Overview: Multi-talented artist Ledisi brings music from the lengendary Nina Simone to the Kennedy Center.
In support of the "Ledisi Sings Nina" album, Ledisi brought the legendary singer and activist's full-on, sassy directness to a sold-out Kennedy Center performance on March 13.
Ledisi’s talent can never be questioned. In support of the “Ledisi Sings Nina” album, Ledisi brought the legendary singer and activist’s full-on, sassy directness to a sold-out Kennedy Center performance on March 13. Not only did we hear interpretations of Simone’s songs, but the audience was also treated to songs recorded by Ledisi influenced by Simone.
Ledisi did not attempt to mimic Simone’s unique vocal style. It was an evening where we heard Ledisi’s multi-octave vocal range. From the moment she came on stage, it was clear Ledisi intended to spread joy.
“This is a Nina show! I’m gonna cut up,” said Ledisi as she opened with a Simone favorite, “Feeling Good,” that ended with a howling crescendo.
I have always admired Ledisi, whose singing cannot be categorized. Any music genre fits for the multi-talented performer. She referenced during the Kennedy Center show how some have tried to put her in a box. I have enjoyed previous Ledisi live performances that were in the jazz bucket during several Herbie Hancock Institute of Jazz Competitions, formerly the Thelonious Monk Jazz Competition. Her tonal quality or timbre can be soft and low on the alto end to the high of a soprano opera-level of the scale. Displaying vocal texture on Simone’s “Trouble in Mind,” it felt as if Ledisi was in your face yelling, “snap out of it!” Singing “Do I Move You” gave us the sensuous Simone. The “High Priestess of Soul” has been a constant companion guiding Ledisi through the hills and valleys of life.
“The Nina project was partially recorded with Metropole Orkest, a jazz/pop orchestra based in London,” said Brandon Waddles, Ph.D. pianist and co-music director for the current tour during a post-concert interview. “She’s invested in so many genres and is about to do a show with Billy Porter,” continued Waddles, reinforcing Ledisi’s versatility.
Singing “Here Comes the Sun,” the George Harrison song recorded by Simone, was another instance where Ledisi matched her idol, focusing on themes with deep personal meaning. Ledisi spoke about how she was often overlooked in elementary school when her teacher chose a student to lead a morning song in class. When finally chosen to lead a song, Ledisi was shocked, nervous and appreciative. She decided on the Harrison composition. Ledisi’s Kennedy Center delivery was sweet and poignant. She could barely get through it.
“There are a lot of tweaks and twerks in working with Ledisi. She is a perfectionist in a good way,” said DC native and Eastern High School graduate Gregory Clark, co-music director for the Nina tour. He continued about Ledisi’s connection to Simone. “It’s emotional music, but it’s classic music as she puts her own touch on it. It’s an exciting journey on stage that is fun.”
“Ledisi Sings Nina” is currently nominated for a 2022 Grammy. Grammys are announced on April 3.