Singer-songwriter-producer Ledisi

The multiple Grammy-nominated artist shares the backstory of her latest CD, “The Truth.”

Described as having a mix of Tina Turner's energy and Ella Fitzgerald's chops, Ledisi has grown from fronting her own band in local clubs in California's Bay Area to performing at the White House—six times! Born in New Orleans, she grew up in Oakland, CA in a musical family and studied opera and piano in UC Berkeley's Young Musicians Program. She's done ads and soundtracks for the Sci-Fi Channel, collaborated on a jazz album with bassist Marcus Shelby and recorded six albums. The eight-time Grammy-nominated artist (including a nod for "Best New Artist" in 2008) is on the charts with the first single ("I Blame You") from her new album, "The Truth."

TRANSCRIPT

Tavis: Eight-time Grammy nominee, singer-songwriter Ledisi has just released her seventh CD. It’s called “The Truth.” She says the album is all about letting go of the old and embracing the new, and we’ll find out just what she means by that in a moment, I suspect. But first, let’s hear a track from the new album. It’s called “I Blame You.”

[Clip]

Tavis: You got a hit on your hands.

Ledisi: Thank you. (Laughter)

Tavis: Sounds good.

Ledisi: Thank you.

Tavis: Sounds good. Let me jump to what I said I wanted to get to first and foremost – “The Truth.” You call a CD “The Truth,” (laughter) you know you set yourself up, right?

Ledisi: Yes, I am. (Laughter) I know.

Tavis: My new project is called “The Truth.”

Ledisi: Truth.

Tavis: Okay. (Laughter) so what are we telling the truth about, Ledisi?

Ledisi: Tavis and I, our conversation. It’s the honest truth about my relationships I’ve encountered, and the big, latest one I had. It was hard. It was letting go.

Tavis: You just roll your eyes; you just roll your eyes on that?

Ledisi: Yes I did. (Laughter)

Tavis: Did I see -

Ledisi: See, why are you going to do this to me like that?

Tavis: Did I see you roll your eyes? (Laughter) Why you got to roll your eyes?

Ledisi: See? Why you – I knew you were going to start.

Tavis: Why you got to roll your eyes?

Ledisi: I knew you were going to start. (Laughter)

Tavis: See, I told Ledisi (unintelligible) we talked on the radio, I guess.

Ledisi: Yes.

Tavis: I told you this on radio. I said – so let me just reprise this, speaking of music. (Laughter) I always feel sorry, in this case, for the dude. I guess it works the other way. But I always feel sorry for the dude how gets blasted on the CD. It’s like what about his side of the story?

Ledisi: See, he has his own – there’s always three sides to the story.

Tavis: Yeah, exactly. (Laughter) But you get to do a record.

Ledisi: Yeah, of course.

Tavis: He has everybody asking him like, “Dang, man.” (Laughter) “Heard that Ledisi project.”

Ledisi: No, they were probably like, “You’re so – doesn’t it sound great?”

Tavis: Yeah.

Ledisi: He actually told me it was a great album. He loved it, yeah.

Tavis: Okay, that’s good, that’s good.

Ledisi: So that’s good. We’re still cool.

Tavis: Yeah?

Ledisi: Yeah.

Tavis: What’s the process you have to go through to decide whether or not you want to be that open?

Ledisi: I have to say on this one it was scary, because it was so open. But I have great people around me saying what happens to you can heal someone else, so if you keep hovering that, how dare I take my gift and hide it and not share it with someone else who’s out there hurting.

I’ve always been like that from my independent recordings to being with a label, the same recordings. It’s, “All Right” came like that. So I don’t know, it just works. But this one was even more scarier, because here I am unveiling part of myself that I never unveil.

I usually hide behind a song or a relationship I’ve seen people have, and try to relate that way. But this one is very personal.

Tavis: What’s happened in your life, though, that’s giving you the freedom, because it seems to me there’s a freedom that comes along with being that transparent.

