R&B singer Ledisi plays DPAC tomorrow

Published Fri, May 02, 2014 09:34 AM
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Submitted by Craig Lindsey — Correspondent

When you have the Obamas in your corner, you can expect good things to come your way. Just ask Ledisi.

Earlier this week, it was announced that the New Orleans-born R&B singer (full name: Ledisi Anibade Young) will be playing Mahalia Jackson in “Selma,” the upcoming Martin Luther King biopic. “(Director) Ava (DuVernay) saw me at an event honoring Sidney Poitier, and she asked me can I act,” says Ledisi, on the phone from somewhere on the road, getting vegetable soup at a Wal-Mart. “I said, ‘I feel I can.’ She said, ‘OK, great.’ And then I was called for an audition.”

DuVernay, who calls Ledisi one of her favorite vocalists, announced the news on Instagram. Ledisi, who has appeared in the movies “Leatherheads” and “Leave It on the Floor” and done some musical stage productions while living in the Bay Area, is obviously looking forward to slipping into the role of the renowned gospel singer. “I’m honored,” she says. “I’m happy she trusts me with such a great part.”

While Ledisi says she just went in and auditioned like everybody else, one does suspect she also got the role thanks to the praise she gets from critics, audiences and even her mentors. (In January, right in these pages, Patti LaBelle said Ledisi is one of the few contemporary R&B divas she respects.) But, as mentioned before, Ledisi also has the president and first lady as diehard fans.

It all started in 2010 when Michelle Obama told People magazine she bumps Ledisi’s music on her iPod all the time. “I just couldn’t believe it,” Ledisi says. “And I thought to myself, one day I hope to meet her. And, then, the next thing I know, I’m being asked to perform at her home – I mean, the White House – for an event empowering students and mentoring students, and that was amazing for me. And it happened to be around my birthday during that time, and she had the audience sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to me. So it was amazing.”

Since then, Ledisi, who sings at DPAC on Tuesday, has performed at the White House a number of times – most recently, entertaining Mrs. Obama for her 50th birthday in January. “And I’ve performed at his birthday party,” she says, laughing. “I’m honored to be a part of their journey, and that my music and my voice can help lift them and inspire others.”

Considering the fact that the multiple Grammy-nominated Ledisi traffics in the sort of grown-folks music that strong-willed sistas wholeheartedly embrace, it’s no surprise that the most powerful African-American lady (next to Oprah) would be a ride-or-die fan of hers. In March, Ledisi released her seventh studio album, “The Truth,” which once again has her getting her grown woman on as she sings of romance, infatuation and heartbreak.

Whether she’s doing songs in a jazzy spirit or in the vein of radio-friendly, ’80s-reminiscent R&B (as on “Truth”), Ledisi admits she likes to mix it up in her music – even when her fans wish she didn’t. “Everyone has their version of Ledisi that they love,” she says. “Like (people say), ‘I wish you stayed doing more jazzy stuff, and more of this, that and the other.’ But what they don’t understand is that I’m from New Orleans, and I just do whatever I feel, you know.”

Ledisi also feels she has to mix it up, since her audience these days consists of both younger and older generations. Sometimes, they’re even related. “I love that I’m mixing it up, so they can both enjoy the same show,” she says. “One father told me when I was in Memphis, ‘I forced my daughter to come. I wanted her to see how you do the music. You mix it up where she enjoyed it, and so can I.’ And she said, ‘I’ve never seen anything like this before. It was amazing. I can’t wait to tell my friends.’ 

Now that she’ll be playing a black-music legend in a major motion picture, let’s see if Ledisi can take that soulful maturity that has won her an eclectic fan base and make it shine on the silver screen.


Who: Ledisi, with Robert Glasper Experiment

When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday

Where: Durham Performing Arts Center, 123 Vivian St., Durham

Cost: $35-$75

Info: 919-680-2787 or dpacnc.com

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