Singer & Songwriter Andra Day

The singer-songwriter joins us for a conversation and a performance from her Grammy-nominated debut album “Cheers To The Fall.”

Grammy nominated singer-songwriter Andra Day collaborated with music veterans such as Adrian Gurvitz and Raphael Saadiq on her acclaimed debut album, "Cheers to the Fall." Originally from San Diego, California, Andra grew up performing in church. Her career expanded exponentially after Kai Millard Morris shared some of Day's music with Stevie Wonder. Shepherded by Adrian Gurvitz, Day built a substantial YouTube following and eventually signed with Warner Bros. Records. She was recently nominated for two Grammy Awards - Best R&B Performance ("Rise Up") and Best R&B Album ("Cheers to the Fall").  

TRANSCRIPT

Tavis: Pleased to welcome singer-songwriter, Andra Day, to this program. Her distinctive style has been described as an amalgamation of Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington, Nina Simone and the queen, Aretha Franklin.

She joins us to talk about her Grammy-nominated debut album, “Cheers to the Fall” and her upcoming European tour. We caught you just in time before you get on that plane and cross over the other side, so I’m glad you took time to come see us.

Andra Day: Oh, thank you for having me. It’s very exciting.

Tavis: You and I were starting to chat before we came on the air here about the fact that you’re from San Diego. I was a bit shocked myself when I heard you were from San Diego and you said to me, “I get that often. People are shocked when they hear that I’m from San Diego.” So tell me what it is about the art scene, the music scene, that we’re missing in San Diego.

Day: I think it’s because the city is obviously looked at more as a vacation destination, you know, and I think a lot of people may or may not know it’s a military town. You know, my father was actually–also he’s retired Navy. But I think not many people equate San Diego with the soul music.

You know, I’d say the music scene in San Diego was diverse, you know. You have everything from hip-hop artists to reggae to indie rock to R&B and soul. So there’s a lot of that out there, but I think just speaking candidly, I think the musical community in San Diego could be more supportive of each other.

I’m starting to see changes, but I’m hoping that’s what happens in the next few years as well and that people who come from San Diego and who are in the arts or entertainment begin to highlight the city a little bit more.

I think sometimes people will make it and often leave and say, oh, they’re from California or they’re from L.A. or something like that. So I think it’s important for people to know that opportunities do come from San Diego and that great artists come from San Diego.

Tavis: If you were from a different location, a different city, I might be able to cheat this question because I would in part know the answer.

Day: Okay.

Tavis: The question is, how then in that environment did Andra Day go about developing, defining, her own unique style? Now if you’re from Chicago or Brooklyn or the Bay Area where Rafael Saadiq is from who works on your project, I would get that. So how then in that kind of scene did you go about developing your own song stylings?

Day: I think I attribute it, first of all, my parents love music and I grew up listening to Motown, obviously. But my mother loved, you know, artists like Carole King and Fleetwood Mac and The Carpenters, but I also was fortunate enough to go to a really great performance art school when I was very young.

I started attending when I was about 10 years old and, at that school, I was exposed by a few really great teachers. My musical theater teacher, Bill Doyle, my choral ensemble teacher, Gil McKinney, and my dance teacher, Donna Robinson, and they exposed me to amazing jazz singers.

My musical theater teacher was the first person who told me about Billie Holiday and I remember I said, “I’m asking about female singers. Who’s that guy?” I mean, I was really young [laugh].

Tavis: Who’s that guy, Billie Holiday [laugh]?

Day: Right. Billie Holiday. What does that have to with me? He was like, “You got to listen.” Billie Holiday and Nina Simone and, in the same breath, he told me about like Janis Joplin as well too. But singers with really incredible character, you know, characteristic to their voices.

So that I attribute a lot of my creativity in places that I go when I’m creating music or art to that school. They did a lot there. I was a dancer for a very long time, like I said, in musical theater. We did a lot of shows and I was just exposed to a lot of different types of music.

Tavis: I’m thinking about how life comes full circle because your teachers, to your point now, Andra, expose you to one Nina Simone. You know where I’m going with this, right?

