Deborah Cox fans can hear her two ways.
The singer is working on a pair of albums -- one catering to her big-voice R&B stylings and the other a high-energy release aimed at the dance floor.
Cox, one of the headliners at PrideFest this weekend, admits that "not everybody wants to hear the R&B stuff and not everybody wants to hear the dance stuff. I aim to please with two separate projects."
She has been working on the albums since January. The dance album will include remixes and new songs; the R&B album will be made up of songs she has compiled the past couple of years.
Throughout much of her career, Cox has teetered between R&B and dance. She started out as a soul singer with her self-titled 1995 debut featuring the hit "Sentimental." But her real breakthrough came with "Nobody's Supposed to Be Here" from her 1998 album "One Wish."
"Nobody's Supposed to Be Here" was everything a new singer could want in a hit, remaining at the top of the R&B charts for a record-breaking 14 weeks. She says the song resonated with different people and was a nice switch at the time from songs featuring hot rappers.
But the song also created a situation for Cox: Everyone wanted her to do another one just like it.
"It was like, 'We gotta do it again, we gotta do it again,'?" she says. "But I never got caught up in that hype. I kept level-headed about everything. While that song was huge, I made sure I stayed in the moment and was able to relish the success of it. I had been working so hard 10 years prior to that song."
When it came to following up "One Wish" with "The Morning After" in 2002, Cox had other things on her mind. She wanted to start a family.
"I wanted to be happy on the personal side," she says.
Cox learned she was pregnant by the time the first single from "The Morning After" was released, and she negotiated an out from her contract with label head Clive Davis.
Meanwhile, she'd already made her name in dance music circles and was able to work regularly there, including at Pride events across the country.
"Who Do You Love" from Cox's first album had been remixed into a dance song and hit internationally, followed by dance remixes of many of her other R&B hits including "Nobody's Supposed to Be Here." Albums such as "Ultimate Deborah Cox" (2004) and "Remixed" (2003) were full of dance interpretations of her work.
One of her biggest songs, "Absolutely Not," started out on the soundtrack to Eddie Murphy's "Dr. Dolittle 2" but wound up on "Queer As Folk."
Recording dance remixes became a prerequisite for Cox, a favorite with female impersonators.
"?'Absolutely Not' was the turning point," she says. "People felt it was my statement to not be dictated by what is popular or not feel bullied by any image maker. It's about creating my own path.
"I can do R&B, dance remixes, and I can also do jazz," says Cox, who released a Dinah Washington tribute album, "Destination Moon," in 2007.
More jazz tribute albums are coming.
"I took the reins, ran with it and didn't look back," Cox says.
This fall, she will star with Constantine Maroulis in "Jekyll & Hyde" on a national tour and on Broadway next year.
Cox, who for years has wanted to come to St. Louis to research Josephine Baker, jumped at the chance to do PrideFest.
"Having a dance audience includes having a large gay audience, and I love that and pride myself in that," she says. "The gay audiences are the trendsetters, the ones who are most critical when it comes to their divas, and the ones that really mean a lot to me.
"I don't take that lightly at all."
PrideFest/Vital Voice Headliner Concert Series with Deborah Cox
When 6:30 p.m. Sunday -- Where Bud Light Man Stage, Tower Grove Park -- How much Free -- More info pridestl.org
Kevin C. Johnson is the Post-Dispatch's pop music critic. Follow him on Twitter at @kevincjohnson
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