This could be Ledisi’s year. After twelve Grammy nominations, the R&B singer is up for some of the top awards during the 2018 Grammy Awards, including Best R&B Album.
We caught up with the New Orleans native this weekend at Bevy Smith‘s Quintessential New York City Night event in partnership with Toyota Music Showcase.
Before she completely captivated the crowd with her killer vocals, Ledisi talked about how she’s handling the pressure of awards season, why she took a break from music, and why she feels black women should lead in the Women’s March.
theGrio: “Let Love Rule,” how proud are you of this album?
Ledisi: It pushed me, there’s great songwriting, producers, I’m singing my face off. It was an album I didn’t think I was going to make because I wasn’t wanting to record at all. I wanted to take a longer break but everyone was like you have to come back.
I was just tired. I got a chance to see things and be another kind of artist. A writer. See museums, look at plays and movies and films and be an actress. That was great you know? So I was having fun doing those things. But it was time to come back and I’m glad I did. I didn’t think this would happen. It’s been amazing.
theGrio: How will you feel if they call your name?
Ledisi: If they call my name, I’m going to pass out. (Laughs)… It would be finally, wow.
theGrio: 12 nominations.
Ledisi: 12 nominations. If it happens, I would be blown away.
TheGrio: And if it doesn’t happen?
Ledisi: I would be blown away. Meaning, I’m still here. I still did it, I made it in those Top 5. Do you know how hard it is? Do you know how many people I thought would be in the Top 5, and I can’t believe I’m in there? Some of the artists that are in the same categories have way bigger hits than me and I’m still in there. That means the work is good.
theGrio: Was there a moment during your break that was really pivotal for you that helped you see the world in a different way?
Ledisi: I went on vacation my first time to Jamaica on my birthday last year in March and that blew me away. I now understood why Bob Marley would escape there and write the kind of music he wrote. ‘Cause God is all over that place. The blue never separates from the earth to the skies. And so when you look at it and the sun sets, and you’re on this cliff looking out and there’s black folks everywhere(!)- it’s so cool!
It made me feel like wow, this is why we are here, to remember what’s around us what’s good about life and not always the hard stuff. It’s how we get through the hard stuff. It helped my album become like water, it felt like water. I’m so glad I got to experience that and not being afraid to write political songs. It was great having those experiences, it made me a better songwriter, made me a better person and reminding me to don’t forget to go to your roots and plant yourself. Don’t get caught up in “Oh I need an award to validate me. I don’t. I have this incredible fanbase, that’s still with me all this time. They’re still rooting for me, somebody said “She’s Grammy worthy. Put her in here.” They didn’t have to do that.
So remember the root- oh mama you’re still here. Oh mama you’re just fine.
theGrio: There’s so much happening right now in Hollywood, whether it’s black women talking about equal pay, we deserve the same, times up… When it comes to the music industry, I almost feel like there’s a movement to now look at music and to say “How can we change it? How can we make sure that people get their due.” What do you think needs to be changed in the music industry?
Ledisi: We need to keep writing songs that reflect the times as Nina Simone said. We need to speak up and call it out what it is, on our social media. We can’t tell people what to do because people are going to do what they want–but make a suggestion. “This might be good.”
Get active. Get involved in politics. I’m there with the Women’s March–what do y’all need? I’m a song.space“> When you don’t have the words, I’m a song that sings it out for you. That’s what I do, so I’m always sneaking up, popping up. I’ve become more active because they called me, “Led, we need you.” Just like Mahalia was for Martin Luther King when he has to go out there and fight.
She was the voice to rile the people up and keep it going. But when he felt bad, she was like “Let me sing to you.” You can uplift your spirits; that’s what musicians and artists need to do. Be the voice of the songs that’s going on right now. You touch people in a different way when you sing. I have to. I have to inspire. That’s my position, whether I like it or not (laughs). You know, I’m just going to cover whoever’s going to cover me.
theGrio: So you do see a place for yourself in the women’s march?
Ledisi: Most definitely. I was there, I sang “Change Gon’ Come.” I thanked them for being brave.
theGrio: For black women who feel a little on the outside- would you encourage them to get more involved and feel like it’s their movement too?
As long as there’s two or three of us there, there’s us there. We lead anyway. If you look at how the voting system was the last go round, we were leading there as well. So we have to stay there. No matter what, even if it’s five of us. Those five are going to help be our voice.
Note: This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.