Because half of the Macy’s Music Festival crowd traditionally comes down from Chicago each year, we’re reporting all of the nice things Ledisi had to say about the Windy City.
Ledisi performs at the Macy’s Music Festival Friday with Charlie Wilson, KEM and others.
The R&B singer, a native of New Orleans, called from Chicago during a break from her tour. She shared her feelings about receiving the Grammy nomination for best R&B album three times – for “Lost and Found” (2007), “Turn Me Loose” (2009) and “Pieces of Me” (2011) – but not taking home a trophy.
She also talked about the two most famous Chicagoans, who happen to be big fans of hers.
Question: You’ve performed for the Obama White House three times. Is that the most by any musician?
Answer: I don’t have a clue. I think Stevie Wonder will probably outdo my record.
Q: The president and first lady must be pretty big fans of yours.
A: I was reading an interview she had with People Magazine, and they asked what she was listening to and she mentioned my name. And after that I got a call to do some singing. They love “Raise Up” and “Thank You” from my Christmas album. Being from Chicago, which is a port where music comes in from all over the place, they love music, they know about it. It’s been great being a part of their causes and supporting them and the fact that they know about my music made me feel really good. I’m glad I can help uplift them throughout their day.
Q: You mention Chicago. I know you’re a fan of Mavis Staples and Chaka Khan. Is it coincidence that those are two of your favorites, or are you into Chicago soul music in particular?
A: I just love those singers and they just happen to be from Chicago. But Chicago’s a wonderful place too. I’m here now actually in Chicago. I have a show this week and I’ve been here for three days taking a break and I love it here. The singers from Chicago are incredible.
Q: Mavis Staples is my favorite.
A: Isn’t she incredible? Her soul, the way she sings soul music. She can do a moan and you know exactly what it means without her saying a word.
Q: I talked to someone who saw you last month in Virginia at the Hampton Jazz Festival, which is similar to Macy’s Music Fest, and this person said you stole the show. Do you think these festival shows bring out your best, as if you’re competing against your peers?
A: Oh, wow, no, not at all. You know what’s funny about that show? I couldn’t hear a thing. I couldn’t hear my band. The sound was horrid for me onstage. I still made it work.
I enjoy what I do. I remember the humble beginnings of only having a Peavy amp to sing out of, and that’s a bass amp. I just enjoy what I do and make the best out of any situation. I don’t think about everybody else, I don’t have time to. I have to make sure that the messages come across, the stories and songs, and people are leaving my 60 minutes with an experience that is fun.
Q: Are you disappointed that you haven’t won a Grammy for best album, or do you feel like your career is ahead of schedule?
A: I’m just thrilled that all of my major-label recordings, except for my Christmas album of course, have been nominated. For me, it just lets me know my peers have been listening. And every time I’m blown away. I’m very appreciative. Yes, I would like to win. Who wouldn’t want to win a Grammy? It’s the highest award in the music industry. So, I’m waiting my time. It will happen. Just like everything else has happened naturally. I’m just making sure I release quality music.
Q: You covered Buddy Miles’ “Them Changes.” A lot of singers working in contemporary R&B probably don’t have that song on their radar. What do you like about old rock and soul music of that era?
A: I love the sound of the guitar. I always have, I always will. During that time I was hanging out with Prince a little bit, and to hear his guitar blare up under you at Coachella or anytime you’re on the stage with him, that for me was a really high experience for me. I just wanted to go back and pay homage to that sound. And not everyone in contemporary R&B did understand, but it didn’t matter to me, because I didn’t want to be boxed in.
Q: How hard is it to make classic soul music that can also be a hit on today’s R&B charts?
A: I don’t know. If I went into the studio thinking – “will this be a hit?” – I would never create anything. I just move naturally. If it feels good to me, maybe it will feel good to everybody else. How it’s marketed, how it’s presented, that’s up to the label and all those other people. I can’t worry about the hit part of it. It’s been working. I just don’t want to mess it up.