They began their career as children, and after more than a decade of tandem vocal expression, JS is ready to unveil their debut album, Ice Cream (set for release July 29, 2003, on DreamWorks Records). Helping Kim and her sister Kandy reach this milestone were producers R. Kelly, Tim and Bob, and RL and Walter Millsap. R. Kelly is also one of the disc’s executive producers, along with Ronald Isley of The Isley Brothers. Isley – who invited JS to contribute backing vocals to The Isley Brothers’ Eternal (2001) and Body Kiss (2003) – is JS’ manager as well.
“These girls are gonna take it over – trust me,” he assures. “They are not like any other group out there. I’ve worked with them for four years and with this album, there’s no one who can touch them. Mark my word: JS will have a real impact. They’ve got the talent.” Isley appears on the Ice Cream cut “Handle Your Business.” “Ice Cream,” the first radio track off the CD, was produced, written and arranged by R. Kelly (as were “Love Angel,” “Bye-Bye,” “Slow Grind,” “Half,” “Stay Right Here,” “Sister” and “Ice Cream [Remix]”). Kim and Kandy trade verses on the song, which, despite its frosty subject matter, sizzles with seduction; as Kandy says, “It’s cool and hot at the same time”: “Come and get a scoop of my ice cream, baby/ JS got the flavors that I know will drive you crazy.”
In this sense, Ice Cream showcases JS’ transformation from girls to young women. After all, they achieved their initial acclaim as youngsters. Born and raised in Los Angeles, JS started singing together as The Johnson Sisters. Their musical training stretches back to the church choirs they’ve graced since they first learned to sing. Word of mouth about the little girls with the big voices eventually spread to the secular community, and the Johnson siblings began performing at weddings and banquets, in malls and at talent shows. “Anywhere there was a boombox and three people to hear us,” Kim jokes, “we were there.”
Early on, JS had the opportunity to perform with some gospel legends, including Andrae Crouch and Shirley Caesar. “Gospel definitely plays a part in our music,” affirms Kandy. “It’s the root of so many types of music we love – jazz, pop, R&B – so borrowing elements of that sound was inevitable for us. But we’ve always sung a wide cross section of music; we draw on much more than gospel alone.” As Kim and Kandy’s reputation for vocal excellence and professionalism grew, their career took off. They performed on BET, “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and “Ally McBeal”; they supported Erykah Badu in concert and sang with Barbra Streisand for President Bill Clinton. Moreover, their voices are the foundation of the theme song to NBC’s “One World,” and Kim was featured on the “Amistad” soundtrack.
“‘Amistad’ is one of the things I’m most proud of,” she says. “It’s a true American story, signifying so much: overcoming obstacles, freeing yourself from bondage, finding inner strength. And working with icons like Steven Spielberg and John Williams … that just blew me away!” The sisters continued to build on their momentum, perfecting their technique and singing backup for an A-list of recording artists, including Christina Aguilera, Michael Jackson and Sting. Then the Johnson sisters met The Isley Brothers.
“We were so honored when Ronald Isley took a special interest in our career,” Kim says. “He really believes in us. You step back and look at his success and how important The Isley Brothers have been and how hard Ronald works – who better to emulate than him?” In addition to The Isley Brothers, JS cite performers like Whitney Houston, Stevie Wonder and Aretha Franklin as role models (not coincidentally, all of these artists also began singing in church, then crossed stylistic boundaries into R&B and pop). “They’re the best at what they do,” Kim notes. “When you listen to a song by Aretha or Whitney, you really feel the emotion coming across in their voices.” JS endeavored to achieve a similar depth of connection with their debut, which led them to a renowned cadre of collaborators. “Ronald Isley introduced us to R. Kelly,” Kim explains, “and he fell in love with our sound and said he wanted to work with us. We couldn’t believe how fortunate we were.”
Longing to explore a variety of sonic vistas, the ladies also sought out Tim and Bob (known for Sisqo’s multiplatinum single “Thong Song,” in addition to projects with TLC, 112 and Boyz II Men) and RL and Walter Millsap. (RL is also known as Robert Huggar, lead singer for the group Next and songwriter/producer for Usher, Luther Vandross and Jaheim, among others). “Each producer brought out our best,” Kim continues. “Because when you deal with the best, you better be giving your best.” “The best” is something JS have always felt compelled to give. It’s what they’ve always done and what they always plan to do. “We have an eye on longevity,” Kim confirms. “We were born to do this, and we want to do it as long as God allows.”