Anita Porée, 1939 to 2018
One of Kenwood’s quieter and more remarkable residents passed away recently. Anita Porée lived on Adobe Canyon Road for nearly 20 years, enjoying the serene beauty of living by Sonoma Creek in a very private setting, on property once owned by Milo Baker, one of California’s pre-eminent horticulturalists.
Anita treasured her privacy for the time and space it allowed her to pursue her painting, poetry and music, as well as her passion for social justice. Just bumping into her at the Kenwood Market led to many a fascinating conversation on politics and art, though she never revealed her youthful successes as a songwriter from the late ‘60s to mid-‘70s.
Though she fought cancer for many years, she remained steadfastly optimistic and forward-looking until she died on July 8, 2018. She was far more likely to laugh at life’s absurdities than rail against her fate. She was 78 years old and always said she’d enjoyed a full and satisfying life.
Anita was born in Chicago on Sept. 14, 1939. Her father was New Orleans-born Creole and her mother was Choctaw, African-American and white. Their daughter wasn’t yet a teen when the family moved to Los Angeles.
After graduating from Our Lady of Loretta High School and studying at L.A. City College, Anita began acting on stage.
“As time went on, she became disillusioned with that,” her brother said. He said she was in a “down time in her life” when the two of them and Jerry Peters, a pianist and composer, began writing music together. That collaboration led Peters and Anita to compose for The Friends of Distinction and then for Eddie Kendricks, who left The Temptations shortly after its hit song, “Just My Imagination.”
“She became a wonderful songwriter and her forte was lyrics,” Greg Porée said.
Anita was most widely known for the songwriting she did from the late-‘60s to the mid-’70s with her brother and Jerry Peters, Leonard Caston, Jr., Frank Wilson and Skip Scarborough.
The rhythm-and-blues classic “Going in Circles” and “Love or Let Me be Lonely” both put the band The Friends of Distinction high on the charts in 1969 and 1970.
Anita also co-wrote “Keep on Truckin’” which became Eddie Kendricks’ first big hit after he left The Temptations, the soul, rock, funk and R&B group he’d co-founded. “Boogie Down” was also released in ’73 and also was a hit for Kendricks.
In an online tribute to Anita, Harry Elston, who drove a limo for The Temptations before co-founding The Friends of Distinction, wrote that she “was a pioneer during a period when women were less accepted as popular songwriters ... Over the years her compositions found their way onto albums by artists as diverse as Jennifer Lopez, D’Angelo, The Gap Band and The Jackson Five.”
Greg Porée said that after several years of composing songs, his sister became disheartened with the music industry “and the whole Hollywood scene.”
“I think there was a lot of Hollywood that just wasn’t ready for a woman of color who was that savvy,” he said.
So Anita moved to Kenwood and re-focused her life on creating art with paints, composing poetry, and calling for justice for racial minorities, members of the LGBTQ community and others denied equal treatment and opportunity.
For years, the multi-racial Anita wrote a column, “And So I Grew Two Voices,” in the former Sonoma County Peace Press.
She also showed and sold her paintings, accompanying much of it with poetry or prose.
Greg Porée traveled to Sonoma Valley to be with his sister as her health declined. He said it was a joy to observe “the diversity of people who came to see her and the amount of love they showed her.”
“It’s been wonderful to see the number of people whose life she has touched,” he said.
Anita is also survived by a half-brother, Curtis Porée of Seattle.
There currently are no plans for services.
[Parts of this story were taken from the piece written by Chris Smith and published in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat on July 11, 2018. Used with permission of the author and Greg Porée, the source for most of the material.] – Jay Gamel