Ashanti Biography & Photos

Ashanti Shequoiya Douglas (born October 13, 1980) is an American singer-songwriter, record producer, actress, dancer, model, and fashion designer who rose to fame in the early 2000s. Ashanti is most famous for her eponymous Grammy Award-winning debut album Ashanti which featured the hit song “Foolish”, and sold over 503,000 copies in its first week of release in the U.S. in April 2002. . In the same week, she became the first female performer to simultaneously hold the top two places on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart with “Foolish”, and “What’s Luv” (with Fat Joe). She broke records again by having three Top Ten songs Foolish, What’s Luv, and Always on Time, with Ja Rule, on the Billboard Hot 100 charts in the same week, being the first female to accomplish this feat and being second only to The Beatles. Ashanti also wrote and sang background on the song “Ain’t It Funny” (Murder Remix) sung by Jennifer Lopez which was also in the top 10 charts at the same time as “Foolish”, “Always on Time” (with Ja Rule), and “What’s Luv” (with Fat Joe). Later that year, she was acclaimed as the “Princess of Hip Hop and R&B” by the media and capped off her successful debut by winning a Billboard award and one American Music Awards. As of 2007, Ashanti had sold more than 12 million albums in the U.S., and nearly 23 million records worldwide.

Ashanti cites Mary J. Blige, Ella Fitzgerald, Yolanda Adams, the Clark Sisters, and Blue Magic as her musical influences. Praised as a gifted songwriter by her peers and critics alike, Ashanti has written/co-written the bulk of all her music. She is currently working on her own record label entitled Written Entertainment. She recently released her fourth studio album entitled The Declaration on June 3, 2008. On Sept. 5 2008, Ashanti will perform the charity tune “Just Stand Up” alongside Mariah Carey, Beyonce, Mary J. Blige, Rihanna, Fergie, Sheryl Crow, Miley Cyrus, Melissa Etheridge, Natasha Bedingfield, Keyshia Cole, Ciara, Leona Lewis, LeAnn Rimes and Carrie Underwood for the “Stand Up to Cancer” live television special. The special is set to air simultaneously on ABC, NBC and CBS on September 5th.

Biography

Early life

Ashanti, an African American, was born in Glen Cove, New York. She inherited a love for music from her mother, Tina Douglas, a former dance teacher and her father, Ken-Kaide Thomas Douglas, a former singer. She has a younger sister named Kenashia. Her uncle, Laranzo Landford, was the mayor of Atlantic City, New Jersey. Her mother named her after the Empire of Ashanti in Ghana; in this nation, the women had power and influence, and Ashanti‘s mother wanted her daughter to follow that model. Her grandfather, James, was a civil-rights activist who associated with Martin Luther King, Jr. during the 1960s. Growing up, Ashanti took dance lessons and joined the church choir. Ashanti went to Bernice Johnson Cultural Arts Center, where she studied different dance styles, including tap, jazz, ballet, African, modern, and hip hop. She danced with the Senior Pro Ensemble at Carnegie Hall, the Apollo Theater, Brooklyn Academy of Music, Avery Fisher Hall, and the Black Spectrum Theater. She also performed at the 1994 Caribbean Awards and dancing with Judith Jamison of the Alvin Ailey Dance Company. With actress and choreographer Debbie Allen at the helm, Ashanti also performed in the Disney television film Polly alongside stars Keshia Knight Pulliam and Phylicia Rashad.

When she was six, Ashanti sang in a gospel choir, but her mother discovered her full singing potential when she overheard Ashanti singing Mary J. Blige’s “Reminisce” to herself at age twelve. By the time Ashanti hit puberty, her mother was sending out demo tapes of her singing and dancing. The family could not afford to go to a studio and record a formal demo, so when labels called, Ashanti would have to sing and dance in front of the record company executives. While attending high school, she began to write songs. As a teenager, she performed in a local talent show and at the Soul Cafe, China Club, Madison Square Garden, Caroline’s Comedy Club and Greek Fest 2000. In her first major singing performance, Ashanti performed Yolanda Adams’s “More Than a Melody”. She also appeared in a number of big-name music videos, in addition to other dance work.

Early career

When Ashanti was fourteen, she was discovered by P.Diddy’s Bad Boy Records. Initially, she went to Bad Boy Records and sang one of Mary J. Blige’s songs in front of P.Diddy and Biggie Smalls. After being impressed by her singing ability, Diddy pulled out a bottle and told her it was his new fragrance, which he said he loved. After one sniff, Ashanti said, “Oh pew, it stinks. I hate it!” Diddy started laughing, stating it was a test to judge her character. In the end, due to a bad contract, Ashanti did not sign with Diddy. This ultimately led to a record deal with Jive Records in 1994. This relationship soured when Jive tried to make Ashanti into a pop singer.

