In the pantheon of one-name divas, from Cher to Madonnna to Beyonce, Ledisi may be a lesser goddess. But her insistence on content over style is far greater.
“It's so image-driven today, but I still believe in the sound,” she said. “You take all that away and I close my eyes. Is the sound there? Is the music there? Is the song there? I still count on that.”
A New Orleans native raised in East Oakland, the 41-year-old R&B singer paid her dues all over the Bay Area. It started with a high-school gospel choir and later singing “God Bless the Child” and “All of Me” with the high school jazz band. She teetered between studying classical music in the UC Berkeley Young Musicians Program and singing with the campy Beach Blanket Babylon musical revue.
“I've played every nook and cranny with a Fender amp plus my microphone — even the Hotel Utah in San Francisco,” she says.
Along the way, she's been nominated for eight Grammys. She's performed several times at the White House. And her last album, “Pieces of Me,” debuted at No. 8 on the Billboard 200 chart in 2011.
Before she returns for a third trip to the Russian River Jazz and Blues Festival this weekend, Ledisi took time to chat about the studio, her live persona and Mother Nature. She was in Los Angeles, getting ready for a recording session that night.
Q: I'm curious, what's your process like before you go into a session like that? Do you have sketches of songs? Or notes on scraps of paper?
A: Well, I talk to the producer ahead of time and maybe give them a reference song. Sometimes I'll have the melody before or some lyrics and then sometimes I don't have anything and I'll go in there. I either have something or I don't. It all depends on my mood.
Q: I've seen you at the Russian River Jazz and Blues Festival before and — I mean this as a compliment — you take the stage like a woman possessed. Are you aware of this?
A: (Laughing) No one has ever told me that before. You're the first. I just become Ledisi on stage. Who you see on stage is me off-stage as well, it's just a more confident person who loves to sing. And the audience feels that. And I need the audience, too. Even if it's just three people enjoying the show, I feed off of those three people.
Q: What do you think about that festival?
A: Oh, I love it. I remember the last time I opened for George Benson. I love playing up there. The audience is so free. They love their music in Mother Nature.
Bay Area freelancer John Beck writes about entertainment for The Press Democrat. You can reach him at 280-8014, firstname.lastname@example.org and follow on Twitter @becksay.