It's been years since a lupus diagnosis sidelined R&B singer Toni Braxton's career.
"Lupus is like the worst flu you've ever had in you life," the 45-year-old said in recent conference call with reporters. "It completely drains you."
Just before the diagnosis, she was performing nightly at the Flamingo Las Vegas Hotel and Casino to crowds of adoring fans. She said doctors told her the illness meant she may never be able to do that again.
So she left the stage behind to seek treatment and raise her two sons, Denim and Diezel. Since then, she became a part of a hit reality series about her family of singing sisters, We TV's Braxton Family Values; finalized her divorce from Mint Condition's Keri Lewis; and began recording a new album of duets with songwriter Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds.
All that was left was a return to the stage.
Beginning in July, Braxton started her tour that lands at St. Petersburg's Mahaffey Theater on Wednesday.
She plans to bring her hits, flair and deep soulful voice to gauge whether her body can withstand the rigors of touring. If she holds up, Braxton said she could be back very soon.
"We're trying to see how this goes and if it's good, we'd like to do a second, larger tour with myself and Babyface," the singer said.
It will tie into the new album called Love, Marriage & Divorce. She said she tried to stretch herself a little more to show fans she's more than a voice.
"The album is eight duets, two solos from me and two solos from him," she said. "On many of the songs I'm playing piano and he plays guitar. I wanted to show more of my talent."
To prepare for the tour, Braxton trained her body with professionals and added running on the treadmill while singing to her regimen.
"I work out all the time but you have to work out differently for performance," she explained. "It's about breathing and singing. When I watch younger artists and they are a little out of breath, they haven't had the time to discipline their voices."
Obviously on the set list will be the songs that made Toni Braxton a household name: Un-Break My Heart, You're Making Me High and other classics.
Braxton said she doesn't do covers of other artists, but holds a great many in high regard, none higher than Ella Fitzgerald.
"I think the greatest of all time is Ella Fitzgerald," Braxton said. "She dared to break the barrier and made her music international. … She was disciplined. She performed 20 shows a week — always with a smile on her face."
Even with the decorated career she's amassed, Braxton still has dream projects.
"I've always wanted (to record with other singers). I would probably like if Mariah Carey, Janet Jackson, myself and Mary J. would do something. But we can't tour," Braxton laughed. "We can do a song. But a tour together with four divas … we would kill each other."