It doesn't happen too often. But every once in a while, there is a singer whose voice makes everyone take notice. This generation, Ledisi is that someone. The first time most people heard of or became interested in Ledisi, it was because of her voice. No gimmick, no red carpet look, no rich boyfriend. Just the voice. A powerful, beautiful voice that makes the hairs on your arm stand up.
In this BET.com exclusive, singer Ledisi opens up about her recent rise to stardom and being a "singer, singer."
Tell us about meeting Patti LaBelle and your relationship with her. You both have that incredible ability to make people stand up and stomp when you are singing.
We were hanging out at Essence Festival and I was told there’s an interview we want you to do and I showed up, and Patti is there. [We] were talking like we always talk and saying how important we are to each other and in different generations. I love Patti. There [are] three people that I adore...Patti LaBelle, Nina Simone, India.Arie, and Cicely Tyson--I always keep forgetting about her. They had a certain thing about them that I love. Patti, she is just always herself with the hair and without the hair; she always gave full out. And it reminded me so much of my mom and what I always wanted to be like. So to have her as a friend and usher me in like that is amazing.... I watch her. I study her, so she’s great.
Are there any other artists who leave you starstruck?
Wow, it’s been so many moments like that. Prince, Chaka Khan, Quincy Jones, Lionel Richie, Bettye LaVette, who I absolutely adore. Rachelle Ferrell, always, who’s been there since the very beginning. And I just recently talked with Anita Baker. That blew my mind. Oh, and Teena Marie of course. I met Teena Marie before I signed to a label, so that was amazing too. She said, “Oh, OK, you are a singer, singer.”
Are there any present-day or up-and-coming artists you like?
Well, I absolutely love, champion Beyoncé who I love, I love! Underground, Avery Sunshine. I absolutely love her, and I haven’t been out much lately so I don’t really know who’s up in the male department, but I do like Aloe Blacc and Timothy Bloom. They are underground for the world, but famous for me.
Can you take us back a little bit and tell us where you are from?
I’m originally from New Orleans, Louisiana, and I was raised in Oakland, California, so I claim both places.... The music growing up and the music in Oakland is totally different but they have the same feeling behind it. And we’re aggressive with our music, we’re serious, funky, jazzy, soulful--it’s all mixed together. I come from two rich places in music; it's amazing.
How did you first get your start in music?
I started independently, as an independent artist putting out my own music, and in 2000 Soulsinger was the first record I put out with my good friend Sandra Manning, and another jazzy R&B album. And then I was going to quit, and I was picked up by Verve. Verve asked me to sign with them, so in 2007, I finally put out my major label album with them, Lost & Found, and then kept going with Turn Me Loose and a Christmas CD in between there. And now here we are with Pieces of Me, which is more urban. But also keeping with the traditional Ledisi sound too.
How does it feel to hear yourself on the radio, after you put so much time in?
BET, and I’m not saying this, but BET kicked it off with the "Black Girls Rock," and then the album came out and BET did more. And it solidified my presence and this whole television world, especially the relationship with BET and the United Negro College Fund, doing tributes and stuff. This whole year has been amazing. [BET is] embracing that and showing that off. That’s lifted me in a way that makes me feel like I can go on 30 more years, you know. Just three years ago, I wanted to quit. It feels really good. I couldn’t have done it without you guys, honestly.
The music community recently lost Amy Winehouse. Did you know her or have anything to say about her as an artist?
We were in the same Best New Artist category at the Grammys and honestly, I was hoping she would win, even though I wanted to win. Her music transcends generations. And, you know, it was loud. I don’t know how to describe that, meaning [loud] in a beautiful way. I was happy to be a part of it. But it was something special about seeing her and hearing her music and the vibe that she had. And I was like, 'Wow, she is a force.' And she is of the old and the new, a great mixture. Her voice, when you put aside all the other stuff--the woman can sing. She sang her butt off. She reminds me of Janis Joplin but also reminds me of Etta James. It was the great crossover between those genres of music. And she will be missed but not forgotten, ever! And I’m glad I was there to witness the whole thing.
(Photo: Frank Micelotta/PictureGroup)