Ledisi Young (her given name meaning “to bring forth” in Nigerian) was born in the Big Easy, where she sang with the New Orleans Symphony Orchestra when she was eight years old and spent many adolescent hours watching her mother perform with a local R&B band, often in a nearby park. After the family relocated to Oakland, California, Ledisi followed her mother’s lead and sang in a local band, but left to form her own identity and her own group. She became widely noted for her performances inBeach Blanket Babylon, a long-running San Francisco-based cabaret featuring song parodies, celebrity impersonations, and enormous hats; she got the gig after being nominated for a Shellie Award in 1990 for her role as Dorothy in a local version of The Wiz.
She later formed Anibade (Ledisi’s middle name), which, depending on what you read, means “to bring forth luck” or “my mother is great” in Yorubu. The band featured Sundra Manning (keyboards and chief songwriter), Cedricke Dennis(guitar), Nelson Braxton (bass), Wayne Braxton (saxophone), and Tommy Bradford (drums); while the lineup was similar toChaka Khan & Rufus, the sound — on record anyway — was mellower than Rufus’ energized, excellently engineered sounds, sometimes fusing R&B, hip-hop, urban, jazz, and funk in the same pot. Ledisi and her band built a hot reputation in the Bay Area at local clubs such as Bruno’s, The Black Cat, and Rasselas. Fans kept asking about a record, so the band cut a demo, “Take Time,” that radio station KMEL aired and received a good response; this prompted Ledisi to seek a deal with major recording companies, all of which praised and turned her down in the same breath. Frustrated but not thwarted, Ledisi cut the critically acclaimed Soulsinger and released it on LeSun Records (owned byLedisi and Manning) on January 1, 2000. “Papa Loved to Love Me” — a personal account of a father sexually abusing his daughter — is one of the CD’s most riveting and controversial tracks.
The CD did well without the benefit a major distributor: LeSun’s successful grassroots promotion/publicity campaign went beyond the typical artist/company web page, saturating the Internet with information, accompanied by a full gigging plate during which Ledisi and company promoted and sold their CD, T-shirts, and other items. Amazon rankedSoulsinger number five in Los Angeles (September 2001), and it became popular in Finland, Norway, London, and Amsterdam as well. Ledisi recorded a jazz album with bassistMarcus Shelby for Noir Records — Shelby’s independent based company in San Francisco — that further illustrated her skills. Her third studio album, Lost & Found, was released in 2007. Two of its singles — “Alright” and “In the Morning” — peaked within the Top 50 of Billboard’s Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart, and a pair of Grammy nominations followed.
Released in 2008, It’s Christmas featured updates of “Give Love on Christmas Day” and “What a Wonderful World.” The appropriately titled Turn Me Loose, her hardest-hitting release, came the next year and featured collaborations withJimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, as well as Raphael Saadiq. Her most popular disc, it topped Billboard’s R&B Albums chart, crossed into the Top 20 of the Billboard 200, and resulted in another pair of Grammy nominations. Pieces of Me, an album that involved the likes of Rex Rideout, Mike City, and Chuck Harmony — as well as Jaheim on a duet — followed in 2011. It came within one spot of topping the R&B chart and debuted at number eight on the Billboard 200. The Truth, featuring a surprising amount of uptempo material without any pop concessions, was released in 2014 and was her fourth consecutive Top Ten R&B release. A couple weeks after the January 2015 U.S. release of Selma, in which Ledisiappeared as gospel great Mahalia Jackson, the singer released The Intimate Truth, an EP of acoustic versions.
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