Admired by peers for more than two decades, it took awhile for the general public (and the Grammy Awards) to discover the vocal greatness of Ledisi,but when they did, they fell big time, and for good reason. The New Orleans turned Cali native has been one of the brightest spots in the development of soul and jazz music in the 21st century.
Ledisi began singing as a child in Oakland, and her talent became apparent at an early age. She won a scholarship to Cal-Berkley, and began making a name for herself performing on stages in the Bay Area. After college, she formed the band Anibade and started what has become a quarter century of amassing a generation of “Ledheads” who have followed her ever-blossoming career.
Ledisi’s local celebrity became national when she released her Soulsinger album in 2000, and even more acclaim followed her jazzy 2002 follow up, Feeling Orange But Sometimes Blue. She became one of the “it” artists in high-knowledge soul and jazz circles, but was still waiting to be recognized by mass audiences.
That changed in 2006, when Ledisi signed with Verve Records and her album Lost & Found began the climb up multiple Billboard charts. It led to a Best New Artist nomination at the 2007 Grammy Awards, a recognition that was deserved, but also was a head scratcher for indie soul fans, as the Grammy’s appeared to indicate that Ledisi only became a real artist after signing to a major label.
Over the next few years, Ledisi continued to record with greater success, and her 2011 release Pieces of Me cracked the Billboard top 10, a momentous feat for an artist who was not easily categorized. It continued to open doors in mainstream music circles, and Ledisi became a Grammy Award regular.
Another career milestone happened in 2020, when Ledisi again became an independent artist, releasing The Wild Card to rave reviews. The album scored with SoulTracks readers, who voted her as a three time winner in that year’s SoulTracks Readers’ Choice Awards: Album of the Year, Song of the Year, and Female Vocalist of the Year. She followed that release with an ambitious tribute to Nina Simone, Ledisi Sings Nina, in 2021.
It has been a long, sometimes bumpy road, but more than two decades into her career, Ledisi Young is an artist at the peak of her powers.
By Chris Rizik