Spotlight on: Ledisi
Veteran R&B, jazz, neo-soul and gospel vocalist and musician Ledisi will headline this Sunday evening at the Grove Amphitheater at the Woodlake Inn in Sacramento. Joining Ledisi as the opening act on the B.G.T.Y. (Be Good to Yourself) Tour is popular R&B singer Eric Benét. The emcee for the event will be the popular local poet Terry Moore.
Born Ledisi Anibade Young in New Orleans, the multiple Grammy-nominated artist is touring in support of her Billboard Top 10 album, “Pieces of Me.”
Ledisi comes from a family whose members were all involved with music. She grew up watching her mother sing in an R&B band in her native Louisiana.
Ledisi first appeared on stage at with the New Orleans Symphony Orchestra at age 8. After relocating to Oakland, she was nominated for a Shellie Award in 1990 for her outstanding performance as a member of the cast in a production of “The Wiz.”
Ledisi has a rock-solid foundation as a classically trained soprano and musician, earned through five years of studying opera and piano at UC Berkeley.
Ledisi’s career has steadily gained momentum since the mid-‘90s, when she first began to appear as a featured vocalist after forming her own group Anibade, with keyboardist Sundra Manning and four other well-schooled musicians in the Bay Area.
Ledisi and Manning paid their dues in the music business by performing local and regional shows while writing original songs. The duo then formed their own record label, LeSun, after their attempts to get signed to a major label were unsuccessful.
The resulting two albums, “Soulsinger: the Revival,” and “Feeling Orange But Sometimes Blue,” were released in 2000 and 2002 respectively. Following the 2002 release, Ledisi won the award for “Outstanding Jazz Album” at the California Music Awards in 2003.
Before signing to major record label VerveForecast in 2007, Ledisi stayed busy performing and recording. She appeared on numerous soundtracks and was a featured artist on a variety of recordings with some of the most well-respected names in the music industry, including Boney James, Rafeal Saddiq and a host of jazz, neo-soul and R&B artists.
Ledisi’s original songs span a wide range of themes, including love and relationships, self-empowerment and praise music. Her music is heavily influenced by jazz and is a staple on urban contemporary and smooth jazz radio station playlists.
Ledisi is a versatile vocalist who is well-known for putting her own stamp on a variety of jazz standards. Patti LaBelle seemed to not just be kidding around when she anointed Ledisi as her successor during a playful moment captured on camera, featured on YouTube.
Ledisi has appeared in films, been nominated for a series of prestigious awards, and charted a series of top 40 and top 100 R&B hit singles since 2007. The hard work she invested paid off, as she has deservingly blossomed into a major star in the music industry.
Ledisi teamed up with Essence magazine for the release of her first book earlier this year. Titled “Better Than Alright: Finding Peace, Love & Power,” the publication is an inspirational memoir that reveals some of her struggles and triumphs along with the insight she has gained as she developed into the successful woman she is today.
Ledisi doesn’t subscribe to the notion that she is a diva in her personal life, but concedes that she may be one when performing on stage.
The Sacramento Press connected with Ledisi this past Wednesday morning. During the in-depth telephone interview that follows, she allows her warm personality to shine through, and reveals the inside scoop on some of her life’s experiences and insights, allowing us to get to know her better.Sacramento Press:
First of all, Ledisi, I want to thank you for taking some time out of your busy schedule and your tour to speak with the Sacramento Press.
Ledisi: Thank you for taking the time and being interested.
SP: Can you shed some light about the meaning of the name “Ledisi,” how you got that name?
LD: It’s a common question and I answer it in my new book, “Better Than Alright.” But I will say that my name is my name. It means “to bring forth.” It is a Nigerian name from the Nigerian culture of Yorba. My parents named me and I had no choice. (Laughing.)
SP: What or who in your opinion has had the biggest influence on your music and the development of your career?
LD: I would say my mother and everything she listened to. She was a singer from New Orleans and I would watch everything she did — the way she’d wear her hair, the way she interacted with the audience, when we were able to watch her.
Everything starts at home. For me, it was my mother and whatever music was around — that’s what I listened to. Patsy Cline, Zydeco music, Earth, Wind and Fire, Frankie Beverly and Maze, Marvin Gaye, Chaka Khan, Aretha, Diana Washington, I mean my mom would listen to everything.
I loved her and the musicians and singers who are able to perform R&B and still mix in other genres — I mean like Marvin Gaye who can sing jazz, R&B, gospel, pop, and classical — those are the people that I admire.
SP: You were born in New Orleans and came of age in the Bay Area. Where is your home base now?
LS: I would say the Bay Area still. But right now it’s on the road. (Laughing.)
SP: Ledisi, what do you do when you have time to kick back and relax?
LD: I like to sleep as much as possible. (Laughing.) I like to go for walks. I love reading. I love feeling the quiet.
SP: Is there anything special that you do or don’t do to maintain your health?
LD: I do work out. I drink a lot of water and I watch my sugar intake.
SP: Give us some examples of what’s on your iPod? What or who do you listen to?
