From struggling independent artist to two time grammy nominee’s Ledisi Young has come a long way in a few short years. She sits down with Soulmsuic.com to discuss her numerous blessings and the release of her new Christmas album.
It’s perhaps fitting that one of Ledisi (Young)’s favorite all time songs is Louis Armstrong’s evergreen chestnut, “Wonderful World”. It’s been included on her uplifting new Christmas album, “It’s Christmas” (Verve). Why so fitting? Since being the underground soul phenomenon that both both sides of the pond raved about eight years ago with the release of her debut, independent album, “Soulsinger”, Ledisi, until that point, undoubtedly one of the hardest working singers in the Bay Area, went on to sign a major label deal with Verve in 2007 debuting the same year with the album “Lost & Found” which went on to garner two Grammy nominations.
For an artist such as Ledisi, who has carved her niche in the public consciousness the old fashioned way, through struggling, sacrificing and starving, success and fame means all the more than it would for say a teenage ingenue who stumbled across the right producer and landed a record deal out of high school. Hard fought careers are usually the ones that stick around because the artists that possess them protect them with all the passion and valor of a mother protecting her young.
Thus it is a far more ebullient, confident Ledisi that greets me on the phone from the one I spoke to 8 years ago. For the New Orleans native, it really is proving to be a wonderful world.
Jeff Lorez: Obvious question. Why a Christmas album?
Ledisi: Initially I was just going to do 4 songs and then my manager said, “Well why don’t you just finish it out and do a whole album”? I didn’t have much time as I was on tour and you have to record a Christmas album in July and finish it quickly, so there’s not much time to set it up. The recording was done in 3 days and the album was finished in a month in July and it’s hot. So when we were recording we had to get the right vibe, decorations, Christmas tree lights and cookies each night. We recorded everything live so that helped and all the guests came in over those 3 days. It reminded me of recording my first album.
JL: You really mixed it up on there, too.
L:I didn’t want to do a traditional Christmas album. I wanted to emulate what went on in my household and I didn’t want to do all Christmas songs only.
JL: As it’s a Christmas album, here are some seasonal questions. What’s a typical Christmas in the Ledisi household?
L: My Christmas is go to church, eat, prey, come home drink hang out. At the end of the night I would watch the Christmas tree lights.
J:What’s the best Christmas you’ve ever had?
L:The best Christmas I’ve ever had was when one year when my mom was in Church and she couldn’t afford to have the kind of Christmas she wanted and my aunt came through and helped out and got us all the things we normally have for Christmas. We’ve had rough Christmas’ too and they always turned out good. What was great about it was that every year we would go down to the French Quarter and they would have little toys made out of steel that would be shiny, move around and dance. We would love to watch those.
JL: Your best Christmas present?
L: The best present. I got this beat up doll. It was a yellow bunny. I really wanted it. By the end of it’s life that bunny had one eye, no ears, no tail. It got washed so much. I kept it for years. I don’t know where that thing is. I guess my mom finally threw it out.
JL: All time favorite Christmas movie?
L: I love, what’s it called. It about the girl whose mom was black and she wanted to pass for white. What’s the name of that? (Imitation Of Life - 1959) It’s kind of dark but I like it every time I see it. Mahalia Jackson sings at the end of it.And of course James Stewart’s, “Wonderful Life”.
JL: Your most romantic Christmas?
L: Oh Lord - Jeff! Oh my goodness! Just sittin’ at the fire place after going to all these different people’s houses and just hangin’ out at the fireplace in my pajamas. That’s romantic to me.
JL: How have things changed for you in the last couple of years since the Grammy nominations?
L: I will say the crowd is much bigger now. There’s more pressure but I have more fun. Being accepted and acknowledged by my peers allowed me to enjoy this more. I’m also surrounded by some great people, I’ve reconnected with my father, too so all that allows me to keep my feet on he ground and not get caught up in the hype. I’m the same but calmer and more confident. There are still a lot of people who don’t know who I am and don’t know how to say my name so there’s still a lot of work to be done.
JL: I saw you on stage with Patti LaBelle and Chaka Khan when I punched your name in on You Tube. How was that?
L: It’s amazing for them to adore me the way I adore them. They are legends and paved the way I’ve learned from them to stay on my path and not get distracted - to keep doing quality music.
