JACKSONVILLE, Alabama – Today’s generation may familiarize the term TLC with the bolstering reality-show network, but those who were keen to pop radio during the 90’s and early 2000s will immediately cite TLC as Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins, the late Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes and Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas, otherwise known as the legendary pop group that steered radio left and right with their girl power-themed anthems and safe sex-endorsing tunes.
In late 1991, TLC ushered into the R&B realm with their breakout debut banger, “Ain’t 2 Proud 2 Beg,” which featured heavy lyrical notation of women finding the “right man” and yielding automatic protection when “heading to the bedroom.” The visual for the single saw frequent airplay on BET and MTV, not simply for the record’s racy images, but perhaps for the trio’s redefining hip-hopping style that retained condom accessorized glasses and undergarment-layered-hats.
The out-of-the-box combo style entangled with irresistible productions and eye-catching wardrobe was enough to push TLC into crossover success, eventually landmarking them as the most successful girl group of all time.
After selling several million records, the trio returned to educating the public of safe sex awareness with their timeless, four-time MTV VMA-winning “Waterfalls” (1994). The content explored both lyrical and visual appeal of the sleazy, inner-city drug trade and promiscuous, rapid sexual diseases that were stealing the lives of young individuals.
With continual passion being mobilized to voice the dangers of the crazed sexually transmitted disease epidemic, TLC, alongside hip-hop royalties Jodeci and N.W.A., took part in HIV/AIDS awareness adverts that were broadcasted globally on virtually every MTV-operated network.
Their tactics in putting the sex issue in global perspective would not be the only philanthropic feat TLC explored. In 1995, in the wake of bittersweet success marked by financial difficulties, TLC embarked in further charity work by becoming spokespeople of the Make-a-Wish Foundation, alongside campaigns geared toward self-drive and self-commitment.
One diamond-certified sophomore album later, Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins announced to the public eye in 1996 that she suffered from sickle-cell.
Though initially sparking AIDS rumors from the heartless dog-hungry press, Watkins disclosed to People magazine that her illness was incontrovertibly linked to sickle-cell disease, a condition that Watkins had suffered since the age of 7.
But in spite of the life-threatening condition, Watkins would lend her voice as the first celebrity spokesperson for the Sickle Cell Disease Association of America, or SCDAA, an organization dedicated to finding a cure for the blood disease.
In 1999, the mega threesome partnered with MP3.com on a nationwide tour, where over $50,000 was donated to organizations like the Boys and Girls Club of America and the SCDAA organization. In November 1999, it was revealed by Jet magazine that, as part of TLC’s collaborative touring venues with MP3.com, an initiative called “Dime-a-Download” was utilized to garner every ten cents per ticket for donations.
The non-stop stride in providing awareness for SCDAA would instill Iris Cantor of the UCLA Women’s Health Education & Research Center to brand T-Boz, on behalf of TLC, a “top 10 woman” in health education for creation of print and radio messages as means to increase public awareness of the sickle-cell disease.
Following renowned philanthropic causes, TLC generated further global attention by retracing back to their most-addressed topic: AIDS.
The powerful trio took part in the remixing sessions of charitable recording “What’s Going On,” originally recorded in October 2001, with musical peers and fellow philanthropists. The musical piece, aided with an MTV visual, would see a global release in early December 2001 in an effort to coincide with World AIDS Day.
Weeks prior, Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes took part as a donor for a few charitable causes. During her brief stint on “Who Wants to be a Millionaire,” Lopes was able to generate over $30,000 in favor of The Village Foundation, a charitable organization directed in establishing improved lives for black men.
Yet the brief televised donating stint was not all Lopes had to offer.
In early 2002, Lopes escaped the hectic American limelight and found a spiritual awakening in the second-poorest Latin nation, Honduras. There, Lopes discovered protégée group Ejypt alongside plans to cement a personal foundation that would provide access to health and academic opportunity to impoverished areas off the coast of La Ceiba, Honduras.
Unfortunately, the optimistic plans would never become reality, as her final lively chapter came to an unspeakable close.
