The ‘Waiting to Exhale’ Movie Soundtrack Was Released 24 Years Ago and Was the First Soundtrack to Include This

Waiting to Exhale had a phenomenal cultural impact when the film was released in 1995. For one of the first times in movies in history, black women around the world felt as if they had their stories told on screen. Adapted from the 1992 Terry McMillian novel of the same name, the film chronicled the lives of four African-American women in their 30s as they navigated friendship, relationships, heartbreak, and successful careers. Whitney Houston, Angela Bassett, Loretta Divine, and Lela Rochon made up the star-studded cast. The Forest Whitaker directed film made $82 million at the box office and became an instant favorite. Just as meaningful as the film meant to audiences, the soundtrack had the same effect. It became one of the highest-selling movie soundtracks of all time and was the first soundtrack to break gender barriers. 

Waiting to Exhale
Waiting to Exhale cast | Frank Trapper/Corbis via Getty Images

‘Waiting to Exhale’ soundtrack released in November 1995

The Waiting to Exhale soundtrack was released to positive reviews. Babyface was praised for his songwriting capabilities and how much the music actually related to the film’s storyline. Jean Rosenbluth from the Los Angeles Times was impressed by Babyface’s lyrics, writing “he has captured what it can mean to be a woman in 1995.” 

Babyface elaborated on his writing process in a 2015 Billboard Magazine interview in honor of the 20th anniversary of its release. “Every song was written to the actual film. When I looked at the clips, I had to write what I kind of heard at that point, “ he explained. “The songs are directly written to film, and I tailored it to the artist that I thought it would suit best.”

The soundtrack produced two number-one hits on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart – “Exhale (Shoop Shoop)” performed by Whitney Houston, and “Let It Flow” by Toni Braxton. Three of the songs from the soundtrack made the US Billboard Top 10 as well, including Brandy’s “Sittin’ Up In My Room.” 

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The Waiting to Exhale soundtrack topped the Billboard 200 for five consecutive weeks and sold over 7 million copies in under a year, making it one of the best-selling soundtracks of all time. It did well during awards season also, winning American Music Awards, Soul Train Awards and earned 11 Grammy nominations, including one for Album of the Year. Mary J. Blige, Brandy, Aretha Franklin, Chaka Khan, Whitney Houston, and CeCe Winans performed a medley of songs from the soundtrack at the 1996 Grammy Awards, making it one of the most memorable performances of the evening.

‘Waiting to Exhale’ soundtrack was the first soundtrack to feature all-female performers

The success of the soundtrack can be attributed to its originality and a calculated move on behalf of writer and producer, Babyface, and Houston, who were both in charge of the music. Babyface took a risk when he decided to have a soundtrack filled with songs performed by all women. Houston had the final say and the risk paid off. 

In a 1995 interview with The New York Times, Babyface spoke about how the idea of an all-female soundtrack came to be.

“It was partly Whitney’s idea doing all the women,” he said. “She feels like ‘Waiting to Exhale’ isn’t her movie, but an ensemble movie about the friendship of four women. So the soundtrack has a lot to do with the film.”

Babyface knew the soundtrack stood apart for that reason alone. “I don’t think you’ll ever see another project that includes all these women at the same time,” he told the publication.

The soundtrack featured 16 songs. With the exception of a remake of “My Funny Valentine,” all songs were penned by Babyface. 

25 years later, the soundtrack has the same impact. Just a few years ago, The Soul Train Awards featured a medley of songs from the soundtrack performed by Fantasia as part of a tribute to Babyface receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award.