It’s the same old story.
Whenever we spotlight fallen artists in this space, it’s almost always the same sad tale – humble beginnings lead to a meteoric rise and then almost as quickly, the star falls. Then the artist scratches and claws to stay relevant before ending up on the back of a milk carton.
Not so for R&B chanteuse Tracie Spencer. If you ask me, she had the perfect career path – she started out slow, climbed to the top of the R&B mountain, then bowed out before overstaying her welcome. I wish her colleagues would follow her example. Watch how it’s done.
A native of Waterloo, Iowa, Tracie started her grind almost right of the womb. She started singing at age 3, competed in beauty pageants at age 5, and was on CBS’ Star Search singing Whitney Houston songs by the time her age hit double digits. That performance led way to her first record deal with Capitol Records.
Who do little boys have crushes on these days? Grown, creepy women like Rihanna and Icki Garbaj? No wonder the world is such a depressing, tight-pants-wearing mess. In my day, ALL the boys were in love with Tracie, especially after her solo debut in 1988. Ignore the distracting and hideous ’80s fashions – “Symptoms of True Love” is just as fun now as when we were playing with Ninja Turtles. And even though she was barely a preteen, “Hide and Seek” still became a hit on the “Quiet Storm” radio circuit. The album wasn’t a runaway hit, but it paved the way for much bigger things.
Tracie’s sophomore effort, Make the Difference, was released in 1990 and this is when, as one of the old deacons at my church used to say, things started poppin’ like popcorn. With lyrics like that, he could win a Grammy these days.
Anyway, upbeat first single “Save Your Love” became her biggest hit at the time, peaking at No. 7 on the R&B charts. Tracie (and her SUPER high-rise jeans) outdid herself with the second single, “This House,” which not only peaked at No. 7 on the R&B charts, but reached No. 3 on the pop charts.
As great as those songs were, it was the follow-up “Tender Kisses” that became Tracie’s signature track. The video is horribly cheesy but don’t hate – this was THE CUT back in 1991. It climbed to No. 1 on the R&B charts.
(Please excuse the creepy heavy breathing in the background of that vid. I think someone enjoyed that clip a little too much).
Add in “Love Me” and “This Time Make It Funky” and you can definitely call Make the Difference a success.
This was also around the time my wifey, who was about 11 years old at the time, met Tracie at a Birmingham hotel. The wifey told her grandmother “IT’S TRACIE SPENCER!” Of course, granny was like “WHO?” Apparently Tracie was extremely nice and happy to talk to her young fans. The wifey also met Savion Glover that day. I guess it was “meet all the young black stars day” at Random Birmingham Hotel.
After the success of Make the Difference, Tracie took an extended break in the mid-90s to pursue modeling, including work for Tommy Hilfiger, Chanel, and Dollhouse and participating in New York and Los Angeles fashion weeks.
By the time Tracie returned to music in 1999 with Tracie, R&B was being engulfed by hip-hop. “It’s All About You (Not About Me)” wasn’t bad, it just sounded much too similar to everything else in that era. But I guess that worked to Tracie’s advantage – it wound up being a pretty solid R&B and pop hit. I liked the second single “Still In My Heart” much better but it didn’t perform as well. However, Tracie still became the highest-charting album of her career, reaching No. 19 on the R&B boards.
Tracie slowly moved away from the limelight in the 21st century, mostly doing background vocals. Bet you didn’t know she appeared on “Slow Jamz” and “Never Let Me Down” on Kanye West’s classic College Dropout album.
Should She Come Back?: Tough call. I think Tracie had an ideal career arc – she came in, had some memorable hits and bowed out before destroying her legacy with mediocrity. It wouldn’t surprise me if Tracie still had some gas left in the tank. For now, I’m just happy reliving the wifey’s sixth-grade memories of Tracie’s glory days.