From a fan's perspective, the news that Woody was leaving the Baltimore-based R&B harmony group Dru Hill to pursue a career in gospel music was as shocking as it was sudden. But within the group, it was seen as almost inevitable -- even if none of the others wanted to see him go.
"We've always known Woody wanted to sing gospel," said Dru Hill member Nokio, over the phone from New York. "We always knew that one day a time would come, and he would get his calling. And we knew that when that time came, there would be nothing that he would do to compromise."
There had been some warning that the day was coming. In February, while the multi-platinum R&B group was on tour in Europe, Woody told his bandmates -- Sisqo, Nokio and Jazz -- that he was considering giving up the group and going home to devote himself to gospel music.
Then, last Sunday, Woody told the others that he'd made up his mind to leave. It was, he says, a very emotional moment, but one full of support from his bandmates.
"I don't have any hard feelings toward anybody, and I don't have any reason to believe that anybody has any hard feelings toward me," Woody said, over the phone from New York yesterday.
"We've been through a lot together, and I'm going to miss all of that. But by the same token, I feel that the Lord is calling me at this time to do something different. The direction that the Lord has for me may not be the direction that he has for somebody else."
Woody said that he had felt the pull of gospel music from the first and, in fact, considered leaving Dru Hill before the group signed its recording contract with Island Black Music.
"I called Haqq Islam, the guy who got us the deal," Woody recalled. "I said: `Man, I don't feel comfortable. Could you give me $60, so I can get back on the train and get back to Baltimore, and go back home?' "
It wasn't that he was afraid he couldn't cut it as a recording artist. Simply put, Woody wasn't that attracted by the possibility of fame and fortune. "I'm a homebody, for one," he said. "And secondly, I'm really spiritual, and I didn't see where being in this profession would allow me to carry on my spirituality."
Give it some time
Islam asked him to give it a year and see how it felt. Woody gave it three years and finally decided it felt wrong. Yesterday was his last day as a member of Dru Hill.
"I felt that I lost more than I gained," he said, explaining the decision to leave the group and return to Baltimore. "There's nothing, really, in the business of being an artist that really makes me tick, other than the fact that I like to make music."
Woody plans to stay in the music business, although keeping a much lower profile. At the moment, he's writing and collecting material for a gospel album -- a recording contract, he said, is "being worked on as we speak" -- and is also hoping to get a contract with a music publisher and write songs for a living.
Mostly, though, the 22-year-old bachelor wants to focus on his parents and siblings. "I'm really a family-oriented person," he said. "Not to make it seem like we didn't have anything, but I didn't grow up in a family that had a lot of money. But what we did have a lot of was love for one another, and we were always there for each other."
Being in Dru Hill made that difficult.
"As we become more and more successful, there was a greater demand to be even more places," Woody explains. "Being in the business doesn't permit me a lot of time to be there for my family.
"Friday, my aunt passed away, my aunt who raised me along with my mother and father. Luckily, I was able to see her just before she died. But also, my mother is very, very ill. I just had to get my priorities in order."
Pub Date: 3/19/99