Gabrielle Serene "Elle" Varner (born February 12, 1989) is an American singer. Born into a musical family in Brooklyn, New York and raised in Los Angeles, Varner studied at New York University's Clive Davis Department of Recorded Music. In October 2009, she signed with RCA Records along with a co-publishing agreement with Sony Music.
Varner released her debut album, Perfectly Imperfect, in August 2012, preceded by the release of the single "Only Wanna Give It to You". The album debuted at number four on the US Billboard Hot 200.
Varner is of Black American, White American and Cape Verdean descent and the daughter of Mikelyn Roderick and Jimmy Varner, songwriters and publishers. Roderick was a backup vocalist for Barry White; and has written and recorded with Tevin Campbell and Rahsaan Patterson. Roderick released an album on the Dome label in 2007. Jimmy Varner is a songwriter, producer, and multi-instrumentalist who has collaborated with Gerald Alston, Kool & the Gang, and Will Downing. Her parents, together with Stan Sheppard, formed the group By All Means which was a minor success.
Elle Varner spent most of her childhood sleeping on studio couches, running around green rooms, and watching her parents struggle to make a name in the industry. At age six she began to play musical instruments, beginning with the flute, and later she moved on to piano and guitar. She attended several music programs including actress Wendy Raquel Robinson's Amazing Grace Conservatory starting at age 11 and Alexander Hamilton High School's Academy of Music's Vocal Jazz Group.It was there she penned her first song, “Thankful”. The song, which she played with one string on the guitar, scored the top prize at a local talent show. Earning a coveted spot in New York University’s Clive Davis Department of Recorded Music (which only accepts 24 students per year) was further proof that she was headed in the right direction. In 2008 Varner graduated from NYU's renowned Clive Davis Department of Recorded Music: “To be recognized for my talent in a program that only selects 24 students per class, out of thousands, was like, ‘Wow!’ I knew that I had really stepped up to the plate,” says Elle Varner.
At age 16, Varner picked up a guitar for the first time. She dropped the guitar and became a part of Alexander Hamilton High School's Academy of Music's Vocal Jazz Group. Once there, she learned about the complexity of the voice, jazz music and talented jazz artists like Ella Fitzgerald. Varner was surprised to discover that she had been chosen to be a part of the Grammy in the Schools Mentoring Program. Through this program she was taken weekly to the Fox Studio, where she met with mentor Kelly Burgos, and President of Fox Music, Robert Kraft. Soon after, Varner hesitantly applied to NYU with her C average and was surprisingly accepted. Not only did she get in, but also she was admitted into the second class of the Clive Davis Department of Recorded Music. Upon graduating, she was awarded "most likely to get signed" and "most likely to win a Grammy." Four years later she finds herself a well-rounded and cultured singer-songwriter. In 2008 Varner graduated from NYU's renowned Clive Davis Department of Recorded Music.In October 2009 she signed with MBK/J-RCA Records along with a co-publishing agreement with Sony Music. After honing her skills even further, Varner became one of the first artists featured in BET's Music Matters campaign for 2010.
Varner's debut single "Only Wanna Give It to You" was released on August 6, 2011. The song, which serves as the lead single from her debut studio album Perfectly Imperfect (2012), features American rapper J. Cole. The song peaked at #20 on the US Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. In October 2011, she was listed as one of TheBoomBox's '15 Artists to Watch' and was one of the artists featured in BET's Music Matters campaign. On October 7, 2011, RCA Music Group announced it was disbanding J Records along with Arista Records and Jive Records. With the shutdown, Varner (and all other artists previously signed to these three labels) will release her future material on RCA Records.In preparation for her debut studio album, Varner released a mixtape on January 23, 2012, titled Conversational Lush as promotion towards her debut. The second single from Varner's debut album "Refill" was released to iTunes January 31, 2012, and debuted at #78 on the US Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. On February 11, 2012, Varner and The Roots gave a performance dedicated to Whitney Houston, for the Roots Pre-Grammy Jam Session at the House of Blues in Los Angeles. When asked in an interview what is to be expected from her debut, Varner said in a statement: “a lot of color, a lot of range. There’s fun songs, emotional songs, deep songs, everything you could think about is on that album."
Elle Varner's debut album, Perfectly Imperfect, was released on August 7, 2012 debuting at number four on the U.S. Billboard 200 chart, with first-week sales of 33,000 copies in the United States. It also debuted at number two on the Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums. As of October 20, 2012, Perfectly Imperfect has charted for ten weeks on the Billboard 200. In September 2012, Varner was credited for co-writing the song "Use Me", for fellow American R&B singer Miguel, taken from his second album Kaleidoscope Dream.
For her second studio album, Varner has been working with producers including Pop & Oak, Eric Hudson, DJ Dahi, Da Internz, and Hit-Boy. Varner stated that she has made her own genre while recording the album which she titles "trap jazz." Varner described her second album as “definitely sexier,” than her previous, she later released the promotional single "Rover" featuring American rapper Wale. After many pushbacks, Four Letter Word was eventually shelved and Elle was subsequently dropped from RCA Records.
Varner's voice has been compared to that of British singer Adele containing "soul "with a touch of raspy seduction." She is a mezzo-sopranoVarner's debut mixtape contained an "eclectic mix of pop, hip hop, and soul", that contained lyrical content regarding "relationship issues, girl power and fun" as well as being compared to Rihanna and Erykah Badu.
Varner cites rapper Kanye West and soul singer Adele as two major influences noting that she wanted to combine both soul and hip-hop together saying "I only really wanted to combine the best of Hip-Hop and the best of that singer/songwriter soul. So I just picked those two as an example". Elle also draws inspiration from her hometown of Los Angeles commenting on how Los Angeles influences her she said “For me, there’s a nostalgia about L.A., especially West Coast rap, like N.W.A will always be a part of me growing up.” Varner also cites Mariah Carey, Brandy and Monica as influences.
Varner counts Ella Fitzgerald as great influence on her musical style. Commenting on Fitzgerald, Varner said "I just would always listen to her voice and say “Oh my God, how does she do it?” You know it's like she has this enchanting, beautiful voice and I'm very enthused by her."
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