Om Toni Braxton
Few artists start off on such a good foot as Toni Braxton, whose eponymous first album stealthily climbed the charts after it was released in 1993, KO'ing more established acts along the way and reaching the uppermost rungs. Unlike those she left lying on the mat, Braxton's success couldn't be attributed to a catchy hook or groovy beat. Instead, her songs rely on her husky vocals, which take jazz's heated inflections and map them over sauntering RnB rhythms. With a voice that so convincingly conveys sadness, remorse and occasionally joy, Braxton became the soundtrack for couples rediscovering love and lonely listeners nursing broken hearts alike. Her vocal abilities led to top 10 hits (such as "Another Sad Love Song" and "Unbreak My Heart"), Grammies, a starring role in Broadway's Beauty and the Beast and a headlining gig in Vegas. At times, Braxton's career seems to have been fraught with almost as much struggle as success (she's battled with labels twice and has filed for bankruptcy). But this veteran performer (she got her start in 1989 with the Braxtons, a group she formed with her four sisters) has continuously prevailed over setbacks, thanks at least in part to her unique, evocative voice.