Lost and Found: Ledisi

Tuesday, 28 April 2009 21:17 Written by  Frances Moffett

Soul singer/songwriter Ledisi (pronounced led-duh-see) describes herself as “pretty low-key” and once you’ve heard her sing, you’ll be wondering where she’s been all your life. Hailing from New Orleans, this two-time Grammy nominee astounds with every note she produces vocally and on paper and with her ability to lay her emotions right on the line. The former independent superstar is currently working on her next major label production with Verve Records. Read on to get lifted.

GlossMagazineOnline: Why did you become a singer?

LY: It was pretty much my mother. She was a singer in New Orleans. I would watch her sing, and I loved how she would get the crowd. Even at rehearsal she always gave 110 percent. I liked her energy. I just mimicked her. And then when I started singing in front of people, I saw how the same response would happen, and I started to become addicted to the attention because I was an oddball. I wasn’t very pretty or anything, well, according to the kids and being teased all the time. But when I would sing, the attention would change. That’s why I wanted to sing. It wasn’t for the music until later. (laughs)

GMO: How long have you been a singer?

LY: It’s been a while. Professionally for over 12 years.

GMO: You studied opera at the University of California at Berkeley. How did you incorporate that training into your performances and music?

LY: Breathing, diction, presence on stage. You can always tell an opera singer or someone who studied from how they hold themselves on stage, even if they sing R&B or hip hop, whatever. You can tell someone who has had training. Even in gospel. It was the best thing I’ve ever had to learn in my life.

GMO: You have such a soulful voice that is so different from the R&B artists we always hear overplayed on the radio. How did you develop that sound?

LY: Everybody has different definitions of what soul is and R&B and titles and stuff. I just consider what I do as music. How I developed my sound—a lot of artists don’t get the opportunity to perform in clubs and nurture what they want to hear and become better at their craft. It kind of takes them a while because they’re in the public eye right away.  I was able to perform in all kinds of clubs in different places and arenas—not having music or having music, not having the sound right—just all kind of things happening while trying to execute a song and that has really helped me develop my sound. I can sing in any kind of setting with any kind of music. [I’m always] listening to different kinds of music whether it be country, rock, pop, R&B. I mix all those flavors in to what I am. It depends on whatever the song requires. I’ve always been told to tell the story, and that’s my focus. No matter what kind of music I end up doing, I will always focus on the story.

GMO: What are you working on now?

LY: Right now I’m working on my next album. I’m still doing things, tweaking it. It’s fun. I’ve stretched myself out, working with different producers. It’s really exciting working with a whole bunch of different people. I’m just having fun with it. I want to finish it, but at the same time, I wish I had more time.

GMO: Were you happy with the success of [your third album] Lost and Found?

LY: Of course. I didn’t expect any of it. My goal was to finish an album with a major label and create a nice quality album. I didn’t think beyond that. I didn’t know what it would do. I just knew that this is what I sound like right now and I wanna put out a nice album and I pray that people enjoy it and get something out of my feelings and things I experienced through sound. The response has been great. I couldn’t ask for a better start with a major label setting. It’s great. Being nominated for two Grammy’s, BET Awards, etc. I’m totally blessed. When you walk in the light and do the truth, God will reward you as long as you acknowledge him first.

GMO: You can say that you are somewhat underground; you have a very specific audience. Are you happy with the audience you have, or do you want to expand that—in other words, do you think you want to become more mainstream, either now or in the future?

LY: I honestly don’t focus on that. I let everyone else say what they need to say about me. I just do music. As far as mainstream, whatever, underground… however you want to look at it, for me, every step is another step and that’s all I can focus on. Meaning, more people know me, there’s always new people, there’s always present fans wanting more. If I focused on that, I’d never get anything done. I just focus on the music. If it goes more mainstream, great; if it doesn’t, I’m okay with it as long as I make a really good, quality album—something that somebody can relate to. Like I always tell my audience, I expected three people to come, but to have 4,000 is great. So I just keep my expectations low and enjoy music and have fun with it because that pressure of going mainstream or wanting to be bigger than where I am or wanting more instead of enjoying what I have almost made me want to quit the business. So that’s why I steer away from it.

GMO: Besides the new album, what else are you working on?

LY: I am in the process of working with some artists. But I love the element of surprise. I think sometimes people talk too much about what they’re going to do. Sometimes it’s just better to be quiet and do it and then it comes. But I am looking to have other people see out their dreams and be a support of that.

GMO: How would you say you have changed—either personally or professionally—since the very first album you recorded?

LY: I’ve grown a lot musically. Professionally, of course. Because I put out an independent album, I know what I like and don’t like. And now working with a major label, I know what I like and don’t and what could be better and what will never change. I’ve grown personally because everyone should as they get older. I’ve been exposed to a lot of different people. A lot of elders who have been in the business longer, I’ve listened and looked and learned. I think I’m much stronger, confident. I still have my quirkiness like everybody else where you doubt yourself sometimes, but that’s just with us being human. I’m more spiritual—in this line of work where money is the root of it, you have to find something spiritual to keep you in alignment with what’s real. And keep your family and friends close. I’ve gotten better with how to deal with the process of being in this line of work because you can be very vulnerable. Everybody has their opinion about your heart and soul out there in the music.

GMO: What are some of your future plans?

LY: I’ve touched on the acting thing and I would like to do more of it. I’ve written several books and I’m working on a book now. So I’m excited about that because I love reading and writing. Just doing more music. I’m never going to give it up. I might switch around, move around be a producer only or a singer only for a while, but I’m gonna always do something that has to do with music.

Words of advice: “Stay true to the light. Even when it seems like the worst thing ever is going on, it’s still good to live and breathe.”


Catch Ledisi at one of these upcoming events this summer:

Sat June 20th
Rhythm & Ribs Festival Kansas City

Sun June 21st
Black Academy of Arts and Letters Dallas

Fri June 26th
Hampton Jazz Festival Hamtpon

Sun June 28th
York S & S 7/4 & 5 Essence Festival New Orleans

Sat July 25th
Berkeley Jazz Festival Berkeley

Sat August 8th
Long Beach Jazz Festival Long Beach

Visit Ledisi’s Website at http://www.ledisi.com or visit her on the "Space" at www.myspace.com/ledisi


Frances Moffett

Frances Moffett

GMO Editor-At-Large Frances Moffett is a graduate of Columbia College Chicago with a Bachelor of Arts in journalism. She has worked with GMO since its inception. With a love for journalism and all things writing, she is currently pursuing her master’s degree in public relations and advertising from DePaul University. Frances is also an editor at the country’s largest association management company and has written for a variety of publications, including Jet magazine, The Chicago Defender and The Chicago Reporter.

Frances can be contacted at Frances@glossmagazineonline.com

Follow her on Twitter: @FrancesMMM

Website: www.glossmagazineonline.com