Hers is a voice that will stop you in your tracks. Just the sheer emotional intensity demands your attention. It's hard not to wax lyrical or use superlatives when describing Ann Nesby's heart-filled, God-given gift. In the oft-times ‘here today, gone tomorrow' music biz, she's the real thing, the epitome of true soul-to-the-bone singing.
Relating and contributing her gifts and talents to people the world over have been cornerstones in Ann Nesby's musical journey which began in Joliet, Illinois: "Both my parents sang: my father had his own quartet while my mother had her own gospel group. They would rehearse with both groups at home and there was always a piano close by so music was always right there in the household. My mother - who was a big fan of Mahalia Jackson's - used to teach me about performance, vocal inflexions, and how to express what a song was about. She told me as a child that God was going to use me to bless people with my voice..."
By the tender age of three, Ann had begun sharing her special innate vocal talent at Mount Zion Baptist Church. Two years later, she had her first appearance before a large audience, when as the youngest president of the church Sunshine band, she traveled to Chicago to perform at a Baptist convention. A performance in Chicago on a show with The Edwin Hawkins Singers proved to be turning point and while gospel favorites like Andrae Crouch, The Reverend James Cleveland, and Shirley Caesar were constant musical influences, Ann was also exposed to R&B. "My mother was a big Aretha Franklin fan and I would hear all of her music. I even won a local talent contest with Aretha's ‘Chain Of Fools.'"
An invitation to participate in the musical "Sing Hallelujah" followed and after a 1986 premiere in Cincinnati, the critically-acclaimed show moved to The Village Gate in New York for a six-month run. In 1987, Ann began working with longtime friend (now husband and manager) Tim Lee on her first demo and was looking to start a solo career when a trip to Minneapolis to see her sister Shirley Marie Graham literally changed Ann's life. Graham had been singing with the much-acclaimed Sounds Of Blackness for several years, performing with the group in their annual productions and during the visit, Ann was asked by Sounds' founder Gary Hines to participate in "Music For Martin," a tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King. Moving to Minneapolis in 1988, Ann became a full member of The Sounds Of Blackness. That same year, superhitmakers Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis came to see the group perform and in 1991, The Sounds became the first act on Jam & Lewis' Perspective Records.
In 1991, to great critical acclaim, "The Evolution Of Gospel" was released, spawning Top 10 R&B hits with "Optimistic," "Testify" and "The Pressure," all of which featured Ann on lead vocals. The set also garnered a 1991 Grammy Award for Best Gospel Album by a Choir. She participated in the 1992 recording of the award-winning Handel's Messiah ("A Soulful Celebration") and in between constant touring both in the U.S. and Europe, Ann began nurturing her skills as a songwriter, working with fellow Sounds member Jimmy Wright. During her remaining years with The Sounds, Ann contributed several songs to the group's recordings including "Soul Holiday" (for the 1992 release, "The Night Before Christmas") and "I'm Going All The Way," "He Took Away All My Pain," and "A Place In My Heart" for the 1994 best-selling album "Africa To America: The Journey Of The Drum," singing lead on all three tunes.
With The Sounds Of Blackness, Ann performed at the Grammys, The NAACP Image Awards, The Soul Train Music Awards, and The Essence Awards, thrilling from concert halls in London to churches in Los Angeles with her powerhouse singing style, touring the U.S. with superstar Luther Vandross and winning rave reviews from critics and fans alike for her show-stopping performances.
In 1994, Ann also began writing for other artists: Patti LaBelle cut her tune "The Right Kind Of Lover," and took into the R&B Top 10, while Gladys Knight recorded "Home Alone" for her 1994 "Just For You" album. In 1995, she began recording her all-important first solo album for Perspective Records. Released in the summer of 1996, the record ultimately spent an amazing sixty weeks on the R&B best-selling lists. "I'll Do Anything For You" was the album's first hit single and two tracks, the emotionally-powerful "I'm Still Wearing Your Name" and "This Weekend" garnered sufficient airplay to be featured on Billboard's R&B charts.
Four years later she released LOVE IS WHAT WE NEED, which provided further testimony that Ann Nesby has few peers as a modern-day 21st century purveyor of classic soul, dance, gospel and pop music. A multi-faceted artist who has served as a vocal coach and arranger with best-selling group Next, Ann demonstrated that she was at the top of her game with that album, a testament to her diverse musicality.
About the Writer
David Nathan is the founder and CEO of SoulMusic.com and began his writing career in 1965; beginning in 1967, he was a regular contributor to Blues & Soul magazine in London before relocating to the U.S. in 1975 where he served as U.S. editor for the publication for several decades and began being known as 'The British Ambassador Of Soul.' From 1988 to 2004, he wrote prolifically for Billboard, has penned bios, produced and written liner notes for box sets and reissue CDs for over a thousand projects. He returned to London in 2009 where he has helped create SoulMusic.com Records as a leading reissue label.