Singing “Higher than This,” the song that's landed her in heavy VH1 Soul rotation, Ledisi experienced some technical difficulties. Her microphone squealed but–bathed in golden light–she just smiled. The lady is a class act.
She's also a lively act–although outfitted in a little black dress and six-inch silver-spiked platform heels, she stomped, sashayed, and strutted around the stage so much that snapping a shot of her standing still was tricky. As she put it: “I work hard to do more than just be cute and sing.” She'd gently ribbed the L.A. audience for being “too cute” for her; and indeed, the crowd was shined up like it was a Sunday morning service. But they took no offense. This was an audience of believers, and they knew Ledisi's whole career has been about working hard.
Though raised in Oakland, the four-time Grammy-nominated Ledisi was born into a musical family in New Orleans, and the jazzy feel of that city was relayed in her conversational, flirtatious onstage banter. Batting her eyes and wiggling her hips, she cajoled the crowd into doing harmonies on sing-alongs, and playfully marched offstage while they begged her to come back. Laissez les Bons Temps Rouler? Oh yeah, Ledisi was exuberant. Throughout more than a dozen songs, including “Best Friend,” “Goin' Thru Changes,” and “Turn Me Loose,” her energy was so infectious the willing audience couldn't help but dance along with, raise hands to, and shout affirmations back up at her.
While her voice was clear and powerful (listen, she can sang), and best in skillful scats so restrained it was as if she were merely breathing sound, her physical presence overshadowed it. That's not a bad thing. A soul singer without soul is viable only when recorded.
Ledisi was there to share wisdom, witty as it was. “Ladies, you've called him and he hasn't answered. So you start texting. It's three a.m., and you start gettin' ideas like, 'maybe I'll drive over there … and bust the windows out his car.' DYSFUNCTION!” she said, mischievously referencing Jazmine Sullivan's revenge fantasy and prefacing her own ode to bottomless longing, “In the Morning.”
She also was there to stage a little love-in, coincidentally on the same night BET broadcast the tribute in which she appeared, “Black Girls Rock!” “Love yourself. Alllll this,” Ledisi said, running a hand over her hips. “I was sleeping on a friend's floor, ready to give [music] up. Tired of people telling me I wasn't good enough, pretty enough, skinny enough … and I called my mama, and she said, 'It's gonna be all right.' I said, 'Hmm, that sounds like a song.'”
That soothing balm, “Alright,” was supposed to be the last song of the night, but Ledisi was too gracious to let the evening slip away without spotlighting her friends and colleagues in attendance. Kelly Price was backstage, Vesta Williams was in VIP, and Toni Scruggs was in the front row. One by one, Ledisi handed each a microphone and received in return impressive, impromptu solos. “Thank you. You didn't have to come out tonight. I'm gonna get off this stage before I cry,” she finished.
Then, with a glint in her eye, “I hope you had a good time. If you didn't, I can't do nuthin' for ya.”