Day: Yes [laugh].

Tavis: And then you end up on the soundtrack. Tell me how that happened, yeah.

Day: It was incredible. I mean, the opportunity that it came from was amazing in itself. We were doing a tribute. A documentary had just released and we were doing…

Tavis: We’re talking about “What Happened, Miss Simone?”. We jumped ahead. “What Happened, Miss Simone?”, Academy-nominated documentary. I wish it had won, but it was a great, great film. But, anyway, go ahead.

Day: It was an incredible film, yes, and I wish it had won as well too [laugh]. But I actually cracked a joke the other day. I told someone that the funny part is if Amy were here today, she would have voted for the Nina Simone documentary [laugh]. It was amazing, Amy Whitehouse too.

Tavis: Amy Whitehouse project won the documentary, but the Nina Simone thing was so beautiful.

Day: It was incredible, yeah. So we got the opportunity. They knew, the people who were putting on the show, which was a tribute to Nina Simone for the film at Sundance Film Festival last year. They heard about me and her, that I was a Nina Simone fan, so they asked if I would join the show.

The lineup was amazing. It was Erykah Badu, who I am also a huge fan of. I’m so inspired by her. Common, Aloe Blacc, Kate Davis, Leon Bridges.

After I did the performance, I came offstage and I met Jason Jackson who was the producer of the documentary. He said, you know, “I feel the spirit of Nina Simone has been guiding me on who to involve in this soundtrack, so you would sing ‘Mississippi Goddam’ on the soundtrack?”

Of course, without hesitation, I was like yes, with no regard for schedule, nothing. I was like it’s done. We’ll figure it out. It was an incredible experience and I’m a huge fan of Robert Glassburn, so to hear that he was producing the project, it was just perfect, a perfect way.

Tavis: You have listed a number of names here in talking about the Nina Simone project. It’s impossible to look at the liner notes, which I always do on your project, and not see how–I’ll use this word with you because I think you’ll appreciate how blessed you have been–to have collaborated with so many people.

I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a debut project that had so many, I mean, brilliant, artistic geniuses collaborating with you.

Day: I think blessed is absolutely the appropriate word because there’s no other reason or incentive for why they would have said yes to this project other than hearing the music and it resonating with them. So we worked with amazing people.

First, the person I produced the album with was Adrian Gurvitz, and Rafael Saadiq as well. We got in the studio for quite some time, Rafael and I, and we reworked some songs we already had.

We wrote some new stuff and everything about the way he works is just incredible. And he’s so nurturing and encouraging. You know, encouraged me to just pursue ideas and different things, so it was really a great experience. And then we did–The Roots actually is playing on a few of the songs as well too.

That came through James Poyser of The Roots, the keyboard player, and he just heard the project and he loved it and he wanted to be a part of it. He got in the studio and reworked some things and he got Questlove as well too. I wasn’t in the studio when Quest was in the studio, but I did go to Philly and work with Poyser on a couple of things.

Tavis: It’s going to be fascinating to see what the sophomore project is because you pulled everybody out for the freshman project [laugh].

Day: It will just be me and myself.

Tavis: There you go [laugh].

Day: You know, just playing [laugh].

Tavis: You can do that, though. Let me now try to convince you of how brilliant an artist she is and will be. You can hear her for yourself in just a moment after I tell you that the new project from Andra Day is called “Cheers to the Fall”, Grammy-nominated a couple of times over this season.

And now you get to hear her for yourself, if you’ve not heard this beautiful voice. She’s going to perform from this new project, “Rise Up”. Andra, good to have you on the program.

Day: Yes, likewise.

Tavis: Have a great European tour.

Day: Thank you so much.

Tavis: Thanks for coming by to see us. And don’t you move because here comes Andra performing “Rise Up”. Goodnight from L.A. Thanks for watching and, as always, keep the faith.

[performance]

Announcer: For more information on today’s show, visit Tavis Smiley at pbs.org.

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Last modified: March 30, 2016 at 2:59 pm