TONI BRAXTON : Leftovers Are Torch Singer's Entree to Deal

"As hungry as I was, I didn't mind taking Anita Baker's--or anybody's --leftovers," R&B; singer Toni Braxton says with a chuckle.

She's talking records, not food.

When Baker turned down the opportunity to sing "Love Shoulda Brought You Home" and "Give U My Heart" on last summer's hit soundtrack for the Eddie Murphy comedy "Boomerang," Braxton got the job instead. Suddenly, R&B; fans were buzzing about the new singer, whose voice has the deep, soulful quality of Baker's and the power of Whitney Houston's.

So there was a ready-made audience for her debut album on LaFace Records (See review, Page 69). "Toni Braxton" cracked the Top 40 its first week on the pop chart in July, with a boost from the single "Another Sad Love Song." In R&B; circles, Braxton, whose specialty is melancholy, torchy ballads, is easily the biggest talent to emerge in the past year.

Singing those Baker "leftovers" picked up a career that had been stuck in low gear.

"I was trying to stay positive but I wasn't sure what was going to happen--if I would ever make it," says the 25-year-old singer.

She had recorded a 1990 single, "The Good Life," with her four sisters as the Braxtons, but the record was a flop. To keep busy, she sang on some demonstration records for LaFace, including those songs earmarked for Baker.

When Braxton got her break, it was for a solo album. Did that cause hard feelings among the sisters who were left out--and still haven't found another record deal?

"I felt bad about it, but they encouraged me to take the deal," she recalls. "If they had been angry and resentful about it, I'm not sure what I would have done."

The Braxton sisters--and their brother--were raised in Severn, Md. Her father was a minister, but singing in church wasn't the only way Braxton developed her voice: She also got formal vocal training from her opera-singing mother.

Braxton was singing solo in clubs in the Washington-Maryland area when she and her sisters got the chance to record that single for LaFace.

What if her record career had failed?

"I'd have a chance to do something I love as much as singing--teach elementary school and write children's songs," she replies. "I'd be just as happy doing that. The record business is fickle. In five years if I'm struggling, I just might find the nearest elementary school and apply for a job."

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