The Tragic Reason Gwen Stefani Became No Doubt's Lead Singer

It's hard to imagine the dynamic and attention-grabbing Gwen Stefani as a backup singer, but in her former band, No Doubt, that's how it started. According to Rolling Stone, it was the end of 1986 when Stefani's brother, Eric, formed a band with his friend John Spence, whom Rolling Stone described as a "Black punk," in their hometown of Anaheim California. Spence was the frontman who often used the expression, "No doubt", and that's how the band got its name.

According to Encyclopedia, Spence's style as a frontman meant doing backflips on stage and screaming lyrics because, punk rock, baby. The band eventually rounded out at eight musicians, playing their own blend of punk, ska, rock, and reggae. Stefani sang back-up vocals and the group played their first party on December 31, 1986, when she was 17 years old. The group kept playing parties but finally got into a "real" show at the legendary California music venue, Fender's Ballroom in March 1987. Over the next few months, the band kept on playing wherever they could as Stefani graduated high school in 1987, per Encyclopedia. 

Things seemed to be going really well for the band who'd booked a gig on the Sunset Strip at The Roxy in December 1987. According to Encyclopedia, No Doubt hoped The Roxy gig could be their big break, and Spence was instrumental in pushing the group to practice daily to make sure they gave their best possible performance. But just days before the show, though, everything changed.

The original frontman of No Doubt committed suicide

On December 21, 1987, Spence committed suicide either in a parking lot or a park, depending on the article you read, and the band was understandably shocked and devastated. Spence left a two-page note, according to, which in part talked about the pressure he felt as the No Doubt frontman.

Later, Stefani said she didn't realize the depths of Spence's despair, saying, "I guess I didn't really know him. He was hurting so badly that he couldn't talk to anyone about it," according to Vogue.  

The suicide was just days ahead of The Roxy show. The band pulled it together to play the gig but told the audience it would be their last, per Rolling Stone. As we know, that wasn't the case. Still, the band needed a new singer. According to Encyclopedia, it wasn't Stefani right off the bat. One of the group's trumpet players, Alan Meade, jumped in as the frontman for about a year before leaving the band. 

When Meade left, Eric made the push for Stefani to become the new front person for No Doubt. The group kept on keeping on, but Eric quit the band in 1994. A year later, No Doubt released "Tragic Kingdom," for which Stefani wrote many of the songs for the first time, according to Pitchfork. Finally, No Doubt found itself in the national spotlight. Stefani's delivery of the record's first hit single, "Just a Girl," proved she was born to front a band.