Ledisi: Well I’m older now, I’m more mature, I’m accepting the lane I’m in. I’m not competing with anyone, or begging someone to love me. I feel like I’m loved and I deserve to be where I am.

I know what my calling is now. I’ve had great people come in my life, meaning not just men, but women, support me and empower me. So that has lifted me to be the woman I am.

I’m a woman now and I’m okay with that. I thought I knew what that was, but part of that is being able to look in the mirror and really dissect where all the pain comes from.

I did a little bit of that, but now I’m okay. This is what it is, Led, accept it. Once you are aware what’s going on with you and you can fix it, oh, man, it’s freeing.

Tavis: Yeah. I said a prayer for you a little while ago about – I’m always praying for you, but I said a prayer for you a little while ago specifically because I saw you making that move from independent (unintelligible).

Ledisi: Yeah.

Tavis: I don’t want to demonize labels, but I’ve seen so many artists over the years who push their best stuff out when they don’t have people telling them what to do and how to do it, so that labels are good in one way, but labels can be the death of an artist in other ways.

History is replete with examples of what I’m talking about there. How are you finding label life? I ask that because thankfully here you are with a label, and the stuff still sounds good. It doesn’t sound like they’re trying to box you in.

Ledisi: No, not at all. I love my label because I came in saying if I can’t be myself, I don’t want to do this. I’d rather just stay as an independent artist, hustling up, making it work.

But for me, my mind-set is still independent artist as I’m with a label, and they know that I understand my audience, I understand myself, and they stay out of my way.

They know they’re taking a risk with me, which is like oh, what she’s going to do this time? They were surprised to see me be so open and share my learning with taking care of my outside as well as my inside.

So they were, “Whoa.” They were just as shocked as the world was. So, “You really want to take a picture like this?” I’m like, “Yes, I do. I want to do that, because I want to celebrate my curves and I want my women to see this. I want them to see my transformation.”

So for them it’s, they’re there with me, guiding me and helping as much as they can, because labels aren’t really doing well right now. (Laughter) Because of Ustream and things like that.

But I am an authentic artist. I still think of myself as independent, and I still think of myself as the artist that began. I want to get every generation that I can, not just one. I want them all.

Tavis: I’m going to come back to your curves in a moment, I promise. (Laughter) We’re not going to lose sight of your curves. I will get to that in a moment. Before I do that, though, I think I know what you meant by this, but I don’t want to leave this hanging.

Ledisi: Yeah.

Tavis: When you say that even with a label now you still have the mind-set of an independent artist, I think I get that, but what do you mean by that?

Ledisi: That means that I’m in touch with my audience. That means I too am on the street. I was at Walmart and other places saying, “Hey, did you get my album yet?” Then I bought some for some fans, signed it, and they were like, “Whoa, that’s you?”

Then more people came, “Wow, she’s hanging out in Crenshaw.” I posted it on Facebook. I’m out there thinking like an independent artist. I have to sell this. I’m on my social media all the time, talking. That’s what independent artists do, the grind never ends. It never ends.

Tavis: So to your curves. (Laughter) You look great, by the way.

Ledisi: Thank you.

Tavis: But anybody who’s been a fan of yours for years, as I have been, can see the transformation.

Ledisi: Yes.

Tavis: What brought that on?

Ledisi: Well, after letting go of the relationship and seeing -

Tavis: It’s always like that.

Ledisi: It is, I’m sorry

Tavis: As soon as they break up with you, they get fine. (Laughter) They break up with you -

Ledisi: I was fine before; thank you, Tavis.

Tavis: When I said that -

Ledisi: Okay?

Tavis: – when that came out of my mouth, I said, “I’m going to regret that.” How can I get that back? (Laughter) Let me do this again. Can I do a do-over? They break up with you, they get finer.

Ledisi: Yes, exactly.

Tavis: That’s what I was trying to say. (Laughter)

Ledisi: These legs ain’t going nowhere, okay?

