In the middle of her sold-out concert at DAR Constitution Hall Saturday night, powerhouse singer Ledisi vanished from the stage. A few seconds later, she appeared in the balcony, singing directly to fans, wading through the crowd (she said she never takes her fans for granted). Her fans rose to their feet, snapping photos as Ledisi, the eight-time Grammy-nominated star, made her way through the balcony, up and down stairs, sweeping across the hall in a long sequin ocean-blue dress.
She encouraged the women in the audience to own their personal beauty and love themselves. “We need to start embracing ourselves,” said the star, who implored the audience to cheer on the styles of other women. “If you see that smile on her face, don’t ruin her joy. It’s not your place to tell her what to wear and not to wear.”
She reached out to fans snapping photos. At one point, a body guard motioned for her to return onstage. “Don’t tell me where to go. I’m the boss up in the joint,” Ledisi said. “I ain’t scared of D.C. I lived here for six years.” Then she turned to the crowd and asked them to put their arms up, swing them back and forth and sing with her: “I am woman!”
Ledisi’s trip through the aisles stole the show, capturing a singer exuding a newfound confidence, a woman embracing her own truth. “The Truth” is the title of her studio album released this year and the title of her latest tour.
“This is my third headlining tour,” Ledisi told the crowd. “I’ve done ‘Pieces of Me,’ “Be Good to Yourself’ and all of that other stuff. This is the ‘Truth Tour.’ The truth is about me being my whole complete self and not caring what other people think. I can’t please everybody.”
After 15 years of singing professionally, Ledisi explained, “I decided to go ahead and be me completely. I love every style of music — old school, new school, jazz, R&B, pop, dance, jump-around, stand-still and be cute. All of that.”
She promised she would sing past hits. “I can’t do everything, okay,” she said. “We will be here until Tuesday, and that ain’t going to work….Okay?” (Singers Leela James and Raheem Devaughn opened the concert for Ledisi, who gave a shout out to James and Devaughn for powerful individual performances. “I don’t know. They said R&B is dead. I don’t think so.”)
For the next hour, Ledisi sang a string of hits and soaring ballads, interspersed with quick costume changes — from a black princess dress sparkling with silver sequins, to a black leather jacket and shiny black pants, to a red sequin ballerina dress. With her golden locks falling over her shoulders, Ledisi displayed the full range of her powerful voice and her mastery of different styles of music. She sang “Like This,” from “The Truth” album; “Pieces of Me”; “In the Morning”; “Goin’ Thru Changes”; “Stay Together,” the hit she recorded with Jaheim from her “Pieces of Me” album. On Saturday night, Ledisi performed both the male and female roles in that song, and the crowd exploded.
Between songs, she shared personal stories about her early struggles to succeed in a music business that wanted to box her into a category. “I’m here because of you, and I thank you.” she told the crowd. “They said, ‘You are not skinny enough.’” She recalled sleeping on floors while working to make it big. One night, she felt so defeated she called her mother explaining she had had enough and wanted to quit the music industry.
“I called my mom, she said, ‘Ledisi, you going through some things, but you are going to be alright.’
“I said, ‘That sounds like a song.’”
“What if I listened to the people who said you wouldn’t make it? I dedicate this song to you. But it’s all right by now.”
And she sang her hit, “Alright.”
The song “Alright,” which would become the first single from her 2007 album, “Lost & Found,” which brought her Grammy nominations for Best R&B Album and Best New Artist. In 2009, she released “Turn Me Loose,” also nominated for two Grammys. In 2011, she released “Pieces of Me,” which received three 2012 Grammy nominations.
In 2012, I interviewed Ledisi after she released her memoir, “Better Than Alright: Finding Peace Love & Power.” In the book, published by Essence magazine, Ledisi wrote about her childhood and growing up in Louisiana.
Ledisi told me in that interview that she hoped people were empowered by her music and her book. “Life can bring us through many changes,” she said. “Just don’t give up. Know that it’s gonna be all right.”
On Saturday, Ledisi continued that message, closing her D.C. concert with three pieces of advice to her beloved audience. “Have faith, love yourself, and be careful who you allow in your circle,” the singer implored. “I could just sing and be cute. But I’ve got to share these things with you.”
The crowd was on its feet by now. She asked them to sing along with her. “All right. All right. All right,” she sang. “There is power in repetition.”