Sign up for our free newsletter

Free D.C. news, delivered to your inbox daily.

It’s been said that it takes years of work to become an overnight sensation, and that’s certainly true of Pure Soul. The members of the female vocal quartet have each spent countless hours singing in church choirs, studying music at Howard University, doing studio session work, and paying the rent through a variety of day jobs. Now, the group’s eponymous debut for University Records (a new D.C. label distributed by Interscope) is in the Top 30 of the Billboard R&B album chart, the foursome recently performed its Top-20 R&B single, “We Must Be in Love,” a cappella on the Today Show, and Pure Soul will soon be embarking on separate tours with Frankie Beverly & Maze and the O’Jays.

Shawn Allen, Keitha Shepherd, Kirsten Hall, and Heather Perkins came together three years ago via a lengthy audition process run by fellow Howard alum and University Records president A. Haqq Islam. Islam already knew lead vocalist Allen (who in turn knew Shepherd), but says he listened to “at least 100 others” before settling on the group’s lineup. A former Philly International Records A&R vice president, Islam subsequently brought in another Howard grad—songwriter and voice coach Kim Jordan—“to sharpen their sound and give them the [style] that I heard in my mind, which was [like] the Emotions and the Jones Girls.” Their first recorded attempt at turning Islam’s romantic soul vision into reality, “We Must Be in Love,” immediately struck a chord with listeners. The sentimental ballad became a radio request fav-orite, and the quartet was in demand to sing it at weddings. “We did weddings all season,” says Hall. “It was hectic.”

For the rest of the album, Islam had the foursome apply their gospel-tinged harmony vocals to cuts by producers Teddy Riley, Foster & McElroy, and Raphael Saadiq, as well as by Islam and his own staff. No mere hired guns simply reproducing what their producers want, Allen and Co.’s vocal talents help to bring their songwriters’ occasionally saccharine odes to eros alive.CP