On April 25, 2002, eight months following the passing of mutual friend Aaliyah, Lopes was killed in a horrific car crash. She sustained a fatal brain injury from the wreck.
The loss of Left Eye’s lively spirit left a void in the urban musical world, but moreover left holes in the hearts of surviving group-members Thomas and Watkins.
On August 29, 2002, three months following Lopes’ untimely death, Chilli and T-Boz took the annual MTV VMA stage to announce the Lisa Lopes AIDS Scholarship, a $25,000 grant sponsored by the youth HIV prevention nonprofit LIFEbeat, for selective students who strive in taking a stand against AIDS, just as Lopes did throughout her musical career.
Nearly three months following the pair’s announcement, lucky Massachusetts native Ineudira “Dira” Barbosa became the first-ever recipient of the financial award. The Teens for Education, Advocacy and Leadership volunteer, who was chosen out of 20,000 applicants, would go on to utilize the grant to pursue her law degree in helping those suffering from HIV/AIDS.
The college student’s college success provided hope and comfort for both remaining members of TLC and respective relatives of the Lopes family. The success ignited several accompanying foundations and further academic awards in memory of Lopes.
Among them was the Lisa Lopes Foundation, an organization Lopes had striven to establish prior to her unexpected death. The foundation yielded immense support for generations to come, attracting the loving attention of close ones and admirers such as Janet Jackson, Mo’Nique and David Archuleta, the latter of whom helped raise over $10,000 for a Honduran medical center that provided free service to impoverished citizens in memory of Lopes.
In the summer of 2003, T-Boz and Chilli collaborated with Agouron Pharmaceuticals, Inc. for their representative role in the anti-AIDS foundation Dialogues: Education and Treatment for a Well Planned Future, a program that seeks to provide basic effective information and fair working treatment for both those who are and are not AIDS-sufferers. The innovative organization received praise from CBS News for the program’s tactics in comforting consumers with free, accessible, easy-to-understand information alongside coordination with respectful health providers of the patients’ choosing.
Upon reflecting their workmanship as AIDS activists, Thomas disclosed to USATODAY.com that their participation in urging awareness to “get checked and protected” was not a deliberate attempt to give back just to the African-American and national citizens, but for virtually everyone around the world.
In 2005, the Lisa Lopes Foundation saw expansive progress as an orphanage center, The Lisa Lopes Home of Love, was in the process of being built off the site of La Ceiba, Honduras.
In August 2007, a New York celebrity auction was held to help stimulate financial support for the establishment. Once supported, the settlement would go on to implement free health care and schooling services to the disadvantaged youth.
To further support the orphanage, an annual three-week “Celebrity Gift Wrap and Fundraiser” event is held since the Lisa Lopes Foundation’s founding. Each annual event raises an estimated $10,000 to $15,000 and the foundation donates all its proceeds to the Honduran orphanage and reminds the world of how giving the late Lopes was.
In addition to working with the Lisa Lopes Foundation, in 2012, while temporarily migrating from her work in the music scene to newfound success on the television screen, Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas would go on to secure a nonprofit organization of her own, a summer program titled “Chilli’s Crew,” which re-enriches the lives of teenage girls who seek the appreciation of inner-beauty and healthy self-esteem via mentorship of legendary hip-hop musician MC Lyte.
The remaining ‘CrazySexyCool’ members remain proactive in their efforts to support humanitarian causes in alleviating AIDS, sickle-cell and poverty crises, as well as keeping the Lisa Lopes Foundation alive and functional. In spite of the loss of a loved, lively member, TLC remains an effortlessly-ascending philanthropic unit that continues to make a difference and provide “time, love and care” to the world.
– Jeff Varner
Sources: Billboard, People, MTV, Advocate, MSO, Highbeam Research, Look to the Stars 1, Lisa Lopes Foundation, All Hiphop 1, Discogs, All Hiphop 2, Look to the Stars 2, UCLA, NBA, USA Today, CBS, ABC, Enchanted