· Whitney Houston
I sat watching my good friend Tika strut around in a short, blue, sequined and shimmery number before she was set to get on stage. She was the lead singer in a cover band, set to perform at the bar that was below where I lived. My house often became the staging area for her transformation from mild mannered LaTika the bank teller to Tika Shae the chanteuse who kept men ensnared in her trance with her sultry singing voice. Her band sung all of the r&b hits from divas of the 80s and 90s including Patti LaBelle, Anita Baker, Gladys Knight, Phyllis Hyman, Angela Bofill, and Whitney Houston. If Tika had it her way, they would have thrown in girl groups, too. Her favorite line was “Lalah Hathaway ain’t the only singer out here who can harmonize with herself!”
I met Tiks when I was at a low point in my life. Living above a bar was a blessing and a curse, especially when I was in one of those emotional low periods. I sat at the at the bar as Tika’s band played, yelling out request after request that they ignored. They typically had a themed set list already worked out, but that night I was so shitfaced that I wasn’t trying to hear any reason. Deon, the bartender that night, tried reeling me in several times, but I couldn’t be contained. The keyboardist in the band looked like he was ready to come down and put me out of the bar himself, but Tika wasn’t having it. She beckoned me to the stage, and I stumbled, drunkenly, barely making it up the three mini steps to stand beside her on stage.
After a brief interrogation, with her collecting all of the minor vital information about me and diffusing all of the rowdy energy I’d had while sitting, Tika asked why I refused to settle down. For my answer, I channeled Larry Fishburne channeling Ike Turner, “Well if you’d just sing the songs like I told you to sing ‘em…” And that set Tika off into a round of giggles before she decided to at least take one of my requests seriously. I remained on the stage while she and the band launched into a crazy remixed version of Teena Marie’s “Portuguese Love”. I sang along word for word and adlib for adlib, and at some point, someone produced a mic for me, which led to me harmonizing and riffing along with Tika near the end of the song. She’d been trying to convince me to do it again, but I didn’t sing in public much or at all anymore. That night was the side effect of one too many Threesomes aka Jameson and Ginger. I barely remembered getting home and was suitably embarrassed when Tika showed up at my door the next day, gushing about the amazing vibe we’d had while singing.
“I brought an extra dress, Ayda,” Tika said, interrupting my thoughts, “We can work in a couple of duets with women fighting over a man tonight if you say the word.”
I laughed and shook my head, “Nah, not tonight, Tiks.”
Or any other night for that matter.
I left singing behind in Memphis, where I’d also left an almost ex-husband, his two kids and three baby mamas. I’d had dreams of making it big, singing in front of crowds of screaming thousands and Andrew Townsend was the one who was supposed to facilitate all of those dreams. I met Drew when I was singing in a tiny blues club, one night a week on Beale Street. He came in talking slick and quick about how he was in town briefly for a label recruiting talent. That lie was soon uncovered, but Drew managed to have charisma that made the lies he told endearing. And because I was an easily led child with daddy issues, I was a prime target for his foolishment. I stayed entangled in the mess with Drew for far too long before finally packing my bags (and my dreams away) in order to start over fresh in a new town.