Leanne “Lelee” Lyons is a Bronx native, born in 1973. Credited with founding SWV in 1992, she struggled after the group disbanded, but with the love and strength of her family, she persevered through difficult times.
Lelee lives in Atlanta, Georgia with her two children. Growing up in the Bronx for Lelee was about survival. Her father left the family when she was 10 years old and her mother struggled to raise five children. An eviction notice left Lelee on her own at age 15, she moved in with her boyfriend and soon became pregnant.
Although she was an excellent student, Lelee dropped out of high school at 16 so she could support herself, her family and her newborn daughter, Margaret. A year later, Lelee was the mother of two at age 17. Her son Khiry was born and she was determined to give her children a better life.
Inspired after watching "Star Search", Lelee asked her friend Coko to join her in an all-female singing group. Coko introduced her to Taj and SWV was formed. Lelee’s cousin knew people in the music industry and the girls recorded a demo for the song “It’s About Time”. The demo caught the attention of producer Kenny Ortiz and his involvement led to a remarkable 8 record deal with RCA Records.
During SWV’s hey day, Lelee’s mother, sisters and grandmothers helped raise her children. By 1997, Coko had many people in her ear suggesting she go solo and that was it. Lelee received notice through Coko’s management that she would no longer be a part of the group.
In Lelee’s words, SWV’s split left her, “Depressed and all over the place. I didn’t know who I was. I had no drive, no light.” Her small savings was soon depleted and when she saw a hotel bill slipped under her door while staying in Times Square, she knew she had reached bottom. Tormented and in a very dark place, Lelee stood on the ledge of the hotel’s 17th floor, ready to make the ultimate choice to give up. She called her sister to ask that she continue to take care of her children and thankfully her sister answered the phone. Without Lelee saying a word, her sister simply said, “Come home.”
The years following her dark day of contemplating suicide turned out to be Lelee’s happiest years. When Taj told her she had taken a job earning $9 an hour at a coffee shop, it was a wake up call. Lelee realized that her old life was over – “We gotta do what we gotta do.” She earned her GED and got a 9 to 5 with an accounting firm. Lelee finally stopped caring what anyone might say about her – she felt normal for the first time in her life.
Out of the blue, in 2005, Lelee got a call from Coko’s gospel manager who said that Japan was interested in booking SWV. Financially, it was an easy decision. One week in Japan compared to an annual salary doing data entry.