With Her Grammy Nods, Ledisi Is Perking Right Along

Grammy-nominated artist Ledisi.
Grammy-nominated artist Ledisi.

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By J. Freedom du Lac
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 14, 2008

WEST HOLLYWOOD -- Ledisi has arrived! So now what?

"Where do I go?" she says. "How does this work? This is all so new to me."

The soul-jazz singer is outside the Grammy Style Studio, a temporary 5,000-square-foot mini-mall for music celebrities -- a place filled with designer clothing and swanky accessories, where cash, checks and credit cards are not acceptable forms of payment. Only fame and that other elusive form of music-biz currency, acceptance, matter at these swagathons. A year ago, Ledisi couldn't buy her way in. Couldn't have gotten the attention of the sponsors. Wasn't on the list.

Today? "Ledisi! Welcome!" a Style Studio guide says as the door swings open. "We've been waiting for you!"

Ledisi Anibade Young is incredulous. "It's really happening," she says. "They finally invited Cinderella!"

This is her first Grammy experience -- first experience, period, on the music industry's big stage. After more than 15 years of scuffling in the R&B and jazz underground -- after all the rejection, struggles and self-doubt, the notions that maybe she should just quit -- she has arrived.

The confirmation came in the form of two Grammy nominations: best R&B album for her major-label debut, "Lost & Found," and best new artist, a major award that acknowledges musicians who are just landing on the mainstream radar, no matter how long they've been banging on the doors of the business.

"I'm new to a lot of people, but I've gathered some stripes," she says. (She'll perform tonight at Constitution Hall with Lalah Hathaway and Rahsaan Patterson.)

Ultimately, she didn't win either honor. Ultimately, it probably didn't matter. That she was acknowledged, validated, celebrated at all was enough, even if Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters destroyed her name at the nominations news conference in December. (It's LED-uh-see, not luh-DEE-SEE. Means "to come forth" in Nigerian.)

"She's really made a name for herself in just one year," says the venerated pop and jazz producer Phil Ramone, who worked with Ledisi recently on an Ella Fitzgerald tribute. "I love to see that because I adore her. She opens her mouth to sing and suddenly it sounds like somebody who's been doing it for 40 years. She's got that thing. She amazes me. And I love that she's so cheerful."

Yes.

Inside the Style Studio, Ledisi is the proverbial kid in the celebrity candy store. (Never mind that she looks to be in her mid-30s, though she declines to reveal her age. Ledisi started out on the Bay Area's burgeoning acid-jazz scene in the early 1990s, and the math seems to make sense.) She squeals with delight while picking through the racks of Elie Saab and Vivienne Westwood and Jasmine Di Milo outfits. Drops her jaw. Shakes her head. Thanks everybody she encounters. Says she's "freaking out" and "overwhelmed."


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