JL: What are the most personal songs you’ve recorded:
L: There are a lot of personal songs. I don’t just write for the sake of writing. Everything you’ve heard so far is personal. That’s why people relate so quickly to my material when they get it. I look at it as art. Every album has it’s own painting from beginning to end and it all ties together and I’m giving you everything. From pain to love from triumph to hope. I’m giving you everything. Even on the Christmas album, I’m giving you my life. Everything you hear from that bunch I want you to be able to hear years from now and they still mean something.
JL: What do you think is your greatest triumph personally and professionally?
L: How I didn’t let the darkest part of my life stop me from being who I am. On the first album, there’s a song called “Papa Loved To Love Me” about my step dad abusing me and I still didn’t make me go the other route. Other people who deal with that use drug, alcohol or whatever. Mine is music. Telling my story has helped me deal with the pain. I didn’t even want to do that song on the album. I’ve only performed it one time live. That song brought a lot of closure to a lot of things with me. “Alright” was one of the darkest but triumphant moments. That was written when I wanted to quit the business and I realize now that I will never quit.
JL: Obviously you’re an incredibly gifted singer. What’s the most musically challenging situation you’ve found yourself in?
L: Every thing I do I have that same feeling. I second guess everything I do. There’s always anxiety there. Even now I’m starting on my next record and I’m like ‘Oh my Lord can I pull it off? I’m scared”. Even on the Christmas album I was unsure if I could pull it off! I’m just one to admit it. I think it gives me my edge but I still push through the insecurity.
JL: What is one of the small things, that people in the business would say differentiates you from other artists?
L: After each gig I send the promoter a thank you card and write a long letter about why I enjoyed the gig and they just can’t believe that.
JL: What’s in your CD Player?
L: John Legend. I wanted to check out the new album and I love that. I have Beyonce’s double CD. I think it’s a nice record. She’s changing it up for herself. I love it. I like people who push the envelope a little bit. Both those artists do. I’ve been listening to the “Carwash” soundtrack. Norman Whitfield was my favorite producer. Everything he did - whether it was the Temptations at Motown. I also love Leon Ware. But Norman Whitfield is the best for me.
JL: Would you like to write for other artists?
L: All the time. Me and one of my musicians, Lorenzo Johnson wrote the song “Walk Away” for Maysa’s album that’s out now.
JL: What are your immediate goals both in and out of the business?:
L: I focus on one thing at a time. I think it’s best that people do that. I’m investing in my career. When the label doesn’t help doing something I’ll invest in it. Even if it means I’ll go broke again I know I’m planting the seeds for three years down the line. I’m focussed so heavily on my career. It’s almost like I’m starting over on my career on another level. The independent level was one area and now this is another.
I would like the write books where I could give away some of my secrets to new artists. Everything you learn in school you pretty much have to throw it out of the window once you get in the real world. I’ve learned so much more from older folk. My favorite part of this year was just sitting down with Kenny Gamble and to talk. It was so inspiring. One of the best experiences of my career. Meeting him and Quincy Jones was amazing. They’ve lived everything I’ve read about
JL: You mentioned earlier that you found your father. What happened exactly?
L:I was in Amsterdam and I was doing an interview. I asked the DJ have you heard of Larry Sanders? (Ledisi’s father was a musician) He had some of his albums. By the end of the show I had a number where I could reach the guy who had all his music and from there I could contact his lawyer and from then I was able to reconnect with him. He was in Mobile, Alabama. Now we’re best friends. I call him before every show. This was before I finished “Lost & Found”. He had no clue. I sent him a letter and all the CD’s and told him that I was carrying on the torch for him. I don’t hold on to things for a long time. I move on. Life is too short. On New Year’s Day 2004 I said I want to meet Chaka Khan & I want to met my dad and I did.
JL: If you could have a fantasy dinner party and jam session with people living and dead who would get your invite?
L: Sarah, Ella, Billie and Dinah in one spot. I’d have so many questions for them. I’d ask them how they put up with all the things they put up with being women. I would have Cannonball and Maceo. Prince & Jimi (Hendrix). We’d have a jam session. Miles on trumpet. Janis Joplin. It would be an incredible jam session. All the singers I know. Byrd, Maceo, Cannonball (Adderley). Everyone loves Coltrane but I love Cannonball.
About the Writer
Jeff Lorez has enjoyed a long and varied career in the music business. As a journalist he has written for a slew of publications and web sites including, Blues & Soul, Billboard, Yahoo.com and the Daily Telegraph and as a music publisher he has been involved in recent chart topping hits by Alexis Jordan and Cher Lloyd.