Listening to her music –
you’ve got to ask yourself what
indeed can be higher than her
smooth caramel, soulful infused
vocals. Ledisi makes soulful
jazz blues that you instinctively
sway to and love.
In person – she exudes warmth and all-encompassing humility [wannabe’s take note]. LED..I..SI..does not need unnecessary hoopla –her music and talent do the talking.
The Big Easy’s [New Orleans] virtuous singer is true to her name Ledisi meaning, “To Bring Forth” in Nigerian, and boy does she do so with unquestionable talent in music, acting, photography and journalism. By the age of eight she was fronting the New Orleans Symphony Orchestra. After relocating to California and forming the group “Anibade,” Ledisi decided to take a solo route with her debut release, “Soulsinger: The Revival” a jazz collective in 2000. Now 2012, five albums later, she’s touring continents with “Pieces of Me,” been Grammy nominated four times and is highly celebrated by the First’s in the White House.
However, there were times when Ledisi questioned her ability to deliver. Crazy if you ask us! Her story is inspirational and showcases how belief in self, determination and faith can see you transcend boundaries. Now I need to get that exclusive with the diva out of the way – super fan anyone? Yep that’s me.
Ups And Downs
After winning acclaim Ledisi decided to take a five year hiatus [which inspired “Alright”], before coming back with a vengeance. Tired of the industry machine she wanted to quit, “I was exhausted with trying to please everyone around me with who I should be, what sound I should have, how I should look and be something that I am not. I didn’t know how to be me and not make people upset, so it wore me out, emotionally, spiritually, physically – I mean it was exhausting.”
She replaced music with acting and hit Broadway as an understudy in New York, but she couldn’t get away from her past, people kept stopping her on the street to ask, “‘Are you gonna perform again?’ Ledisi says, “I’d say maybe. But really I was thinking about teaching someone how to be /do something in music. I was ready to give up but my mum and a lot of people said ‘no you gotta keep going’.”
From nowhere she got called to be part of the Luther Vandross Tribute album “Forever, For Always, For Luther” singing a bubbly cover of “My Sensitivity (Gets in The Way).” She comments, “There were two vocalists, me and Lalah Hathaway. I sang and it helped Verve become interested in me because they saw how I was charting on radio.”
Amazingly the next call would help steer her back on the music path, “Chaka Khan asked me to come do a week’s tour with her!” she says, “It felt great to have her want me to open for her and I got the bug again to want to be onstage and record. So I did one show to see how it would go and then Verve said we want to sign you, so I ended up signing with a major label and then came “Lost and Found”.
And, hey if you know Ledisi, you will know that album spawned the beautiful wanting “In The Morning," which was a powerful underground tune – in London, and I’m told state side too. “Yeah,” she says, “People get mad when I don’t perform it.”
Now she’s definitely back, making tsunami waves and collecting scores of memories. So, we quiz her on what’s been the highlight so far, “Umm…it’s too many to say, but performing at the Strathmore was awesome. It’s a theatre in Maryland that is made for orchestras with seats behind you where the choir sits. It SOLD OUT! There were people behind me, on the side me, below me, in front of me and they all came to see me! Also, there was a time at the National Harbour when we stopped traffic on the freeway. That was amazing [stopping traffic] in DC, because everyone was coming to see me.” She corrects me whilst laughing, she didn’t sing on the freeway, she merely clogged the road as so many people were on their way to see her that night. Her astonishment of the admiration people have for her is sweet to see.
And, of course she could not miss out the three, yes, THREE visits to the White House at the special request of the classy Mrs O. “OH-MY-GOD, it’s been AM-AZ-ING!” she screams, “I found out Michelle had me on her i-pod and she invited me to sing along at the Motown Tribute, then at a Women’s Mentoring Programme where I mentored students, and then the President’s 50th birthday.”
Can it really get any bigger than the Obamas? Well, that seems to be the catalyst for greater things; a tour, endorsement from major luminaries Patti Labelle and Aretha Franklin (even though the latter seems to startle Ledisi! She gasps, “Really? Aretha Franklin too? That’s great – I love her! I forgot, yes, I’ve never met her but at The Grammy I performed her song in the Tribute.”
