Ledisi Pays Tribute to Nina Simone on a New Album
On Friday, Ledisi will pay tribute to the woman who brought her back from despair with “Ledisi Sings Nina,” an album that features seven of Simone’s most popular songs redone in orchestral, jazz and pop arrangements. They showcase both the diversity and depth of Simone’s musicianship and the breathtaking range and reach of Ledisi’s own voice.
Ledisi’s career, now two decades deep, felt predestined. Born Ledisi Young in New Orleans, she comes from a long line of Black musicians. Her mother, Nyra Dynese, was a soul singer; her stepfather, Joseph Pierce III, a drummer; and her biological father, Larry Saunders, was both the son of the blues artist Johnny Ace and a singer in his own right, best known for his single “On the Real Side” that he released as the Prophet of Soul.
When Ledisi first appeared onstage with the New Orleans Symphony Orchestra at age 8, it was both a revelation and a continuation. Five years after, her family moved to Oakland, where she later started her funk bank, Anibade. By 2000, she independently released her first solo album, “Soulsinger: The Revival,” and its follow-up, “Feeling Orange but Sometimes Blue,” which garnered strong critical acclaim, a core fan base and an eventual record deal with Verve.
Pigeonholed as a jazz vocalist, Ledisi was both highly respected and niche in an industry that did not really know how to market her. Appearing on BET’s first televised “Black Girls Rock!” ceremony in 2010, she and the R&B sensations Marsha Ambrosius, Jill Scott and Kelly Price stole the show with their performance of Simone’s anthemic “Four Women.” Ledisi had only one request: that she handle the song’s climactic ending about Peaches, the fiery character in this epic tale of four Black women, each distinguished by her age, skin color and resistance to her racial and sexual trauma.
When Ledisi got her 34 seconds, she “made it count,” she said, belting “My name is Peaches!” with so much fierce determination and subversive spirit that she has made many return appearances on the BET tribute stage.