Ashanti subsequently involved herself in schoolwork, cheerleading, and running on her school’s track team. She was an honor student in English and belonged to the English club where she began writing poetry. She was also in the Drama club and performed in a few plays. She was a star athlete, playing baseball, soccer, and badminton; however, her skills in the 100- and 200-meter dash as well as the triple jump, her specialty reaching as far as 35 feet, earned her athletic scholarships to Princeton & Hampton and got her scouted by the Olympic committee. Instead, she put college pursuits aside when Epic Records approached her with a contract in 1998. However, the label’s management changes quickly made Ashanti a low priority. She continued to perform at local New York clubs and began hanging out at the Murder Inc. recording studio, hoping for another big break.

Irv Gotti and Murder Inc.

Ashanti was noticed by Murder Inc. mastermind Irv Gotti, who noted her dancing and acting abilities in addition to her vocal skills. Ashanti initially asked him to produce a few demo songs for her to record so she could say she had some strong tracks by the big time producer but Gotti had a different idea. He asked her to pen hooks for his rap artists and to perform with them in duets, Ashanti providing the melodic response to their call. Ashanti was first featured as a background vocalist on rapper Big Pun’s song “How We Roll”. In the same year, Ashanti was featured on fellow labelmate Cadillac Tah’s singles “Pov City Anthem” and “Just Like a Thug”. She also appeared on the 2001 The Fast and the Furious soundtrack as a featured artist on Vita’s 2001 hip hop remake of Madonna’s “Justify My Love” and on the solo track “When a Man Does Wrong”. She appeared as a background vocalist on “I’m Real” (Murder remix), a collaboration by labelmate Ja Rule and Jennifer Lopez (she also appeared in the music video for “Aint It Funny” (Murder remix), the second duet between Lopez and Rule, for which she wrote and also sang background vocals on), and was featured on Fat Joe’s “What’s Luv?” and Ja Rule’s “Always on Time”. “What’s Luv?” and “Always on Time” were released simultaneously and became two of the biggest hit songs of 2002. Ashanti became the first female to occupy the top two positions on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart simultaneously when “Always on Time” and “What’s Luv?” were at numbers one and two, respectively.

Debut album: Ashanti (2002)

Following the success of her collaborations with Ja Rule and Fat Joe, Ashanti released her debut single, “Foolish”, which contains a sample of the 1983 song “Stay with Me” by DeBarge (also utilized by The Notorious B.I.G. in his 1995 single “One More Chance”). This is her biggest song to date, spending ten weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100. She became the second artist (after The Beatles) to have their first three chart entries in the top ten of the Hot 100 simultaneously. Ashanti‘s self-titled debut album, Ashanti, was released on Irv Gotti’s Murder Inc. record label in April 2002. It debuted at number one on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 albums chart, and stayed there for three weeks, selling over 502,000 copies in its first week. The album has been certified three times platinum in the U.S and platinum (360,000 copies) in the UK, and has sold over five million copies worldwide. Ashanti wrote the album’s twelve tracks, most of which were written on the spot in the studio.

Ashanti‘s follow-up singles, “Happy” and “Baby”, were not as successful as her debut single but peaked inside the top ten and top twenty in the U.S., respectively. During mid 2002, Ashanti appeared on Ja Rule’s “Down 4 U” with labelmates, female rappers Vita and Charli Baltimore. The song appeared on a Murder Inc. compilation titled Irv Gotti Presents The Inc. Ashanti‘s debut album earned her many awards, including eight Billboard Music Awards, two American Music Awards, and a Grammy Award in 2003 for Best Contemporary R&B Album. She was nominated as Best New Artist and “Foolish” was nominated in the Best Female R&B Vocal Performance category. FHM credited her as the “Sexiest Woman in Music” in 2002. She also received a Comet Award and two Soul Train Music Awards that same year.

Ashanti became the subject of controversy when it was announced that she would receive the Soul Train Aretha Franklin Award for “Entertainer of the Year”. a high school student took offense and started an on-line petition against her, explaining to The Seattle Times that she was too new to deserve the award. Nearly 9,000 people agreed with him, signing the petition. Many said that established artists such as Mary J. Blige and Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott or critically-acclaimed singers like Alicia Keys and India.Arie were more deserving of an award that carries the name of a musical legend. Despite the petition, the Soul Train committee and Don Cornelius stuck by their decision and AshantiAshanti was applauded by her musical peers as she entered the Pasadena Civic Auditorium to accept her award and she was supported onstage by legendary singer Patti LaBelle, who stated “she’s a baby and we have to support our babies.”

