Although the songstress has been happily tweeting from the beach, it's an abrupt end to a music career that leaves us wanting more.
Detroit songstress Anita Baker subtly announced her retirement from the music industry, after nearly 40 years of commandeering a jazzy breed of adult-contemporary R&B.
“No Tour. No CD. #Retired,” Baker tweeted – her primary form of communicating with fans over the last few years – earlier this month. Her feed has been peppered with beachside scenes, certainly far away from her Grosse Pointe home.
If Baker is indeed done, it’d be somewhat of an abrupt end to a glittery career that has made her a staple of quiet-storm radio and an icon among Detroit musicians.
Baker’s career started as a lead vocalist for the Detroit funk-R&B outfit Chapter 8. Chapter 8’s first album charted some middling R&B hits, but it was the slow-burn track “I Just Wanna Be Your Girl” that would endure on Detroit radio years after its 1979 release. Written by the band’s writer and producer Michael J. Powell, he and Baker would forge a partnership throughout the 1980s.
When Baker landed a solo deal, her first album, “The Songstress” was slow to produce. One single, “Angel,” would put her in the top 10, but the album didn’t make her a star. Re-teaming with Powell, the two delivered “Rapture,” solidifying her as an R&B star with “Caught Up in the Rapture,” “Sweet Love” and popular album cuts like “You Bring Me Joy” and “Been So Long.”
Baker’s arrival was right on time, in tandem with the superstar launches of black female musicians like Whitney Houston and Janet Jackson, but setting herself apart with warmer lyrics, piano-driven melodies and jazz-inflected vocal stylings. Along with the band Sade, Baker straddled black and white audiences with grown-up flair.
It was 1988’s “Giving You the Best That I Got” album where Baker fully crossed over, landing at No. 1 on Billboard’s album chart. Another album with Powell, “Compositions” followed in 1990 – and so did a new wave of female soul singers. Mary J. Blige swung the pendulum to hip-hop soul at the beginning of the decade, while Toni Braxton – arguably Baker’s closest counterpart – fulfilled the role of sensual songstress. (Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds, Braxton’s top producer, has noted several times that many songs performed by Braxton were written with Baker in mind.)
Still, Baker remained active, releasing steadily until 2004. Her activity around her hometown gained notoriety. She introduced Grant Hill, then a newbie to the Detroit Pistons, to Tamia, a young singer from Windsor who had caught the attention of Quincy Jones. More infamously, Baker commissioned a demolition of a historic home on East Jefferson Avenue to build an IHOP that still stands today.
But the question of new music has lingered for more than a decade. A one-off single, a cover of Tyrese’s “Lately,” put Baker back on R&B radio in 2012 and earned a Grammy nomination. It was supposed to be a prelude for a much-discussed album; Baker had mentioned frequently being in the studio with Snoop Dogg. Blige, a longtime admirer, brought Baker onstage at the BET Awards to duet on “Caught Up in the Rapture.” At a Soul Train Awards broadcast, Tamia and a who’s-who of adult R&B – fellow locals Kem and El DeBarge, as well as Faith Evans, Dionne Farris, Goapele, Lalah Hathaway, Chrisette Michele and Rachelle Ferrell – performed a tribute. And Baker’s presence is certainly missed whenever Hathaway’s cover of “Angel,” a No. 1 adult R&B hit in 2015 and now Grammy-nominated, spins on air.
Baker, however, appears to be happy. “Priorities change,” she captions on a photo of palm trees.