I was about 14 when Anita’s words first resonated with me. My mother was the one who introduced me to her. Of course she had been playing her music all of my life. But it wasn’t until about age 14 that I could recite the lyrics to her songs. My mother is a true lover of jazz vocals, live bands and lyrical prose over an R&B beat. She would play an entire album of Anita Baker while she was cleaning the house on Saturday mornings. So by default, I had to hear “Been So Long” and “Angel” on repeat sometimes. It may have been that these songs helped my mother heal from something or maybe she was just taken to a place of happiness with Baker’s music. Whatever the reason, I was so happy to know the musical talent of Baker early in life and now at age 30, I knew that having the chance to see her perform live was a non-negotiable event for me to miss.
I have to be honest yall, a 14-year-old really doesn’t know what it means to “Caught up in the rapture” of another human being. But I feel that I could truly appreciate it even at a young age simply because I loved to sing. Miss Anita Baker was my voice coach. Through her lyrics, she taught me how to love freely and enjoy the love from someone else. As I got older, I soon learned the meanings behind her songs on a deeper level. So when I witnessed her sing those songs in real time on a stage with a live band, it was truly a heart-warming and unforgettable experience.
I got wind of the Anita Baker Farewell Tour through another friend who loves jazz vocals as much as much as I do. Soon as I heard, I knew this was the type of show I was saving for. I bought those tickets with enthusiasm. And the experience was full of joy every minute!
For about 90 minutes Miss Anita, whom her true fans call “Aunt Nita”, showed up opening with a celebratory rendition of “Lady Marmalade.” She danced across the stage in a glamorous black and silver dress and black shawl that seemed to drape her shoulders like a waterfall. And her dancing to me was a reflection of all that she has been through as a vocalist and songwriter. She was truly celebrating life despite the ups and downs from being a child who grew up in foster care to her eight-time Grammy Award winning career. From dealing with the pressures of trying to live a life void of Hollywood expectations, to raising her children and taking a hiatus. She does not care about what society thinks of her. She wants to live a full and happy life. If you follow her on Twitter, you will learn quickly that her personality is all about enjoying life and as much as she loves her fans, she is not going to let her million-plus die-hard fan-club persuade her to keep performing.
Miss Anita is a humble R&B Queen too. During a joking moment, she mentioned how she needed a break while the fans cheered for simply being in her presence.
When she attempted to gratify other performers during the joking, she said, “Yall have to excuse me cause I need to have a Beyonce moment over this fan. You know, let my hair blow in the wind….” While the crowd laughed, she continued to describe how there are so many great singers and songwriters that she knows. “Before there was Beyonce and all the others…” The crowd interrupted her and said “There was you Anita!” And all she could do is laugh and hold her cheeks. She was happy to see the entire crowd so appreciative of her music.
She continued to finish her story, explaining how there was Tina Turner and Diana Ross and before them there was Sarah Vaughn and Aretha Franklin and many other women who inspired her. The background singers chimed in soon after transitioning into singing hits like “Whatever it Takes”, “No One in this World,” and “Giving you the Best That I Got.”
It was like a family reunion up in that Music Hall. Aunt Nita was here and we were soaking up every minute of her.
Let me tell yall that this woman is full of grace and still enchanting when she sings. At age 60, she can still scat and sound like a saxophone or trumpet (only like a true jazz vocalist can). She can still throw a riff over harmonies played between her 6-person band and 3 background singers. And her voice is in impeccable shape singing her famous high-low range in the purest tones and without a crack!
If you have never experienced her in concert, you can expect her to almost demand that you appreciate not only her voice but the talents of her band too. She bowed to them every few songs and shouted them out thoroughly.
“This is your band right now. I’m conducting this band for you right now. You betta sing it like you sing it at home. We might not get another chance! So yall better sing that song to me!” The crowd replied unanimously with the lyrics to “Sweet Love” because, well, it’s impossible to hear that song and not sing especially when Aunt Nita is standing right there in front of you.
The rest of the hour we were all mesmerized by her graceful voice as the notes danced against the walls. I was so grateful to be in the room, to finally hear and see what grace looks like. With a sold-out tour, I am almost positive that her fans will make sure Aunt Nita can enjoy her retirement in complete peace. She deserves it. Her music helped heal us. And I promise to keep that memory with me until my days end.