She continues, “Patti Labelle has been a great friend.” Who has given Ledisi some great advice to get her beat-on! “Oh hel-lo, (laughs) all the time! She is like ‘What are you doing today?’ and I am like ‘I am tired.’” I have to say it must be a drag having to look good all the time, “Yeah…it’s a lot,” she says, “Especially when you are not at home to get the things that you need [travel] I don’t have everything I need, but I have enough to make it work (laughs).” And working it she does with her distinctive mahogany twisted dreadlocks scooped into a mohawk her beat is steaming. Designers are calling to dress her for her 2012 tour which she thinks is so cool.
Ledisi draws influence from jazz, rock, reggae, blues, funk, soul. But she explains artists who have significantly shaped the way she creates albums are: “Turn Me Loose” was Prince and James Brown. “Lost and Found” was a little bit of everything I knew - Aretha, Rachelle Ferrell, gosh you know different people. And then “Pieces Of Me” was the style of music that is going on now, it’s eclectic.”
She loves to make music with her listening pleasure matching her creations in their variety. Unlike most, her memory can still go back to her first musical purchase, “Umm… “Thriller” Michael Jackson. It was a vinyl – I got that for Christmas. With my cheap plastic player, I played the crap outta that album, until it was skipping and everything (laughs).”
But like most, her love for MJ will never fade. “Normally I wear my MJ T-shirt for interviews, but today I am not unfortunately. He was a big influence on the music industry period. Because of him we have Usher and all of these wonderful performers, Beyoncé even. All the controversy around his death and Dr Murray is so sad. I hope we can all go back and celebrate his life and music.”
And Ledisi is a big fan of new mummy Beyoncé’ with her CD’s stacked in her record collection. “I love that she continues to do what she loves to do. Her last one was very open, intimate, free’er’ and natural. My favourite songs on that album are “I Care” and “Love On Top.”
Ledisi’s tour has hit Europe and last month she ROCK-ED The Scala, London and had a ball in the process. She says, “It was so much fun, I loved it! London gets down with it baby (chuckles).” And, she admits we match the US crowd wiggle for wiggle. She certainly knows how to get her fans participating, and her grounded, humorous and fun loving persona leaves the auditorium with you. Her live performances certainly ignite her CD’s vibe.
The starlet not only shares herself through music, but she spends time with the United Negro College Fund, and different HPCU’s speaking about her journey and career. She says, “I tell them how difficult it was and that I never gave up even when I wanted to. I speak about knowing your business and craft, and understanding how it works. Also how they should relate with people, cos you’ll meet people whether you are going up or down.”
Through her philanthropic work she has been bestowed Governor for the San Francisco Chapter Board of The GRAMMY, which involves attending schools to talk about performing arts and how performing arts scholarships helped her become the singer she is today. Plus she is in the process of creating a non-profit foundation that will help performing arts schools.
Ledisi’s lyrics exude spirituality. Her messages touch the heart and help with personal self improvement. Digging to find out what she thinks she needs to work on she revealed, “I need to make more room for me with my workout regime – it’s sporadic because of my schedule, it needs a routine and balance.” And DS Diva’s can relate to that! Upping her listening skills came in a close second and she says will be checked off her list soon.
So, with the time all ticked out we throw one more question at Ledisi to see if she takes the bait. “DS: Out of all the wonderful people that you’ve met in your career, who have you wished that you never met?” Laughter precedes her screams. “NO!! I am N-O-T gonna answer that! I will not incriminate myself – that was a great journalistic question though. But, NO – I have liked everyone that I have met (laughs).”
Ledisi is happily loved up, and maybe one day those babies will come. But until then she’s a generous auntie, sister, daughter, friend but most of all our new DS friend. Did you feel like you’ve made a girl-next door friend here too?
Go to www.ledisi.com to check out where you can catch the “Pieces Of Me Tour,” what’s next and a little nugget – her book and non-profit charity are both launching this year.