Angela Winbush and Rene Moore certainly fooled a lot of people.
Most people thought these two, who worked together for nine years in a promising R&B; duo known as Rene & Angela, were the best of friends, maybe even lovers. The charade ended last year in a burst of bitterness and lawsuits.
"The reality was that we didn't get along," Winbush said icily during a recent lunch in West Hollywood. "Things went sour a long time ago, (but) I didn't want people to know about that. I was trying to keep it quiet."
Winbush is the first of the two to resurface with a solo album. The LP, "Sharp," is on both Billboard magazine's pop and black music charts, and "Angel," a single from the album, recently made it to the top of the black charts.
"With this album, people are just finding out what I can do," Winbush said.
Part of what people presumably are finding out is that this 29-year-old native of St. Louis is not just a singer. She was a one-woman gang on the new album--writing, producing and arranging all the material, and playing keyboards and synthesized bass.
"Until now, people thought Rene and I did everything together, or that he did most of it," she said. "I was the quiet one. He was the talkative one. I guess a lot of people thought he was the real creative force."
Winbush and Moore are currently battling over money and rights to their songs, and civility has apparently gone out the window. In separate interviews, the former partners were both willing to engage in some serious mudslinging.
Winbush said she didn't want to leave the duo last year, but was forced out by what she described as Moore's "violent behavior" on at least two occasions--including once on stage at a 1986 concert in Cleveland. Moore acknowledged that he and Winbush frequently argued, but denied striking her.
In fact, the two have different versions of just about everything. Winbush claimed she wrote most of the material and did nearly all the singing on the records, while Moore claims the creative contributions to their music was equal.
"She's a better singer than I am," Moore admitted. "I will say that. But I did a lot of the singing. I did a lot of the writing and producing. She just didn't do all she said she did. Now she's a prima donna claiming she did everything. I did my share."
The pair even disagrees over their personal relationship. Winbush said they were dating when they first met, but Moore said their relationship has always been strictly business.
Their hostility is so intense that now they only communicate through attorneys.
"Things started out so well," Winbush lamented. "I never thought it would come to this."
While Moore may get attention when his solo album comes out early next year, Winbush is getting the attention now. Petite, elegant and affable, she is another of the crop of black female singers to emerge in the last few years. Whitney Houston, Sade and Anita Baker are the most prominent, but none is as versatile as Winbush.
She's getting acclaim for her ballads, done in a slow-burn singing style. But the guts of the new album are its smartly arranged, funky, up-tempo pieces.
"I took extra special care with this album," Winbush said. "I had something to prove. I had to come out of the shadow of Rene & Angela and show people that I really had talent, that I could do it alone--without Rene."
Winbush met Moore in the mid-'70s after she had moved to Los Angeles to join Stevie Wonder's backup vocal group. Before that, her only professional experience was working as a singer while a student at Howard University in Washington.
Though too ambitious to settle for being a background singer for Wonder, Winbush didn't want to strike out on her own. So she teamed up with Moore in 1977 and they recorded three albums for Capitol, but sales were slight--the biggest selling a paltry 50,000. Their most significant credit was an outside project--co-writing and co-producing Janet Jackson's first album in 1982.
The breakthrough for Rene & Angela came when they switched in 1985 to PolyGram Records and recorded "Street Called Desire." That album sold more than 600,000 copies--mainly in the soul market--with the aid of four hit singles, including "Save Your Love" and "I'll Be Good."
Because things were finally going well for the pair, industry observers--including many executives at PolyGram--were caught off guard when the duo suddenly called it quits. Moore traces the downfall to tensions that arose during the pair's involvement with another outside writing and producing project--the Isley Brothers' "Smooth Sailing" album.
Looking back, Winbush said, "It was a shame to break up just when we finally got hot. PolyGram didn't want us to break up. But there was no choice. I couldn't work with him anymore."
When discussing Winbush's studio skills, it's easier to list what she doesn' t do. Few artists--men or women, black or white--are as versatile as Winbush, who sings, writes, produces, arranges and even plays synthesized instruments.
Winbush, who's rather modest about her talents, said she sharpened her skills by simply watching, listening and practicing. Like all artists, she prefers to control the final product. But not many are capable of virtually making an album by themselves.
"Sure, control is a big part of it," she acknowledged. "I hear the songs the way they're supposed to be and I try and get them to come out that way. It's a luxury to be able to control a project that way--from top to bottom. But it's a lot of pressure too. If it doesn't work out you have no one to blame but yourself."
She brushed aside the racial angle, noting: "People are always surprised that a black woman can do so many things in the studio. But they shouldn't be. I worked hard to get the opportunity to do all this on an album. But other black women--or women of any color for that matter--could do all these things too, if they had the right opportunities.
"The key is to be able to deliver when you get your shot. If you can do all these different things in the studio well--meaning you can write and produce and arrange and so forth and come up with a record that sells--those record company people will be in your corner. If you can sell records, they don't care if you have stripes and come from another planet."