In September 2002, Ashanti and her sister Kenashia appeared on the first DisneyMania CD, which was released under Walt Disney Records and features contemporary Disney songs. Ashanti and her sister sang “Colors of the Wind” from the Disney film Pocahontas. By early 2003, Ashanti had performed at every major award show there was: Soul Train Awards, Grammy’s , BET Awards, MTV Awards and the American Music Awards. In 2003, Ja Rule and Ashanti collaborated on another hit song, “Mesmerize”, the music video for which was a parody of a scene from the film Grease.

Acting career

Ashanti got her first taste of acting as a child extra in the Spike Lee directed movies Malcolm X and Who’s Da Man. She also started as a dancer in the Disney TV film Polly.

After success with her music career, Ashanti starred in Bollywood film Bride and Prejudice, in which she sang “My Lips are Waiting” and “Touch My Body’. Ashanti‘s appearance in the film was meant as homage to a tradition in Bollywood films where a celebrity would make a cameo appearance to sing a song that has no direct involvement in the plot. The rest of the characters do not interact with the celebrity but are seen in the crowd enjoying the show.

In January 2005, she made her feature film acting debut in the film Coach Carter alongside Samuel L. Jackson. She played a pregnant teenager named Kyra who has to decide whether or not to abort her unborn child. The movie opened at number-one at the U.S. box office, eventually grossing $67 million in the U.S. Later in 2005, Ashanti beat out Hilary Duff and Jessica Simpson to star as Dorothy Gale in the made-for-television film The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz, which pulled in nearly 8 million viewers.

In 2006, she starred in the teen comedy John Tucker Must Die, which opened and peaked at #3 at the U.S. box office (competing with Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest and Miami Vice) and grossed $68,818,076 worldwide. Ashanti played Heather, the head cheerleader who participates in a vengeful scheme against John Tucker, her unfaithful boyfriend and the school’s biggest heartthrob. Ashanti can also be found on Buffy the Vampire Slayer season 7 episode 14: “First Date”.

In 2007, Ashanti appeared in the sci-fi horror action Resident Evil: Extinction as a nurse named Betty. The film entered at #1 at the box office grossing $23,678,580 in its opening week. To date the movie has grossed $50,648,679 at the US box office and around $147,713,442 worldwide. This is Ashanti‘s second #1 movie, the other being Coach Carter.

Other activities

In addition to singing, Ashanti has emerged as a songwriter penning songs for Christina Milian, Ja Rule, Jennifer Lopez, Nas, Toni Braxton, & many more. She released a book of poetry titled Foolish/Unfoolish: Reflections on Love in 2002 and a fragrance, “Precious Jewel by Ashanti,” in October 2005. In 2005, she signed an exclusive deal with MUDD to promote their brand of jeans titled “Delicious Curves.” In early 2006, she released “Ashanti‘s OPC-3 Beauty Blend,” a nutritional supplement. Ashanti also has a clothing Place in Europe for teenage girls titled “Princess.” It’s sitting on an 12 acre spot of land.

On May 2, 2002 Ashanti received the key to the city of Glen Cove, New York (her hometown), and the day was named Ashanti Day; Ashanti also received a key to the city of Atlantic City, New Jersey (she was crowned princess of hip hop and R&B).

Ashanti is set to showcase her style in a book, titled Ashanti Style, which will be published in late 2007. The book, which is being touted as Ashanti‘s “life and style guide” will offer fans a behind-the-scenes look into her style, both in her personal and professional life. Ashanti Style will be published by Jump at the Sun, an imprint of Disney’s Hyperion Books for Children. Another venture Ashanti has enlisted in is her own handbags and pocketbook, revealed in 2007.

In July of 2008 Ashanti was named an ambassador of tourism for Nassau County, Long Island.

Personal Life

Since 2003, Ashanti has been rumored to be in a relationship with rapper Nelly. Rumors began to circulate about their relationship after the two were seen exchanging personal info backstage at the 45th annual Grammy Award nomination press conference. For months, they continued to downplay their relationship in the media, with each party providing the politically correct answer that they’ve only been on a few dates and were only “good friends” when questioned about the relationship. Unfortunately for the pair, their cover was blown in 2005, as photographs of the two enjoying a walk on the beach in Anguilla surfaced online and in magazines. Actor Samuel L. Jackson also incriminated the duo during promotional interviews for the movie, Coach Carter, which also stars Ashanti. Jackson told reporters that Ashanti seldom ate the food provided by the catering staff on set because Nelly would visit regularly and bring organic food. In 2007, the pair stopped denying their relationship and since then have collaborated on several songs, as well as made appearances in the others’ music videos (the two can be seen sharing a kiss in Ashanti‘s “Good Good” video). Despite rumors, the pair are not engaged or dating. .

