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Ledisi Talks Her New Album ‘The Good Life’, and Why She Will Never Be Boxed In

The Grammy-Award-winning vocalist discusses her latest LP and why she shares her gift with the world.

Grammy-Award winner Ledisi has been among the most revered vocalists for over two decades. She seamlessly combines R&B, soul, jazz, and classical genres with remarkable range and immense dexterity.

Since releasing her debut album Soulsinger: The Revival in 200,  she has gone on to create a diverse discography of music, including acclaimed projects Lost and Found (2007), Turn Me Loose (2009), Pieces of Me (2011), The Truth (2014), and The Wild Card (2020).

As an actress, Ledisi appeared in Leatherheads,” portrayed Mahalia Jackson in the Oscar-nominated film, “Selma,” played Patti LaBelle on the BET series American Soul”, and gave an exceptional performance on the FX hit series, “POSE.” 

Throughout the entertainment industry's ups and downs, Ledisi believes that her versatility as an artist and her being true to herself has allowed her to enjoy sustained success in various sectors.

“I think I know how to adjust to the times. I remember when I would just hand out postcards that I cut up at Kinko's to now I'm on the internet and being social,” Ledisi told BET.com.

“I'm authentic. I tell it like it is. There's no airs about me. I'm just myself and I grow. I don't chase relevancy. I think that's what makes me last so long. I'm kind of classic," she continued. "Even in my earlier work, there's some classic stuff in there. So I try to be modern, but still classic, contemporary, and still a little bit of nostalgia for people to feel good.”

Ledisi has also shared her musical gifts with the academic community as the Artist in Residence at the Berklee Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice, where she teaches and mentors upcoming musicians.

“Terri Lynn Carrington, who is the founder and creator of Jazz and Gender Justice at Berklee College of Music, and her executive director Professor Asia Burrell Wood, both who I freaking love," she said. "They always make sure that women are in spaces that aren't always received such as the jazz world and other spaces, but predominantly, they're ignored a lot. We have to keep making sure that history is told and I love it."

“I teach Africana studies with vocal technique and vocal performance. I teach instrumentalists how to play with a vocalist and be free in their playing. I want them to find their voice and their sound. A lot of students are looking for those things. So I love that the parts of their voices that they are told are ugly, I love those ugly parts. It's beautiful to me," she explained.

In 2021, Ledisi released a project she long envisioned, entitled Ledisi Sings Nina, which paid tribute to the music and life of the legendary Nina Simone. She performed the seven-song set with the Metropole Orkest, conducted by Jules Buckley, and The New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, conducted by Adonis Rose. She spoke about Simone’s influence and the impression it left on her.

“Nina has been a part of my journey wherever I go. The first time I performed on a big television show was with a tribute to Ella Fitzgerald. The second time where the rest of the world started to know me was when I did “Black Girls Rock'' for the first time and it was the Nina Simone tribute,” she said. “I already knew about Nina when I was little but I had discovered her in college and she kind of saved my life. Her music felt like I was feeling in a moment and she got me out of a funk.”

“Nina sang about how I felt as a Black woman in our industry never being heard or seen and having to fight your way through. It opened doors that still open doors today but when I wanted to do the tribute,” she continued.

“I always wanted to show all my classical side, my jazz side along with my R&B and soul side. I can sing in French, I can sing classical music, African music, I can sing whatever I decide," she added. "I learned all kinds of music and wanted to showcase that. But I had to pay tribute to her because she opened the door for me. I learned all kinds of music and wanted to showcase that."

Leedsi’s latest album, The Good Life, has received rave reviews for its tremendous songwriting and soulful production. She says the album was a labor of love from start to finish.

“This project was probably the hardest project I've ever done. I thought Nina was hard but it was easier than The Good Life because there was so much going on in my life that it took three years. I was trying to start right after the Nina project blew up.," she said. "Then I started acting a lot more in film and television stuff and also doing orchestra shows. Then I went on tour and I needed a song for the tour because I didn't want to go on tour without a new single.”

“I had some stuff written but I didn't know what direction I wanted to go. I was moving and I didn't have anything interesting in my personal life to sing about. I am happy and kind of boring,” she laughed.

Eventually, Ledisi’s creativity and inspiration came alive as she began to craft ideas with her long-time collaborator, producer Rex Rideout. Interestingly, she deployed her tools as an actress to curate the album's concept. Her first single, “Sell Me No Dream,” is a tour-de-force of vocal prowess and smoking-hot production. The song has been received and is making major waves across the country.

“I was just trying to figure out how do I start writing again on this after, it'll be the third year I'm in the third year of this. All of a sudden, I started thinking like an actor and I thought about the human experience,” she recalled. “People need to feel good even in dysfunction. People need to feel good. Life is a whole bunch of things. It's not just always perfect. The best part about life is how you get through all your chaos.”

One of the standouts of the LP is “Perfect Stranger,” a duet with R&B crooner Kenny Latimore that was a long time in the making.

“Kenny and I have been wanting to work together for forever and he’s been a friend for a long time. We're both Aries and we think about music the same because he can sing classical, gospel, and jazz, but he chose R&B too. We both have that,” she explained.

“When my husband heard the song, he suggested that we have Kenny on the song. He said, ‘You guys will be great on this.’ Both singles are doing great on the charts. It all came together like it's supposed to.”

After accomplishing so much in her remarkable career, Ledisi is just as excited about her work as she was when she first began. In support of The Good Life, she is on a national tour along with Rahaeem DeVaugn and BJ The Chicago Kid. When it's all said and done, she wants to leave behind a body of work that will always be remembered.

“I feel that we beat each other up so badly and music and judge each other. We're different for a reason,” she said. “What I really care about is what I'm going to leave behind when I leave here.”

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