By Michael A. Gonzales
Even though soul mama Ledisi has been singing since she was a gospel-wailing, Digital Underground–listening kid growing up in the Bay Area, there was a brief period early in her acclaimed career when she thought about giving it all up.
“Around the time I got signed to Verve in 2007, I was feeling that I didn’t fit in,” Ledisi recounts. “When I called my mother, who is also a singer, she said, ‘I don’t want to hear it. I know you’re going through something, but you’re going to be all right.’ I wrote a song called ‘Alright,’ and it became the debut single from my album Lost & Found.”
Six years and eight Grammy nods later, Ledisi sits chilling on the couch inside Jungle City studios in New York City. After an evening filled mostly by her newest set, The Truth, for a collection of approving music journos, the charming vocalist bubbles with enthusiasm about her latest project.
“It was hard to start The Truth, but it was easy to finish once I knew what I wanted,” she reveals. “I didn’t want a lot of ballads. I wanted rhythm; I wanted up tempo; I wanted a combination of old and new school mixed with my love for Michael Jackson, Lauryn Hill and Prince.”
The exciting new album features the first single “I Blame You,” an energetic track as dynamic as it is hypnotic, which she wrote with in-demand producer Claude Kelly.
Performing the song on Beverly Bond and BET’s Black Girls Rock! this past November, the once jazzy, classical music student, clad in a tight black catsuit, showed off her new, svelte frame and dance moves, prancing in stilettos. Surprised by her high-heeled moxie, some of Ledisi’s fans were taken aback.
“I love that people have boxes for me because that means they’re paying attention,” she explains. “But as I grow, I’m not going to please everyone; and I learned that.” Showing she hasn’t strayed too far, Ledisi tagged a scat to the end of the song that would make Ella Fitzgerald proud.
While the enchanting chanteuse was influenced by an eclectic list of artists that includes Dinah Washington, the Beatles and Thelonious Monk, her most vivid memories are of her mom blasting soul singles while dancing with her reflection. “My mom was the pop star I most wanted to emulate,” she beams. “Making The Truth was about looking in the mirror. And it all goes back to that image of her.”
Although constantly touring or in the studio (last year she recorded the duet “Ain’t Gonna Miss U When U’re Gone,” with Prince), the talented songstress enjoys watching old films on Turner Classic Movies or reading in her downtime. “Right now, I’m combining the two and reading Bette Davis’ autobiography,” she says. “I love discovering how people started, what they let go of and what they’ve gone through. Bette Davis was a strong woman, and she had a lot of heart.” Based on the aural dopeness of The Truth, one could easily say the same about Ledisi.