An Intimate Interview with NOLA Born Ledisi: Life, learning & a new album


NEW ORLEANS (WGNO) — Ledisi Sings Nina is the latest project from Grammy award-winning Ledisi. It’s a tribute to the late great Nina Simone and all that she represents.

I was fortunate enough to interview Ledisi about her new album, winning her first Grammy award, the legacy of Nina Simone, and how the world’s musicians need help with their livelihoods throughout the pandemic.

Once upon a hot summer in New Orleans, I realized the joy in realizing the remarkable opportunities I am presented in my profession. My favorite artist is Ledisi and now I get the opportunity to interview her about her latest album dedicated to her muse, Nina Simone.

I had met her once before, when I was a young college student at Southern University and A&M College in Baton Rouge, LA. I played saxophone in the Alvin Batiste Jazz Institute on campus. One day, several of the musicians and students decided to crash the concert taking place on the campus of one of our fellow HBCU’s in New Orleans.

We arrived at Dillard University, ready to hear Ledisi, the songstress, sing a Christmas concert. Between “What a Wonderful World,” and “Children Go Where I Send Thee,” it was a feast for the ears and a first-class lesson in showmanship and artistry.

Fast forward close to 15 years later, and I meet the siren again as a journalist. Ledisi was born in New Orleans but co-raised in Oakland California. The unique combination of soulful coastal cities made something special.

“New Orleans is home and root. It’s family and cousins. It’s a place that I always missed because there is a different banter between people. There is genuine politeness and no entitlement. There’s a different kind of relationship where you say hello on the street, even if you don’t know each other,” explains Ledisi.

Ledisi sings throughout the world and has become increasingly well-known but it’s been a long journey for her. At one point, early in her career, she had contemplated putting down the microphone for good, after repeatedly not receiving the stratum she so deserved and worked hard for.

Ledisi would hold on to hope and song saying, “I love singing. When I stop loving it, I will stop singing. I didn’t know where to fit in. I learned later, as I got older, that I don’t have to fit in. I can just be whatever I want to be. I’m now okay with that! I dreamt to be heard for my gift because it’s bigger than myself. I would ask God, why I was given the gift and I can’t even go to all the places I need to go, because they want me in this box. I belong everywhere and not just in one genre.”

This year, after countless stellar performances over the years, Ledisi won her first Grammy award for Traditional R&B Performance for her song, “Anything For You” from her 2020 album The Wild Card.

“That meant everything to me! It finally came full circle and then to win my first Grammy on my own label, still blows me away,” says Ledisi.

Ledisi is always the first pick when it comes to live music television shows to honor the great artists of our time. She has blown away audiences with her renditions of songs from the likes of Teena Marie, Aretha Franklin, Ella Fitzgerald, Chaka Khan, Earth Wind, and Fire. However, one legendary singer holds a special place in Ledisi’s heart. Nina Simone is the musical goddess that Ledisi channels from time to time for strength.

“Nina Simone says many things with her voice. She is saying that she’s black, I was rejected, I deserve to be here and I deserve to be loved. It’s a longing to be accepted and loved and that still goes on with artists today. It goes on with me. I happened my whole career. I hear all that in a poetic yearn when I hear her voice. This project is to say thank you. I have so much fun with Nina’s music. I hope she knew how awesome her music was. I get to express it in a whole other way. I get to be free,” says Ledisi.

Ledisi Sings Nina is currently out and it features Adonis Rose and New Orleans Jazz Orchestra as well as the Metropole Orkest.

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