Tavis: Yeah, okay, yeah, so.

Ledisi: No, I just, after that relationship I decided to do a bucket list of things I’d never done. I felt like in our relationship it was so closed all the time, and we had to keep private, and I love that part.

But for me, I’m not that real – that’s not really me. I love to be vibrant and energetic and go on hikes and do things that I’d never done. I’d never been anywhere, other than work-related things.

So that year I decided I wanted to do a hip-hop in heels class, because people don’t know that I love hip-hop, but I also like wearing my stilettos, which you know.

Tavis: We know that, yes.

Ledisi: And so -

Tavis: Nice shoes, by the way.

Ledisi: Nice shoes?

Tavis: Yeah, nice shoes, yeah.

Ledisi: Thank you. So I wanted to do a class that I had been avoiding for three years called hip-hop in heels. Brandi Evans here in L.A., she kept begging me to come, and I went, and the pounds just shedded off.

The women were curvier than me and their confidence level was so high, I said wow, I want to learn. They were teaching me, empowering me, “Come back, Led, you got to come back.”

Every week, we’re in there making it work and looking at ourselves in the mirror, and I started getting nutritionists. I started learning about the importance of food and what it should do for your body, why I emotionally eat and what I like when I’m having that moment, or the stress.

I started figuring it all out. I never took time to do that. So finally, that’s why the transformation came. The album was two songs away from being done, so it wasn’t about the album, it was about me.

Tavis: I know they call the class hip-hop in heels, but do you actually do it in heels?

Ledisi: In heels, seven-inch heels. What you saw in “Black Girls Rock -”

Tavis: Seven-inch heels?

Ledisi: – on my video -

Tavis: Right, right.

Ledisi: – those boots are seven-inch heels, and even the producer was like, “Really?” and I did it. It gives me strength. It feels like, you know.

Tavis: As I saw your transformation – and again, you were always good-looking, but now you done slimmed down, I thought about my friend Cedric the Entertainer -

Ledisi: Oh, I love him.

Tavis: – who used to tell – I love Cedric – Ced and Led. (Laughter) Ced used to tell this joke all the time about Luther Vandross and how he was trying to figure out whether he liked big Luther or little Luther.

Ledisi: Right, right, right. (Laughter)

Tavis: Big Luther or little Luther.

Ledisi: Right.

Tavis: So I raise that to ask whether or not the transformation has in any way, to your ear, changed your sound, changed your flow, changed your style. Because to me, smaller, not so small, it’s still there.

Ledisi: You know, with “Black Girls Rock” I was so focused on the dancing in rehearsals that my good friend Roland Jack had to remind me, “Hey, don’t forget to sing, because that’s what people are expecting.”

Tavis: Yeah, yeah. (Laughter)

Ledisi: “They’re going to think that you’re not going to sing.”

Tavis: Yeah, this ain’t “Dancing with the Stars,” yeah, exactly.

Ledisi: Hello. So I made it a point to make sure that I’m singing the same Led inside, is the same person you’ve always known. The outside might have changed, but I’m still here on the inside, and I’m the same, honey, because that’s what I know.

Tavis: She knows it and she knows it better than most. I say this with all due respect, because you’re selling a bunch of records now and I’m happy for you, but to my mind, you are still on that list of the most underappreciated, undervalued, unheralded female artists of our time.

Ledisi: Aw.

Tavis: I’m always honored to have you on this program, because anything we can do to push your stuff out there, I want to do it. If you’ve not heard Ledisi sing, you are missing something and you’ll want to add this one to your collection.

It’s called “The Truth,” by Ledisi. Trust me, you will not be disappointed when you get this one. Ledisi, I love you, sweetie. Good to have you on.

Ledisi: I love you too, so good to see you again.

Tavis: Good to have you back. (Laughter) That’s our show for tonight. Thanks for watching, and as always, keep the faith.

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

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Last modified: June 8, 2014 at 1:49 pm