Philanthropy

In 2003, Ashanti partnered LidRock and the San Francisco-based Family Violence Prevention Fund (FVPF) to raise awareness about the issue of domestic violence during National Domestic Violence Awareness Month and to distribute the “Rain On Me” mini-movie using LidRock’s unique platform. Proceeds from the $5 mini-disc went towards helping to stop domestic violence. Ashanti also recorded a public service announcement that appeared in more than 4,000 film screens and reached millions of people. Ashanti also gives back by raising money for sickle cell research and she is active in helping the Make-A-Wish Foundation stating, “I’ll go and do just about anything for them.” In 2005, Ashanti helped by recording public service announcement and raising money for the Southeast Asia tsunami disaster. Later that year she helped raise money for the Hurricane Katrina victims and storm evacuees. . In 2008, Ashanti, along with others celebrities, taped a PSA to help stop violence and discrimination towards the LGBT community in response to the death of Lawrence King, an eighth-grader at E.O. Green Junior High School who was shot because of his sexual orientation and gender expression. That same year, she launched a special on-line campaign called “I Declare Me…” with Wal-Mart. The campaign’s core is a very personal focus on the self-definition and empowerment of women across the United States, with its home base at Ashanti‘s official website. The campaign creates a safe and inclusive on-line space to for women to share testimonies on the site. Participants are able to openly declare their own breakthroughs, revelations, struggles and victories in every life area they choose: career, birth, death, relationships, and personal situations. “I Declare Me…” also invites women to a virtual discussion with Ashanti on such issues as voter registration, teen obesity, and other concerns facing women today.

In September, 2008, Ashanti, along with other artists Mariah Carey, Beyonce, Mary J. Blige, Rihanna, Fergie, Sheryl Crow, Miley Cyrus, Melissa Etheridge, Natasha Bedingfield, Keyshia Cole, Ciara, Leona Lewis, LeAnn Rimes and Carrie Underwood, will team up for the song “Just Stand Up”. The charity tune for cancer was conceived by Antonio “L.A.” Reid, who produced it with longtime creative colleague Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds. All 15 singers will share the stage to perform the song live on Sept. 5 2008 during the “Stand Up to Cancer” television special, set to air simultaneously on ABC, NBC and CBS.

Legal dispute

In July 2005, record producer Genard Parker claimed Ashanti owed him money for records that never were completed or distributed. A New York court heard Parker’s claims and ordered her to pay Parker $636,000. But as the court stated no time records were ever produced. Parker is claiming over $2.3 million, while Ashanti‘s lawyers, say Parker never delivered any records and no records were ever distributed. In late 2005 a judge later rejected most of the award, ruling that there were not sufficient facts to determine the proper amount of damages. The case went to court on September 17, but was dropped in light of each party voluntarily dropping pending lawsuits against each other.

Discography

Studio albums

* 2002: Ashanti
* 2003: Chapter II
* 2004: Concrete Rose
* 2008: The Declaration

Other albums

* 2003: 7 Series Sampler
* 2003: Ashanti‘s Christmas
* 2004: Can’t Stop
* 2005: Collectables by Ashanti

DVDs

* 2004: Ashanti: The Making of a Star

Filmography

Films

* Bride and Prejudice (2004)
* The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz (2005)
* Coach Carter (2005)
* John Tucker Must Die (2006)
* Resident Evil: Extinction (2007)
* You’re Nobody till Somebody Kills You (2008)
* Baller (2008)

Television

* American Dreams (2002)
* Sabrina, the Teenage Witch (2002)
* WrestleMania XIX performed America The Beautiful (2003)
* The Proud Family (voice) (2003)
* Buffy The Vampire Slayer (2003)
* Pepsi Smash (2003)
* Punk’d (2004)
* Oxygen: Custom Concert (2004)
* Las Vegas (TV series) (2005)
* All That (2005)
* Oprah Winfrey’s Legends Ball (2006)
* 2007 World Series (Opening: ‘God Bless America’) (2007)
* NFL Thanksgiving Classic CBS (Opening: ‘National Anthem’) (2007)
* BET Awards Nomination Special “I Wanna Thank My Mama” (Host) (2008)

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