Solo Stars Dream On (continued...)

Page two of a Destiny's Child artist feature.

Sony Urban Music president Lisa Ellis recalls that early on, the girls' talent and determination left a lasting impression. She witnessed both qualities during the group's first radio promo show for top 40 WJJS Roanoke, Va.

"They were in a parking lot in front of a department store on a one-foot riser with a stage," she says. "Yet those girls came prepared like they were playing Madison Square Garden. They were doing their own hair and makeup, complete with costume changes. Tina [Beyoncé's mother] literally sewed all the clothes back then. There were no lights or cameras. Just them and a crowd of people. And they killed it."

Working with producer Kevin "She'kspere" Briggs, Destiny's Child scored its first No. 1 pop hit and second R&B chart-topper in 1999 with "Bills, Bills, Bills." It joined "Say My Name" and "Jumpin, Jumpin" as the three R&B/pop out-of-the-ballpark hits from the group's sophomore album, "The Writing's on the Wall."

Despite the success, seeds of dissension were sprouting. In December 1999, Roberson and Luckett sought different management, questioning Knowles' share of profits and alleging preferential treatment for Beyoncé and Rowland.

When two new members, Michelle Williams and Farrah Franklin, appeared in the "Say My Name" video, Roberson and Luckett filed suit against Knowles, Beyoncé and Rowland for breach of partnership, among other charges. By July 2002, the pair had settled their cases against their former group mates as well as a separate suit against Knowles.

In the meantime, Franklin left Destiny's Child five months after joining, returning the group to a trio format. And the burden was on Williams to prove her singing talent could make the grade.

"It was hard for me to come in," Williams remembers. "I was coming into an organization already in existence. I couldn't show myself weak, but it's hard when you know God has given you a talent and you want everybody to accept it. It turns out you can be stronger than what you think you are."

Ellis says, "Michelle stepped in and didn't miss a beat. These ladies kept it moving and never looked back."

Destiny's Child became a more potent musical force following the 2000 release of "Independent Women Part 1," the theme song for the film version of "Charlie's Angels." The single, which spent 11 weeks at No. 1, marked Beyoncé's emergence as a writer.

"Still to this day my father and I argue about him playing my songs for people," Beyoncé says with a laugh. "I was so mad at my father then for sneaking off and playing 'Independent Women' for the Columbia executives. But I'm so happy he did."

Beyoncé also added production credits to her résumé with the release of the third Destiny's Child album, "Survivor," in 2001. Debuting at No. 1, the album featured two more R&B/pop hits, the title track and "Bootylicious." That same year, the trio issued a holiday record, "8 Days of Christmas."

Three years would elapse before Destiny's Child released another group studio album. During this hiatus, they released their first solo albums.

First up was Williams with the inspirational/gospel project "Heart to Yours" in April 2002. Rowland hit No. 1 in her own right with the single "Dilemma" featuring Nelly, which appeared on her solo album "Simply Deep." Beyoncé's "Dangerously in Love," released in 2003, netted multiple Grammy Awards.

"When our first single hit No. 1 R&B, we were happy," Beyoncé says, "because going gold had been so much of a dream. But never did I think we'd be the biggest girl group ever. To this day, I can't swallow that. It's just that each time we went back into the studio, we thought we could grow and maybe be a little bigger than just gold. I started writing, and we've all grown vocally and personally. As soon as we accomplished a goal, we thought of a new goal to accomplish."

Besides upcoming solo albums, the ladies' new goals include a variety of projects. Rowland, still a spokeswoman for hair care product maker Soft Sheen, has wrapped a guest stint on UPN's "Girlfriends" that is slated to air in February/March. Her romantic comedy "Seat Filler," also starring Duane Martin, arrives on DVD in February.

Rowland's sophomore solo album is due in April. Describing the project as "very personal," she is doing more writing in collaboration with Williams, Sean Garrett, Beyoncé's sister Solange Knowles and Rich Harrison, among others. "I want a new sound," Rowland says of the album. "So I've got everybody thinking about clever lyrics, new beats and new instruments."

Williams has completed taping episodes of the UPN series "Half & Half." After stepping into the role of "Aida" a couple of years ago, she is contemplating some new Broadway offers. This month, she's due to go back into the studio to record an album currently targeted for a summer release. "This album will still have an inspirational twist, but it will be R&B," Williams says.

Beyoncé is concentrating on her "Dreamgirls" role right now. Discussions are under way about her possibly shifting back into recording mode in May, with an eye toward a September release date. That hinges, naturally, on when the "Dreamgirls" filming ends.

"I'm not going to write for the album until I finish doing the movie," Beyoncé says. "I've never been so excited about a movie in my life. I want to give 100% to this film, because I know I was born for this role."

As for the chances of a Destiny's Child reunion down the road, the ladies aren't shutting that door.

"We haven't said that we'll never perform together," Beyoncé points out. "It's not 'the end' like we're never going to perform together or be on each other's records."

The one outcome of the Destiny's Child experience that all three are proudest of is their enduring friendship.

"The best thing I take away is that I've gained two sisters who have my back," Williams remarks. "I learned about love and loyalty through good and bad, thick and thin."

Right now, though, Rowland says, it's about "growing and coming into our own, just like with any friendship. By the grace of God, we've made our mark. We wish nothing but success for the female groups who will come behind us. But the most important thing is that we still support each other. It goes deeper than just Destiny's Child."

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