Renetta Perry Data News Weekly Contributor
If you were coming of age in the early ‘80s like me, you probably experienced the tumult of love and heartbreak with an Anita Baker song playing in the background of your phone conversations on WYLD’s “Mellow Moods” radio show. Whether it was the formidable, yet dreamy love ballad “Angel,” where her voice floats through the first 32 bars with the mesmerizing and ethereal OOOOOO’s, or the gut- wrenching “No more tears,” the painstakingly beautiful ballad that evokes the emotion we all feel when love is lost, Anita was definitely the third person in our young relationships. She guided us through it all with carefully and powerfully architected lyrics; a raw, yet silky voice that wrapped us like a cashmere sweater, and a dramatic musical sound that seemed instinctively aware of when to crescendo and decrescendo, right along with our highs and lows/joys and pains.
To say that her voice dominated the soundtrack of a generation would be an understatement. Her innate ability to know, and connect to her audience, as evidenced in her writing and delivery, is textbook. When she emerged onstage at the Smoothie King Center last Friday night, grown men and women collectively and audibly gasped as if there was a God appearing. (I’ve witnessed countless artists performing in countless venues, but I had never witnessed audible gasping in this way). The realization that we were in the same room with Anita Baker, no matter where our seats were in the arena, was surreal, nostalgic, and euphoric, simultaneously. She seemed similarly in awe because the arena was, in her words, “sold out,” despite the concert’s timing at the height of the Mardi Gras season and when the Zulu Ball or at least four other parades could have been our choice.
Like her vocal intro on “Angel,” she seemed to float onstage, donning a red, floor length, sequined coat, atop a black, sequined catsuit, punctuated with a bold rhinestone belt. All but for her slight limp, she has aged impeccably, and has kept her voice in stellar condition, not missing a note in the two hours that she graced us with her presence. Mid-show, she brought back Babyface, her opening act, and introduced him as her “friend.” He, in-turn, publicly regretted not being able to take credit for writing any of her songs and declared her to be one of the most prolific songwriters of our time.
As she effortlessly belted out hit-after-hit to an audience who sang along (at the top of our lungs) to every song, word-for-word, she ended set one with “Fairytales,” a song she said she wrote in the “junk room” of her house when she was only 16 years old and before she knew she would become a world-renowned singer/songwriter. Confetti bombs and on-stage pyrotechnics seemed to signal the show’s end, but Anita came back, managing to craft her second act as an intimate set where she stood next to her piano, mic in hand, and thanked the massive audience for our support of her 40-plus-year career. Then she repeatedly asked us, “what y’all wanna hear now?” prompting the audience to yell out our wishes as if we were right on stage with her. “I Apologize,” “Body and Soul,” and a blizzard of other hits followed.
She filled our requests like a human juke box. “Same Old Love,” brought the crowd to our feet and her last song, “Giving You the Best that I Got,” brought many to tears as she prefaced the song with the story of how she has been doing this for many years, and how grateful she is that at 65-years-old, she is still doing just that.
As we left the arena, hundreds broke into an impromptu, unison version the New Orleans bounce classic, “No One in the World,” a song that Anita seemed to neglectfully not perform. Feeling the void, the audience took matters into our own hands and created the perfect NOLA ending to a perfect night with the “Queen of Love” herself.