Ledisi is a neo soul singer who has risen to prominence through hard work, determination and believing in her talent. The multiple Grammy nominee might grace grand stages today — performing in spaces as dignified as the White House or as funky as the Essence Music Festival — but the songwriter and natural hair icon had to struggle to find the inner center that would become the foundation of her achievement. The star’s new book, Better Than Alright: Finding Peace, Love & Power, is a love letter to her fans and an interactive inspiration tome to all women (and men) who seek to empower themselves using the same tools that enabled Ledisi to become a breakout sensation. The powerhouse vocal diva, who has been compared to Tina Turner in terms of her vitality — and Ella Fitzgerald for her vocal range — sat down with theGrio to discuss how readers of her first book can find “Peace, Love & Power” through loving their natural selves.
theGrio: What inspired you to write, Better Than Alright: Finding Peace, Love & Power?
Ledisi: It naturally happened. I had started writing an affirmation book, because someone said “You don’t know how to write a book.” It was on a dare. I’ve always written since I was a little kid, but I never thought I could write something that extensive. That’s how it started. And the next thing you know, I’m at Essence doing a book deal. So, it all happened naturally.
When I was writing it, my editor… was saying, “Make sure you tell a story, and make sure it’s real and honest and open. People need to see who you are in words.” So I [was involved in] everything from the layout of the book, to the feel of the book, to the words in the book and the photos – they didn’t know I took photos as well. I love taking pictures on the side, so I put those in there. It became a collage of everything I love, and what [has] inspired me. That’s what made it fun and challenging at the same time.
Your book features many beautiful images of black women. Do you find such pictures uplifting and empowering in themselves?
There are black women in there, and there are black men. I love spreading the positivity of being a black woman, so I celebrate that part of myself. I want our culture to see that it’s exciting to be us. And that’s a part of Essence, celebrating being a black woman.
Better Than Alright is very freeform and poetic. It’s full of poems that readers can meditate on and spaces for them to respond. What inspired you to use this interactive format?
That was actually an idea that Essence thought of, because I’m interactive with my audience, on social media as well as in my live performances. They felt in a literal sense that that should happen [in the book]. So they came up with the idea to be interactive. I said, “That’s great! That’s who I am. You get it.” I think that’s awesome, because people can just start writing and be a part of it.
You wanted to do this book to share with readers the strength and determination you’ve developed while working to achieve your goals. How did you develop that strength?
Other people reaching back. Family. Faith. All the things mentioned per chapter. Each chapter has a word that helped me. And then I tell you how I came about having that strength. It comes from other people. We all need each other. Experiences. Everything. Everything around me inspires me and keeps me going. I want people to start looking around themselves. Sometimes what you need happens in silence. I talk about that. Being still. Sometimes you hear it in a phrase on a billboard. And you think, “Oh I needed to hear that.” It all goes together. Your surroundings. I think what my book does is help you see how we need one another.