Sue Ann Carwell was born in Chicago to dancer Joie Draper Carwell and drummer Bob “Sticks” Carwell, Bob Carwell had shared stages with Billy Eckstein, Dizzy Gillespie, and the Dominos during his career; his extended 1969 residency at Minneapolis’ Blue Note persuaded him to relocate the family to the Twin Cities when Sue Ann was just eight years old. Bob Carwell had gone so far as to place speakers in his daughters crib, nurturing Sue Ann through infancy with help from Wes Montgomery and John Coltrane.
In 1977, Sue Ann’s older sister caught wind of an audition for local group Quiet Storm and convinced Sue Ann to meet with drummer Maurice “Mo” Stevens. In fact, Sue Ann had been duped into and audition with not only Stevens, but his bass-playing older brother Hank Stevens, organist Charles Berry, and his guitar-playing brother Donald Berry, all of whom were impressed by Carwell’s rendition of Chaka Khan’s “Sweet Thing.” During a 1978 live set, Carwell- midway through her rendition of Deniece Williams’ “Free”- spotted Andre Anderson in the crowd at the Elks. Anderson returned the next night, accompanied by Prince Nelson, newly contracted with Warner Bros. and keen to produce talent on his own. Nelson brought Carwell to Sound 80, to feature her voice on demos for “Wouldn’t You Love to Love Me” and “Since We’ve Been Together.” Sound 80 engineer David Rivkin would take on management of the impressive young vocalist.