A woman in red glides freely across the stage. The ruffles at the hem of her wrap dress flutter in the Miami breeze as her hips rock side to side. With her back to the crowd, she shimmies from stage right to stage left. It’s almost as if she’s imagined no one’s watching. She’s in her zone, she’s 60 and she’s killin’ it.
This woman is none other than Anita Baker. (Photo courtesy: Jazz In The Gardens)
Anita was the only artist I needed to see at this year’s Jazz In The Gardens Music Festival…and her performance stirred all my emotions, passions and senses. For more than hour, the crowd and I sang along, danced and reminisced with Auntie Anita. She hit high notes we could only dream of reaching and then, before we knew it, she was waving goodbye.
In the midst of her kisses and good wishes, the finality of one year coming to a close set in. Perhaps even more daunting, was the realization that an era of my life, an entire decade, would soon be over.
“It’s my 29th birthday. When did that happen?”
I was perplexed, but nothing was going to take away the smile Anita Baker put on my face. The Ohio-born, Detroit-bred songstress with the velvety voice was just too heavenly for that.
“Mamas who gave me their children to sing to, thank you,” Baker said on stage. “My millennials, I love you!”
I couldn’t help but think, “She’s talking about me!!!”
My older sister and I LOVE Anita. I have vivid memories of us, two little girls in Cleveland, singing along in car rides with our Dad to “No One In The World”, “Giving You The Best That I’ve Got”, “Angel”….heck, all the hits.
Maybe that’s why seeing Anita on her farewell tour meant so much. It brought everything full circle.
Turning 29. Thousands of miles away from my family. Singing songs I used to rock out to during “The Quiet Storm” on Cleveland’s only R&B station when I was supposed to be asleep for school in the morning?
Hearing the spirit of Detroit through the beats of Anita’s band and the crooning of her background singers?
It brought me back to Michigan State, my alma mater — the people, the memories, the friends who became family; the love.
“We didn’t bring much tonight…just a bunch of old love songs.”
The crowd went wild when Anita said this. We didn’t mind at all.
As she sang of sweet love and good love, I couldn’t help but think of love lost, love missed and love mismanaged.
There were all the questions. Had I made the wrong decisions about lovers in the past? Am I prepared for who’s coming next? How will we meet? Everything is so different now. Do relationships even begin organically anymore? Will it be through a mutual friend? People barely even have those these days.
I still stand by my opinion that if love doesn’t feel like Johnnyswim or 90s R&B, what’s the point? Throw the whole relationship away!
Seriously, though. Do people still date and marry people that inspire lyrics like:
“You bring me joy
Too far away
If I can’t see your face, I will remember your smile…”
I believe so. I truly hope so.
Suddenly, in the midst of my questions, Anita was leaving the stage for a second time. Streams of bright, colorful confetti had burst into the air minutes prior, but the crowd beckoned Anita back to the stage — and she obliged. But THIS, this was it. She wasn’t coming back.
A legend was leaving the building and my 29th year was just beginning and somehow, even though we’d never met, never talked, aren’t related, and the years distance us so greatly, it all felt so connected.
“It feels so good to be saying goodbye and not just disappear,” she said.
Anita’s heart was so grateful and full.
That’s how I’ve sifted through my emotions from this past weekend: I’m fulfilled. I’ve seen a lot these past years: soul-tying connections, heartaches, successes, HUGE wins, deep lows, confusion, frustration, a renaissance, and much divine intervention. Some experiences hurt more than others, but it was all worth it. It molded me. I like who I am now. I wouldn’t be this person without each of those moments.
And now, the tumultuous past few months are starting to make sense.
Why did I have to say goodbye to so many old things, old desires and old dreams in 2017? Why did I cry myself to sleep making the decision to plant roots where I am? Why did Anita come back on stage when her set had clearly just ended. The streamers popped! It was over!
Because its hard to release what’s familiar.
That’s not a novel idea. I’m just writing it to make it real. It’s a permanent reminder, you can’t catch anything new with your hands balled up in a fist. You can’t heal, holding on.
So, I’m waving like Anita. There’s so much flowing from these hands and lips. Goodbye, 28. Hello, 29.
Thanks, Auntie. (Erik Killmonger voice)
Favorite moment of the night? The crowd blew Anita away by taking over “No One In The World”: