise. They were asked if they ever tried to separate business from family. “I think we’ve tried that in different ways, but we always come back together,” said Brandy. “Everybody goes through their ups and downs, but this is where we need to be together and doing our thing together. And, it feels better. I trust everybody…why not do it together.”
When asked if there would be a “For Love of Ray J 3,” Brandy promptly responded “No!” After the laughter calmed down, Ray J responded to the question stating, “I wanted to create this family show to forget about that. I had a good time, but I was in a zone. I was type-cast into this dating world, where you have all of these nice women would come and do crazy things.”
Ray J also spoke about his transition from being on an independent label to signing with a major record label. “You can only go so far independently. I think I’ve reached my peak independently.”
He continued “It’s hard independently to keep up with that, so you need a company, with the songs that I’m delivering, to back that up in a real way…that’s why we went major, just so we could reach the masses this time…. We officially signed SRC, Universal, Dark Child, Knockout, my label- we are all partnered up.”
He was also asked about his involvement with the 2010 Lakers Anthem and how he felt about that project and what it meant to him personally. “It was an honor for me! You know you work hard, just to have your music played all over the world but you really want your music played where you live,” said Ray J.
He continued, “What was so crazy about it was that Snoop heard the song and he wasn’t on it at first. So he called me trippin’, ‘Cuz why I ain’t on the song? I am a Laker, I was there when Kobe did this and when Shaq got his first ring.’ So I hooked Snoop up; I called Feli and linked them up and put Snoop on the G-Mix. So I feel that I contributed to the West Coast and to the ring; the Lakers got to give me one of those rings.”
Ray J addressed the infamous “sex tape” and how he felt about that particular project. He promptly addressed the situation as “negative” and a part of his past. “We’re still making money, but that was for the damages. Now we’ve moved on. We’ve turned that into a positive, not only myself but the other party as well.”
The Sentinel asked Brandy about her future endeavors and plans for her career. “I’m looking forward to doing music again; I’m tired of singing in my bathroom,” said Brandy. “Music is just my first priority, and right now I have a positive situation on the table.”
Brandy also talked about her relationship with her daughter and about balancing motherhood with stardom. “The balance is beautiful to have family to help. My mom helps me a lot with my daughter and helping me raise her and everything. But, I love being a mom,” said Brandy.
She continued, “I think my daughter, she teaches me so much about myself; of course, I teach her a lot about herself. I just feel as a parent you have to lead by example. Everything is not in words. You can’t really teach a child with words. You really have to show them how they should be and how positive life can be if you just think the right way.”
Brandy and Ray J were asked if there was a particular song that they enjoyed working on together. Brandy responded, “Well my favorite song that we’ve done together was a remake called ‘Die Without You’ and that’s how I feel about my brother,” said Brandy.
“I mean I like the song, ‘Another Day in Paradise’ that we did together,” said Ray J. “It was the #1 smash internationally. It never reached the American airwaves but we got a chance to tour together overseas and perform at the top of the POP’s before that was over with and we got a chance to just be a part of each other’s world internationally it was so different.”
Its evident Brandy and Ray J have made names for themselves in the music industry. Brandy was the first of the siblings to climb the ladder to success followed by Ray J. However, times have changed and it seems the spotlight may be shifting more one than the other.
When questioned if the two ever get offended when people refer to them as each other’s siblings, Brandy answered first, ” I love being Ray J’s sister, I love it, I don’t have a problem with it, because I never had a competitive relationship with Ray.”
They are both planning future projects that they will be working on together. The tv show gives us a glimpse into the family business that they intend to launch many projects in the future. “A part of the television show is the introduction of their own company,” said Mrs. Norwood. “Through that production company, they will develop other reality shows, hopefully movies, sitcoms, and their projects.”
Mrs. Norwood commented on the love she has for both of her children, “Well for me, there is no other person existing on the face of the earth more important to me to have in my life than my two,” said Mrs. Norwood. “They are my everything, no matter how old they are, they will always be my everything.”
In closing, the Norwoods offered some advice for young people on breaking into the entertainment industry. They spoke about their personal experiences both individually, as a family and the ups and downs that come with it.
“What we go through daily is just like anybody else trying to make it, dealing with all kinds of outside [and] inside pressures and trying to love one another, trying to get somewhere in life and trying to do it a way that’s decent, in a way that doesn’t hurt anybody else. And I think that is really what family love is about,” said Mr. Norwood.
“I think that when a person selects the entertainment industry as an occupation, especially when you are in the limelight or you are considered to be a celebrity, you are a role model for the type of ethics of your work that you present to others,” said Mrs. Norwood.
She continued, “You are just as vulnerable as the next person, and I think what gets confusing a lot of times is when you judge people that you don’t know or when you expect just because a person is successful for them to be something that they may not be. People need to understand and realize, my personal life is not for you to adopt. If you want to adopt anything about me as a role model, [adopt] my work ethic, how I go through trials and tribulations, how I strive for success, how I don’t give up…because I’m not perfect, no different than you are.
Brandy had some words of wisdom to contribute as well when it comes to entering the industry. “I think not only believing in yourself but staying true to yourself is very important in a business like this. There are so many things that are going to come your way,” said Brandy.
She continued, “If you’re not true to your dream and true to yourself and if you don’t keep believing, then you’re going to fall prey to everything that’s out there in that business…Once you understand that your dreams come true because of what you believe in, it doesn’t matter what other people say.”
The Norwoods are true role models for close-knit Black families, during a time when Black families are rarely portrayed in a positive light. The Norwoods are the positive example, giving Black families and families in general hope.