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Thursday, May 04, 2006

the history of my love for smooth R&B

I was waiting tables in a downtown Chicago restaurant during part of the hit reign of Anita Baker's "Rapture." We listened to R&B pop radio. Half the wait staff was African American, as was the head cook. None of us at the restaurant was remotely close to rich (why would be working at a mediocre lunchspot otherwise?); I'd bet that none of us had been graduated from college (I was a drop-out). We all dug Anita Baker. Her vocal timbre for one phrase of No One in the World reminded me of the sainted George Jones; I bought the album on cassette and still think it's great: her voice, the melodies, the depth and detail of the arrangements, the marriage of words & music in rich emotion.

My job before that was on the Chicago side of Howard Street, in the Rogers Park neighborhood on the Evanston border, doing clerical work for a mail-order pornography business. The publication consisted classified ads for escort services with naked pictures attached; two tough white women owned the business; sales were drummed up by 4 or 5 female phone workers, all but one of them African American, who sugar-talked potential customers. One of my co-workers commuted an hour and a half each way by bus from the south side. The most successful phone worker was a very sweet, quite burly white man in drag. I was the only male-identified person there.

Smooth R&B radio was what we listened to. The Whispers had a beautiful hit during my brief tenure there, It Just Gets Better With Time.

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