LD: I actually like old people. (Laughing.) I also listen to A Tribe Called Quest. I listen to a lot of Miles Davis, a lot of Robert Glasper’s Black Radio. I’ll switch up and put on Beyonce’s “4” album when I’m on the treadmill. It just depends on kind of mood I’m in, but I always listen to the kind of music that’s positive — I’ll always go to that.
SP: You’ve mentioned your book, “Better Than Alright: Finding Peace, Love & Power.” Can you tell us about the experience you had in writing that?
LD: I enjoyed it — I enjoyed collaborating with Essence (magazine). They captured me in a book. Meaning they pushed me and inspired me and gave me a great format. I already had the book laid out, but not in this way. I was adventurous and fearless. It was one of the best experiences in my life.
I’ve dreamed of being an author, but I never thought it was possible. The way it came about felt natural. They understood me as an entertainer and as a singer and everything. They rolled it all up into a book. It was great.
One of the hardest things to do is to sit down and write a book. (Laughing.) Being in a bookstore is even harder than being in a music store. Damn, this is hard work!
I loved the interaction between my audience and my readers. That was their idea to get them involved with the book. They really inspired me. I would love to do it again.
SP: I read someplace when I was doing my research about you that at one time you contemplated leaving the music business. What do you think you’d be doing with your life if you weren’t in music?
LD: I would probably be teaching somewhere — music or maybe English-being a teacher. I enjoy turning on the light — helping someone to find their light and inspiring others. So I’d have to say that I’d want to do something with helping others.
LD: (Pause) Wow. I’ve never thought about that. It’s a great question.
There’s so much stuff. I have so many ideas — maybe something in film writing and being behind the scenes — maybe being in front of the camera — anything that has to do with film. (Laughing.)
In my shows now we have video occasionally — well in most of the shows at least when we’re able to. That was fun editing and filming footage. I love being behind the scenes. I think I love it more than being in front of the camera.
I love photography and I’ve been taking pictures. Some of my work is featured in my new book. The editors were like, “Oh, you’ve got to put that in the book.”
There’s more that I would like to do from behind the scenes — like helping someone else’s career. That’d be great. Maybe owning a label and helping someone with their career in that way.
I know that I have to focus with what I’m doing now: providing high quality great music. From that will come all of the things that I desire. I’ve learned that from never giving up and not quitting no matter what.
SP: That sounds wonderful. You’re doing an awesome job of it. The results are speaking for themselves.
LD: Thank you.
LD: I enjoyed it. I had a fun time performing.
What I loved most was watching Stevie Wonder, Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock all on the same stage.
I enjoyed watching everyone at the White House — the first lady and president — everyone there — watching and listening to music. I really enjoyed that.
I saw them watching me but I was so nervous I couldn’t look at them. (Laughing.)
I really enjoyed just being in the room and experiencing people of that caliber. I mean there were stars everywhere, Jay-Z, Charles Barkley, all types of great people — different senators. I mean it felt so good watching all of these great singers and great people listening to and enjoying music. It was a great experience.
SP: I understand that you’ve been there three times, is that correct?
LD: Yes. I’ve done the Motown Special. A women’s mentoring event for the first lady going to different schools and talking about my journey. And the president’s birthday, which is the event I was speaking of.
It’s been very nice. Every time it’s been a moment. I’ve learned a lot from them. They love people. They really care about people. And they’re really in love — it’s great — and it’s genuine.
It really inspires you a lot to see how much they care about what’s going on around them. And they love music. They use music to help others and to bring people together and that’s great.
SP: Ledisi, in your career you’ve worked with an all-star lineup of individuals in the music industry. Who is the person that you would like to record a song with or do a project with that might surprise your fans?
LD: Q-Tip. I would love to work with Prince and Bonnie Raitt. I mean, I’m all over the place. I would love to do a duet with Kelly Clarkson. We did it on VH1 but I would love to record with her as well.
I have a lot of different eclectic sounds and people I would love to work with.
SP: What advice or words of wisdom would you give to any young musicians or singers who are considering a career in music?
LD: Remember that it’s a business. There’s music and there’s business. So understand the business. And that it changes drastically all of the time.
Also, that there’s no one more special than you. So just be yourself. You’re different — you’re who you are. There’s no one else like you. Celebrate that and hold on to that. Don’t copy. Be inspired by what was before, but find your own voice and celebrate it. Hold on to it for as long as you can — forever. Make your contribution to the world.
SP: Thank you so much Ledisi. I know we’ve run out of time. Are there any last words or parting comments that you’d like to say to the people of Sacramento?
LD: I just want to say thank you for taking time for me. That you felt like it was important to tell the world about who I am. I really appreciate that.
I want to thank the people of Sacramento. Every time I come they come out and show support and love in any situation.
Last time I was there the rain took the power out and they waited until the power came back on. So I really appreciate Sacramento.
SP: Ledisi, we’re looking forward to seeing you on Sunday. Thank you so much for taking the time. I know you’re going to give one of your great shows as usual. I really appreciate your taking the time to talk with me today.
LD: Thanks again.
Tickets to this Sunday evening’s concert featuring Ledisi along with Eric Benét at the Grove Amphitheater at the Woodlake Hotel in Sacramento are still available online through a variety of ticket outlets.
Disclosure: Some questions and answers have been slightly edited for grammar and punctuation without altering meaning and intent.