The 80s R&B star is gearing up for her comeback with an album that details the whirlwind life, from the top of the charts to her lowest point, which included a divorce from producer Terry Lewis, and having to find a new career in real estate. Now 47, White says she finally has the desire to sing again. We spoke with her about her 18-year musical sabbatical, and why she considers her biggest hit, “Superwoman,” her testimony.
ESSENCE.com: It’s hard to believe you haven’t put out an album in 18 years. Where have you been?
KAREN WHITE: I got divorced in 1999, moved to Sacramento shortly after and became interested in real estate, interior design and building homes. I started to do that and the market was appreciating annually at a high rate and I was at the right place at the right time. I could be present as a mother to my daughter Ashley, who is now 18. While I was a recording artist I felt I wasn’t I doing a great job at being a mother… with this I could do my thing at home.
ESSENCE.com: Did you ever have any regrets from walking away from the industry?
WHITE: A lot of recording artists put their identities in their music or in a hit record and if they’re not so-called “hot” anymore, they become hermits. I never had that. I really felt like, “Okay, I was successful at that and I did that, but now I’m doing this.” I never had regrets or a “woe is me” attitude. I just really had to step back. Not really even me stepping back, but I believe the Lord pulled me out. It was always about the art and the music, but this time, I became a spiritual person as well as a business [person].
ESSENCE.com: Do people still come up to you on the street sing “Superwoman”?
WHITE: Yes, that song “Superwoman” and my whole image was for women’s empowerment. I’m really glad that I made that kind of impression; that I made songs that help women find their voice. When I’m on stage singing that song I can’t help but think, “God, this is a testimony.” I really try to share that because I want to empower women. I just see a lot of us buying into this whole, “I can do what a man does.”
ESSENCE.com: How did your divorce from producer Terry Lewis in 1999 change your life?
WHITE: It was difficult. My mother was dying at the same time and I was going through a transition with my record company. There was a lot of pressure on me, and I just had to make some difficult choices. Unfortunately my marriage didn’t work out. I really feel the person that I am today is because of the loss I’ve experienced. I couldn’t appreciate my life at the time. I had everything that a woman could ever desire: an incredible man, a 30,000-square-foot home, but I just wasn’t content. I saw myself becoming someone I said I would never be. I had put all this energy into my music, but now it was time to be the person that God called me to be. Terry is a great father, and just an incredible human being. We are so proud of our daughter and we come together for her. I’m blessed he was a part of my life. [Laughs] I did one thing right.
ESSENCE.com: And now you’re back with another empowerment theme called “Sista, Sista” from your new album Carpe Diem.
WHITE: It’s actually a 2012 version of “I’ve lived life, I’ve been in relationships and see how women are not really there for each other.” You watch these shows like Basketball Wives and it’s just a lot of negativity. Sometimes you need that sister, you need that bond of someone who is going to be there for you and uplift you. I wanted to sing this because I’ve lived this. I’m living my dreams. I’ve raised my child and I feel like I am inspiring others to go after their dreams. Whatever your detour was, get back on it. God is merciful. Still keep dreaming.
Look out for Karyn White’s new album Carpe Diem this spring.