Ledisi Anibade Young, the eight-time Grammy-nominated singer known simply as Ledisi, returns to her native New Orleans this weekend for her sixth Essence Festival appearance.
Performing at Essence since 2004, Ledisi progressed from the festival’s Super Lounges to its main stage. She’ll make her second main stage appearance Saturday, July 5.
Ledisi made her Essence main stage debut in 2012.
“It was huge,” she said. “A bigger stage, more people. But I look at it all the same, whether it’s three people in the audience, 300 or 3,000. I love it either way. I give the same show, but I do run around more on the bigger stage. It’s a big stage, so you have to fill it up.”
The Essence Festival and Essence organization have been supportive of Ledisi for years. She appeared on the magazine’s cover in May and the publication was the singer’s media partner for her 30-city spring tour. The singer also worked with Essence for her book “Better Than Alright: Finding Peace, Love & Power.”
“They’ve been very instrumental in my career,” she said.
Ledisi released her sixth and latest album, “The Truth,” in March. The songs are both bright and warm, featuring Ledisi’s confident, glowing vocals and grooving, snapping rhythm.
“I feel so vindicated,” she said of the album. “This woman I am now, I love her. She’s settled in her own skin, like she can do whatever she wants to do, whatever she puts her mind to.
“But before, everything had to be thought out and carefully planned and worrisome, but still passionate and full of love. There’s always love in it. But this time I moved completely naturally and took some risks and felt good about it. It was all-the-way natural. No thought, just have fun and say how it is.”
The playing by ear approach seems a natural way to go for a singer from New Orleans, but Ledisi, in fact, left the city when she was 9, moving to Oakland, Calif.
“I didn’t like leaving my neighborhood,” she recalled. “I loved it there. It’s definitely much friendlier than Oakland. New Orleans, we speak whether we like each other or not. It’s just a certain mannerism. It’s just homier. I missed New Orleans for years, but luckily I was able to go back and forth when I got old enough.”
Despite having left New Orleans so young, the city’s music made an enduring impression upon Ledisi. She remembers hearing Fats Domino records, for instance, and seeing her mother, who’s also a singer, perform.
“Growing up listening to jazz music, zydeco music, everything, living on the rhythm, that’s part of who I am,” Ledisi said. “And we studied classical music. We listened to country and folk. It wasn’t just one style of music. So for everything I do, I mix everything together, just like the jambalaya. And that’s part of being from New Orleans.
“You won’t hear me singing just R&B. It’ll have a little pop thing to it or a little bit of jazz. Sometimes I’ll do a rock thing and confuse everybody. But the soul part of it is me carrying it through. That’s the line. I’m a soulful singer and that’s going to tie whatever I do together.”
In addition her solo album, Ledisi’s collaborations include a song on fellow 2014 Essence Festival performer Robert Glasper’s much-acclaimed 2012 jazz, R&B and hip-hop hybrid project, “Black Radio,” “Then There Was You,” from Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews’ 2011 album, “For True,” and, more recently, a song for Dr. John’s upcoming Louis Armstrong tribute album.
“I love working with Troy,” she said. “It’s just like calling your cousin or your sister, ‘Hey, baby, come down and do this track with me’ ‘All right. I’ll be over there. I’ll be around the corner.’ Because he can really sing, I wanted him to sing it. He said, ‘No, no. I want you sing it.’ So I had a good time working with Troy. And I just did a song with Dr. John. That was fun. I keep as close to my roots as I can.”